Shoemaker heads shutout in sparkling debut

Montoyo picks up first career win as a Major League manager

March 30th, 2019

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays believe they found the perfect buy-low candidate this offseason in Matt Shoemaker. If the veteran right-hander keeps pitching the way he did Friday night, they might be proven right.

Shoemaker scattered two hits and a pair of walks, while striking out seven over seven brilliant frames in the Blue Jays' 6-0 victory over the Tigers. It was a borderline dominating performance, and one that came on the heels of an impressive Spring Training, which has raised expectations for 2019.

If the Blue Jays are going to have any chance at being one of the surprise success stories in the American League, their starting rotation has to be a strength. Toronto’s rotation ranked 28th in the Major Leagues last season, with a 5.14 ERA. The club has a couple of frontline starters in Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, but the talent pool needs to run a lot deeper than that if this year is going to be different. It's Shoemaker's upside that led to some internal optimism.

“That’s what I saw all of Spring Training, keeping hitters off balance,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “Early on there was no room for error, and he was outstanding.”

Shoemaker isn't a household name, but there is still a track record of success. In 2016, Shoemaker posted a 3.88 ERA over 27 starts for the Angels. It was supposed to be the start of an impressive career, but the next two years did not go as planned because of lingering forearm issues that ended in surgery. Shoemaker is healthy now, and it showed during the second game of the season against Detroit.

The native of Michigan made his hometown team uncomfortable all night, throwing 59 of his 87 pitches for strikes. Shoemaker got 15 swinging strikes, 13 of which came on fastballs according to Statcast, and he allowed just two baserunners to reach scoring position. Just like any pitcher, Shoemaker needed a bit of luck as Nicholas Castellanos, John Hicks, Josh Harrison and Christin Stewart all put balls in play at more than 100 mph, and yet only one of them -- a triple by Castellanos in the sixth inning -- went for a hit.

Shoemaker joined the Blue Jays this offseason on a one-year deal worth $3.5 million after he was non-tendered by the Angels. The contract comes with the added benefit of an extra year of control, because Shoemaker will still be eligible for arbitration at the end of the season. That puts him in line to become more than just a short-term rental for a Blue Jays staff that has seen three-fifths of its rotation turn over from 2018.

“My approach is to be aggressive, change speeds; pitch all over the zone,” Shoemaker said. “Up, down, in and out. I think when you do that, if you don’t execute a pitch, you might be able to get away with it, more than not. We all want to be perfect. I’m a perfectionist; I know I’m not going to be perfect all of the time.

"But that’s why when I look at some of the at-bats, man, that fastball got away from me. I missed my spot. Same with a slider or two. You just go back, learn from it and try to execute it better the next time.”

With Shoemaker firing on all cylinders, the Blue Jays got all the offense they would need with a four-run fourth inning off Tigers starter Matthew Boyd. Teoscar Hernandez had an RBI single while Freddy Galvis cleared the bases with a three-run single, which was aided by an error in center.

Justin Smoak chipped in with a two-run single later in the game, as Toronto snapped a 13-inning scoreless drought, which set a franchise record. The Blue Jays' previous record of scoreless innings to start a season was 12, which was set back in 2004 against the Tigers.

“We made an adjustment after the first couple of innings,” Montoyo said. “Boyd was dealing. He was throwing his breaking ball for strikes. But we made an adjustment, we started going up the middle and that was big in the game.”

Montoyo gets first win
Montoyo picked up the first win of his managerial career on Friday night, and his players made sure he celebrated it in style. After walking into the clubhouse after the game, Montoyo was pulled into the showers and sprayed with dozens of cold beers.

The first-year skipper arrived at his postgame news conference drenched in alcohol, and his teeth chattering from the cold. At times he had trouble hearing questions from reporters because his ears were still not fully unplugged, but nobody could wipe the smile from his face after the big day. His players seemed to enjoy the moment too.

“It was awesome,” Galvis said. “He deserves it man. He is a really good person. He knows a lot about baseball. … For me, I’m really happy to have him as a manager, and I’m more happy for him to have his first win in the big leagues. Speaking for myself, I want to give everything to get more wins for him.”