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Estrada's changeup hammered by Yankees

Elevated offerings hit hard in Toronto starter's 7-run outing
MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- Marco Estrada declared that his changeup was "back" after a recent outing in Baltimore. It went missing again on Thursday night against the Yankees.

Estrada rarely has an off night, but when he does, it often can be tied to the execution of his changeup. It's his go-to pitch, which he will sometimes use even more than his fastball, but the Yankees hit it early and often in their 12-2 victory.

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TORONTO -- Marco Estrada declared that his changeup was "back" after a recent outing in Baltimore. It went missing again on Thursday night against the Yankees.

Estrada rarely has an off night, but when he does, it often can be tied to the execution of his changeup. It's his go-to pitch, which he will sometimes use even more than his fastball, but the Yankees hit it early and often in their 12-2 victory.

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Toronto's veteran righty had his worst start of the year as he allowed seven runs on nine hits and a pair of walks over 3 2/3 innings. He allowed two homers to Gary Sanchez and a three-run double by Aaron Hicks. All three came off the changeup.

"It just wasn't his night," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "That's rare. I can't remember the last time we saw an outing like that [from him]. ... He couldn't locate anything, really, and that's very rare. He threw some good curveballs, but he was just off."

Video: NYY@TOR: Gibbons on Estrada's start, loss to Yankees

Estrada entered Thursday's outing having used his changeup 35 percent of the time, which is the highest rate in the Majors among qualified starters. Not surprisingly, he frequently used the pitch against New York by throwing it for 30 of his 89 pitches. The outcome of each changeup was directly tied to location.

According to Statcast™, when Estrada threw his pitch in the bottom half of the strike zone or lower, he did not allow a hit. Twenty changeups fell into that category with 10 called balls, six swinging strikes, one called strike and three fouls. The 10 pitches in the upper half or above did not do nearly as well: Sanchez's two homers, Hicks' double and a Matt Holliday single. One ball, three swinging strikes and two foul balls accounted for the other six.

The nine swinging strikes overall proves that there were some very effective changeups, just not enough of them. As a result, Estrada's seven earned runs were the most he allowed since joining the Blue Jays prior to 2015 and his highest total since June 20, 2014, at Colorado.

"I was just inconsistent," Estrada said. "The good ones I threw got swings and misses. The bad ones I threw got hit. It might be one of the easiest pitches to hit when it's not down. That's basically what happened. I just was missing my spots. I didn't really use my fastball that well either. It was just one of those outings. Chalk it up as that, move on and get ready for the next one."

Another issue that resurfaced Thursday night was a problematic first inning. Estrada allowed four runs in the first, and his ERA in that inning now sits at 7.50, which is his highest for any frame. He's experienced similar difficulties in the past but has yet to put a finger on what exactly might be the cause. Based on how he has been pitching the rest of the time, Estrada is not going to make any big adjustments.

"I've been pitching well for these guys so I'm not going to change anything," said Estrada, who despite Thursday's outing still has a respectable 3.86 ERA. "I gave up four runs in the first. It was just a bad game overall. It doesn't matter if it was the first, second, third, whatever it was. ... I've been pitching pretty good, and if I'm just giving up a run in the first and doing pretty well the rest of the game, it really doesn't matter."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Marco Estrada