Estrada can help extend Blue Jays' season
Righty set for ALCS Game 5 with Toronto in must-win situation
TORONTO -- Marco Estrada does not like the view from the Blue Jays' dugout. It is a nerve-wracking place to be on the days he is not pitching for Toronto -- on those days when his only contribution comes in the form of cheering on his teammates and hoping, praying, pleading that things work out.
"I get more nervous watching a game, because there's nothing I can do about it," said Estrada, who is slated to start against the Royals on Wednesday in a must-win Game 5 of this American League Championship Series (3 p.m. ET air time on FOX Sports 1 and Sportsnet, 4 p.m. game time).
The Blue Jays trail in the best-of-seven series, three games to one, after Tuesday's 14-2 loss in Game 4.
Estrada will be back in control in another pivotal postseason game for the Blue Jays.
During the regular season, Estrada stepped up as one of the AL's top starters over the final three months, helping make up for the loss of an injured Marcus Stroman at the time and doing his part to push Toronto to the AL East crown. He defeated Texas in a win-or-go-home Game 3 of the AL Division Series and pitched admirably, while searching for his fastball, in the opener of this ALCS on Friday in Kansas City.
In Game 1, though, Estrada ran into a hot hand in Kansas City's Edinson Volquez, who stifled the Blue Jays' powerful lineup over six innings en route to a win at Kauffman Stadium. Volquez will take on Estrada in Game 5, too. The last time around, the Toronto right-hander gave up three runs in 5 1/3 innings, ending with six strikeouts and no walks.
"He wasn't bad that first start," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "It was just Volquez was so good. [Estrada] gave us a chance to win the game. ... If he pitches his game and he's on, we feel pretty good."
Estrada's game consists of relying heavily on his four-seam fastball and changeup, which have about a 10 mph difference on the radar gun. The righty then mixes and matches with a curveball and cutter, and he has done so very effectively since mid-June.
In a 20-start stretch from June 19 through the end of the regular season, Estrada ranked first among qualified AL starting pitchers with a .183 opponents' average, .189 batting average on balls in play and a .249 opponents' on-base percentage. In that span, he fashioned a 2.62 ERA over 123 2/3 innings. For the year, Estrada went 13-8 with a 3.13 ERA and had the AL's second-best changeup, according to Fangraphs.com.
Estrada said everything starts with his fastball command, though.
That was something that abandoned him at points in Game 1 against the Royals, who hit .444 off his four-seamer in their ALCS-opening win.
"Obviously, it's very important to have all your pitches," Estrada said. "I think the key for me [in Game 5] is being able to locate my fastball more so than my offspeed pitches. The first time around, I didn't really have four-seam location, I guess. I didn't have the down-and-away [location] as much as I wanted to. And those were the pitches that really got hit."
Estrada noted that Kansas City's hitters also took an extra aggressive approach against him.
"Pitching against them in the playoffs, it's been a lot different," he said. "At least my game was. They're really aggressive, and I've noticed that [in Game 2 and Game 3] they've kept that up."
From the bench, all Estrada could do was watch, evaluate and deal with the nerves associated with not being able to help.
Come Wednesday, Estrada will be happy to have the ball back in his hand.
"You cheer for them as much as you can, but you can't help them on the field," Estrada said. "So when I'm on the mound, it's a lot of fun for me. I enjoy it and I'm just having fun being on the mound. Not so much watching, but actually pitching."