Zeuch impresses, whiffs career-high 6 Yanks

Rookie implements strategy from veteran Buchholz vs. right-handed batters

September 21st, 2019

NEW YORK -- Blue Jays rookie T.J. Zeuch started Saturday’s game against the Yankees in uncharacteristic fashion, allowing a leadoff single and then striking out the side.

Zeuch didn’t stop there, either, striking out Gio Urshela to lead off the top of the second inning, too. Zeuch finished his afternoon with six strikeouts over four innings of two-run ball, and while there was some very loud contact in his final frame, those strikeouts were an encouraging sign to take from the 7-2 loss for a pitcher who so rarely relies on them.

Zeuch made 13 starts with Triple-A Buffalo after the start of his season was delayed by a right lat strain. With the Bisons, Zeuch struck out just 39 batters over 78 innings, good for a 4.5 strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate. That was closer to the norm in the 80s, but in a modern game where home runs and strikeouts rule the day, it makes Zeuch an interesting fit.

On Saturday, he fit right in.

“You know what was music to my ears?” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “I asked [Luke] Maile how T.J. was, the first time he catches him, and he said, ‘Man, his ball’s got good sink and his ball’s got good movement.’ That was music to my ears.”

Much like Jacob Waguespack, who started the series opener on Friday, Zeuch was aggressive, particularly when it came to pitching inside. The Yankees made the right adjustments the second time through the order, though, which led to a pair of loud doubles and an RBI single in the fourth inning. That capped Zeuch’s day at 70 pitches and kept him from facing an intimidating Yanks lineup for a third time.

That aggressive approach was the result of a conversation that Zeuch had with Clay Buchholz, who has quietly become an influential veteran to many of the Blue Jays’ young starters. Buchholz helped Sunday’s starter, Trent Thornton, discover a new grip to use on his big curveball. With Zeuch, Buchholz has helped him with game-planning against a specific type of lineup.

“He said that their right-handed hitters, especially, like to get their arms extended and push the ball the other way,” Zeuch said, “especially playing here with the short porch in right field, to kind of abuse that. The plan for today was to get in on their hands and not let them take advantage of the short porch.”

Zeuch tried to let his pitches live naturally inside that strategy and not force the issue chasing strikeouts. His fastball, which averaged 92.6 mph, according to Statcast, lived on the inside edge against right-handed hitters, and aside from a couple that caught the heart of the plate, was an effective offering.

“Luke did an unbelievable job behind the plate and setting them up to make it a little easier on me,” Zeuch said. “Overall, it’s just executing pitches that really leads to strikeouts, not going for strikeouts.”

Toronto’s offense was quiet against Canadian lefty James Paxton. The lineup combined for just six hits and didn’t work a walk all game long, with an RBI single from Jonathan Davis and an RBI double from Teoscar Hernandez responsible for the runs.