Spring Threat: Marco Estrada makes his Grapefruit debut against the Pirates

The last time we watched Marco Estrada pitch was Wednesday, October 21, 2015. With the Jays on the brink of elimination down 3-1 in the American League Championship Series to the Royals, Estrada tossed a gem of a game, going seven-and-two-thirds allowing just one run on three hits and one walk. Given the circumstances, it was probably the most impressive and memorable game of his Blue Jays career, and to be honest, I thought it was going to be his last. 

Estrada was one of a handful of players — Chris Colabello, Kevin Pillar, Liam Hendriks — who accomplished a hell of a lot more than anybody could have expected from them coming into the season. When he was acquired in a one-for-one swap for Adam Lind, it was met with a collective “meh” as the Jays dealt away their best lefty bat for a mediocre long reliever who could make some spot starts. He joined the rotation in May and never looked back, becoming arguably the most consistent Jays starter (until David Price and Marcus Stroman showed up). 

Estrada had far and away the best season of his career last year, throwing 181 innings and posting the best opponents batting average and the second best WHIP in the American League. He also did so while striking out fewer batters per nine innings than he ever had before and getting excellent luck on batted balls in play. The results didn’t seem to make any sense, as Estrada defied all of his peripheral numbers (including a deadly FIP of 4.40) and continually managed to find success. 

And it was a treat to watch. He pitched a damn near perfect game against the Rays, he had two life saving performances on the brink of elimination in the playoffs, and it seemed like every time he took the mound, the Jays had a reasonably good chance of winning. It didn’t make much sense, but hell, he kept doing it so I stopped asking questions. 

But like I said, I figured that Game 5 of the ALCS would be Estrada’s last as a Jay. I assumed he would hit free agency, somebody would field him a massive offer, and the Jays wouldn’t match it because they were skeptical that he was just a flash in the pan that overachieved due largely to good luck. But here we are now, and Estrada is set to make his spring debut fresh off signing a two-year, $26 million deal that answered any doubts as to whether or not the Jays thought his successful season was legitimate. 

To be honest, I’m not really sure what I expect from Estrada this year. All I can say is that I’m definitely rooting for him to replicate what he accomplished in 2015, not only because it would be great for the Jays, but because he seems like a humble, likeable guy, and I love watching him toss these rainbow pitches with his huge, long windup and get outs off of soft contact. People say that fireballers are fun to watch, but personally, I enjoy watching Marco Estrada navigate his way around the strike zone with soft stuff, fooling guys into taking these big hacks at nothing and slamming their head into the wall in frustration when they get back to the dugout. 

Even though he’s totally unpredictable heading into the season, I’m thrilled to have Marco back with the Jays this year. And I’m also thrilled that he’s going to be on TV for a Sunday matinee with the Pittsburgh Pirates! 

YESTERDAY

There was supposed to be a game yesterday, but that didn’t happen because the weather decided not to cooperate. So yeah, there’s not much there to talk about there… So on with other stuff! 

NEWS AND SCUTTLEBUTT 

There also isn’t much to pass on in the way of news today, as the big story going around right now is Edwin Encarnacion telling media that he didn’t believe the Jays front office had him in their plans anymore. Mark Shapiro has openly said that the best way to get contracts done is to keep them away from the public, so, well, this probably isn’t how he wanted it to go. 

So even though Edwin has stated that he doesn’t want to discuss his soon-to-be finished contract during the regular season, I have gut feeling it’s going to be a hot topic all year. 

Anyways, today is the official first day of spring… So yeah, enjoy a Blue Jays game as we’re officially through winter!

TODAY

Marco Estrada makes his spring debut today against the Pirates. Since it’s his first start, he’ll be going two or three innings, and then we’ll finally get to see Gavin Floyd, who was supposed to start yesterday but didn’t because it was rained out. I haven’t been able to find anything on exactly who we’ll see otherwise, but I’m guessing it’ll be the relievers who were scheduled to go yesterday: David Aardsma, Roberto Osuna, Arnold Leon, and Ryan Tepera. I doubt all of them will get into the game, though. 

On the other side, the Pirates are sending out A.J. Schugel, who they claimed a few months ago off waivers from the Seattle Mariners, who had grabbed off waivers in December from the Arizona Diamondbacks. 

TV: Sportsnet and MLB.tv (free game of the day)

Radio: SN590

Next game: Tuesday @ Detroit, 1:05 p.m. (Drew Hutchison starting) 

And now, the lineups…

Blue Jays

Kevin Pillar (CF)

Josh Donaldson (3B)

Jose Bautista (RF)

Troy Tulowitzki (SS)

Chris Colabello (1B)

Michael Saunders (LF)

Russell Martin (C)

Justin Smoak (DH)

Ryan Goins (2B)

Pirates 

Jon Jaso (1B)

Andrew McCutchen (CF)

David Freese (3B)

Starlin Marte (LF)

Gregory Polanco (RF)

Josh Harrison (2B)

Michael Morse (DH)

Jordy Mercer (SS)

Chris Stewart (C)