This one had no similarities to the thrilling 3-2 win over the Yankees back on April 1, though. The Nationals cruised past the Blue Jays, 8-2, to split the two-game series and send Toronto into its off day at 11-12. The night still marked a new beginning, though, even if it’s one Steven Matz would like to forget.
Matz, who entered with wins in all four of his starts and a 2.31 ERA, gave up six runs on eight hits in 3 2/3 innings, bumping that ERA up to 4.00. They weren’t all rockets, other than Josh Harrison’s three-run home run in the fourth, but Matz’s batted-ball luck was due to balance out eventually, after he entered this start with a .214 BABIP against, well below his career average of .298.
Those balls that snuck through the infield are just “part of the game,” Matz says, but the one part of Wednesday’s loss he wanted to control better was his swing-and-miss stuff.
“It’s location more than anything, especially with my changeup,” Matz said. “My changeup was in the zone a little more today, and I talked to [pitching coach Pete Walker] about that. I need more of my changeup [moving] from strike to ball, versus carrying more of the zone the entire time. I think that’s the biggest thing, it’s location for me.”
One month ago, Matz projected as a mid-rotation starter who the Blue Jays hoped to get a full, consistent season from. Going into Thursday’s off day with Hyun Jin Ryu, top prospect Nate Pearson and several other arms on the IL, he’s the club’s de facto No. 1 starter.
Matz has lived up to that unexpected role for the most part, and was the best story of the Blue Jays’ pitching staff through most of April. One start won’t change that, but with each injury to this rotation, healthy arms like Matz become more and more important.
Frankly, any healthy, stretched-out starter is a valuable commodity on the staff right now, as the Blue Jays already plan to roll with another bullpen day on Saturday against Atlanta before Ross Stripling -- if all goes well -- returns from the IL to start the Sunday finale.
“That’s definitely something I like to take pride in, with my work in between starts and being able to take the ball every fifth day. I really take pride in that,” Matz said. “I’ll just continue with my routine and trust in the process. Ultimately, I wish I could have gone deeper in this game and [gotten] the team another win to keep the ball rolling, but I’ll stick to my routine. I’ve been feeling good and I still feel good and healthy.”
Springer’s debut came on a quiet night for the Blue Jays’ offense, particularly coming on the heels of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s three-homer performance the night before. Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s solo home run, his first of the season, and Bo Bichette’s solo blast in the eighth represented the entire offense as Springer went 0-for-4 with three lineouts and a groundout.
Starting at DH, it was difficult to extract much from Springer’s first game with the Blue Jays, but manager Charlie Montoyo was pleased with his first glimpse of Springer in the leadoff spot.
“He ran fine,” Montoyo said, which is key when coming off a quad strain. “He saw a lot of pitches, which is good. That’s what you want him to do, is get a lot of pitches and see a lot of pitches so he can get his timing back. He looks normal to me, which is good.”
One positive to draw from the uninspiring loss came from Jordan Romano, the Canadian right-hander who’s back off the IL after rehabbing from right ulnar neuritis, and hasn’t quite looked like himself this season after a breakout 2020 campaign. Romano worked a clean inning with one strikeout and cranked his fastball up to 99.3 mph, which is welcome news in a Blue Jays bullpen that, much like the rotation, is dealing with multiple injuries.