Chris Row­ley gives Jays ro­ta­tion the shot of adrenalin it needed with six strong in­nings ... Jays bat­tery be­gan sea­son in dou­ble-A ... Sloppy Pi­rates


There was some fa­mil­iar­ity to the scene that un­folded for Blue Jays starter Chris Row­ley on Sat­ur­day af­ter­noon at the Rogers Cen­tre.

He had, af­ter all, pitched a game to catcher Raffy Lopez back in April with the New Hamp­shire Fisher Cats.

But the Rogers Cen­tre isn’t Man­ches­ter, N.H., and an early-sea­son start in dou­ble-A was noth­ing like ful­fill­ing a life­long dream of pitch­ing in the ma­jor leagues.

With that in mind, the 26-year-old right-han­der had an af­ter­noon to re­mem­ber, giv­ing up just one run in 5.1 in­nings to make his bigleague de­but a suc­cess­ful one.

Row­ley ex­ited with a 4-1 lead and a stand­ing ova­tion from the sold-out crowd, which ap­pre­ci­ated the ur­gency for a strong start­ing out­ing and rec­og­nized the mag­ni­tude of the mo­ment in his life.

“When I came off, it was a lit­tle emo­tional,” Row­ley said af­ter the 7-2 win over the Pitts­burgh Pi­rates, im­prov­ing the Jays’ record to 55-61. “You’ve got 45,000 peo­ple stand­ing on their feet … it was the first time I’ve seen that. My fam­ily is out here, so it’s pretty spe­cial.”

It was a spe­cial out­ing in­deed for Row­ley, who be­came the first mem­ber of the U.S. Mil­i­tary Academy to play in the ma­jors. That he did it so ef­fi­ciently added to the mo­ment.

“De­buts are never easy and I thought he did a tremen­dous job,” Jays man­ager John Gib­bons said. “He should be proud of him­self and ex­cited. He def­i­nitely helped the team, that’s for sure.”

To Gib­bons point, mul­ti­ple in­juries to starters have Chris Row­ley, the first ma­jor-lea­guer to hail from the U.S. Mil­i­tary Academy, peers over his glove for a sign from catcher Raffy Lopez yes­ter­day dur­ing his de­but in The Show. ex­posed the light­ness in or­ga­ni­za­tional depth at pitcher this sea­son. Row­ley was the 12th to start for Toronto, one shy of the club record set in 1979, 2002 and 2013.

Row­ley was clearly up to the task, how­ever, a mem­o­rable pin­na­cle to what has been an im­pres­sive 2017 cam­paign.

Af­ter a stint with the U.S. Army, Row­ley signed with the Jays for the sec­ond time on March 18, 2016. He be­gan the cur­rent sea­son with the Fisher Cats, pitch­ing pri­mar­ily out of the bullpen.

But when shifted to the starter’s role in New Hamp­shire, he built a 3-1 record and an 0.92 ERA, quickly earn­ing a pro­mo­tion to triple-A Buf­falo. With the Bisons, Row­ley was 3-3 as a starter with a solid 2.39 ERA.

That was enough progress for Jays man­age­ment to re­call Row­ley for a shot in The Show on a team anx­ious for a qual­ity start from wher­ever it could be found.

“(Fri­day) night, I was a lit­tle ner­vous and had but­ter­flies, but I got up this morn­ing anx­ious more than any­thing,” Row­ley said. “Once I got out there, it was the same game. These guys are pretty good and I’d like to think I am, too.”

So, what about that first in­ning of the year back on April 8?

Did Row­ley ever imag­ine that both Lopez and he would form the same bat­tery in the bigs on Aug. 12?

“Of course not,” Row­ley said. “I don’t think you can, no way. Ob­vi­ously, that’s the dream. Ide­ally, this is where you want to be, but I don’t think I had it in my mind I’d be here right now.”

Lopez, who like Row­ley ad­vanced to the triple-A Bisons as the sea­son pro­gressed, rec­og­nized the achieve­ment. Dur­ing the game, how­ever, both tried to pay lit­tle mind to the sur­round­ings.

“It felt like an­other game with more peo­ple watch­ing in a nicer sta­dium,” Lopez said. “It was a blast. We were both just calm and re­laxed and try­ing to go pitch-top­itch and have a good time.

“We were talk­ing about it in the dugout, that when we both started the sea­son we weren’t nec­es­sar­ily where we wanted to be … a few months later we’re up here start­ing.”

The Jays got out to an early lead in the first when a Steve Pearce ground­out scored Jose Bautista from first. Af­ter the Pi­rates tied it up in the sec­ond, the Jays re­gained the lead in the bot­tom half when Josh Don­ald­son drew a bases loaded walk … That was just the be­gin­ning of the calamity on a sloppy de­fen­sive out­ing for the Pi­rates. The Jays added a pair in the fifth when Kendrys Mo­rales grounded into what could have been an in­nin­gend­ing dou­ble play. In­stead, the hus­tle from the big man and a throw­ing er­ror by Pitts­burgh sec­ond base­man Adam Fra­zier helped Don­ald­son fol­low Bautista home … The fun con­tin­ued in the sev­enth when the Jays broke it open with three more. This out­burst started with a sin­gle by catcher Mike Ohlman (who re­placed Lopez when Mo­rales pinch­hit for him in the fifth) ac­tu­ally ad­vanced him to third af­ter a throw­ing er­ror by Josh Har­ri­son.


Row­ley Wil­liams While the Pi­rates were chas­ing that down, both Justin Smoak and Pearce home.

The Jays have al­lowed just two earned runs in their past three games … Gib­bons on whether Row­ley’s mil­i­tary back­ground might have aided in the nerves de­part­ment: “It’s gotta help. He’s been through some things.” … Nice bounce back game for the Jays Rob Ref­s­ny­der, who had four strike­outs and two er­rors in Fri­day’s 4-2 loss. Ref­s­ny­der was 3-for-4 at the plate on Sat­ur­day, all sin­gles … Bautista scored two runs (his 769th and 770th with the Jays), giv­ing him sole pos­ses­sion of third place in club his­tory. Bautista ac­tu­ally reached base three times with­out a hit — two walks and hit by pitch … It was just the sev­enth win for the Jays in games that they didn’t hit a home run.

rlon­g­ley@post­ @lon­g­ley­sun­sport



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