Jenkins solid in relief after Buehrle hurt in loss
Left-hander struck in leg by line drive in final start of '13 season
BALTIMORE -- Chad Jenkins has been passed over by the Blue Jays on more than one occasion during the past couple of years, but this time around he hopes to have made a lasting impression.
Toronto's right-hander had a relatively successful run out of the bullpen in 2012, and early this season he received three starts in which he didn't give up more than three runs. Despite the initial success, he's never really received much of a chance to prove his worth.
The hope for Jenkins is that he forces the organization's hand next spring, and he continued to make a case by coming on in relief of left-hander Mark Buehrle to throw 3 2/3 scoreless innings in a 3-2 loss to the Orioles on Thursday night at Camden Yards.
"Every time out I feel like I'm trying to treat it like an audition," said Jenkins, who has a sparkling 2.73 ERA in nine outings this year. "I feel like I'm just trying to earn points. I throw three innings, I get a point in my favor. Tonight, I almost threw four. Just trying to add things up and come Spring Training hopefully I'll get a fair shake at breaking [camp]."
The 2013 campaign has been an incredibly frustrating year for the native of Tennessee. Jenkins got the three starts in May and was promised more by the organization. But instead of getting that opportunity, he was relegated to the Minor Leagues.
It was the type of decision by the Blue Jays that would affect the confidence of any player. In this case, Jenkins was no different, and the situation only became worse when he later sustained a shoulder injury that derailed his season.
Jenkins eventually made it back and a series of injuries to the Blue Jays pitching staff opened up another opportunity for him at the big league level. Since then, he has been sparsely used, but the numbers are hard to argue with.
"The more I get out there, the more confident I get," said Jenkins, who has allowed just 36 base runners in 33 innings this season. "Right now I feel completely healthy, I have no bugs, no issues, no tweaks, nothing. My arm feels like it has been last year and every year before that, so that's the main thing for me. I'm just trying to stay healthy so my arm works the way I feel like it should work."
The knock on Jenkins has always been that he doesn't have a reliable third pitch that is required to have prolonged success at the Major League level. That's why the development of his slider will be crucial to his future development, and for one of the first times in his career that pitch was on full display Thursday night.
Jenkins came on in relief of Buehrle when the veteran starter had to leave the game in fourth inning after being struck in the right calf by a line drive. Buehrle had surrendered three runs over his 3 1/3 innings -- including a solo homer by Matt Wieters and an RBI double by Nick Markakis -- but Jenkins was able to come in and stop the bleeding.
The former first-round pick Draft allowed just one hit and didn't walk a batter while striking out four. That prompted manager John Gibbons to say after the game that Jenkins has "pitched pretty doggone good the entire time." Some of the credit for Thursday goes to the slider, and even Jenkins was surprised by just how effective it was.
"Sinker and change-up have been great, they've worked since I've been here, but tonight I threw a lot more sliders and they actually worked, believe it or not," Jenkins said. "I got some swing and misses. J.P.[Arencibia's] not yelling at me that, 'Hey, they backed up.' I was actually really pleased with that tonight."
Despite Jenkins' solid outing, the Blue Jays were unable to climb out of the early deficit. Toronto's offense was held in check for almost the entire night by right-hander Miguel Gonzalez. The only real break came in the first inning, when the Blue Jays scored an unearned run after Baltimore left fielder Jason Pridie dropped a routine fly ball that allowed Munenori Kawasaki to score all the way from first base.
Gonzalez gave up just two hits -- a single to Kevin Pillar and a double to Arencibia -- while walking one and striking out five en route to his 11th win of the season. It was the fifth straight start that Gonzalez surrendered three runs or less.
"It was great," Gonzalez said. "I was commanding my fastball and my splitty. I threw enough off-speed for strikes for them to swing at and we finished strong."
The Blue Jays had one last opportunity to get back into the game once Gonzalez's night was over. Toronto had runners on first and second with nobody out in the eighth and cut the lead to 3-2 on an RBI double by Brett Lawrie, but Moises Sierra and Anthony Gose struck out to leave the potential tying run on third base.
Toronto's last road trip of the season has now officially ended, as the club went 2-5 against the Red Sox, White Sox and Orioles. The Blue Jays will now head home to close out their season with three games against the Rays in a series which will have Wild Card implications for Tampa Bay.
As for Jenkins, he'll be in tough competition to break with the team next year with other pitchers like Todd Redmond and Esmil Rogers likely competing for a spot in long relief. But there's still a chance and that's all he wants.
"I'll tell you I've been really impressed," Gibbons said. "We've seen some good things, Jenkins has caught our eye this year."