Estrada not wor­ried about his work­load

Jays right-han­der has been prone to homers as he sets per­sonal highs for starts, in­nings

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - RICHARD GRIF­FIN BASE­BALL COLUM­NIST

AT­LANTA— Marco Estrada re­turns to the site of his first ma­jor-league win when he faces the Braves at Turner Field on Thurs­day. And while the 32-year-old right-han­der, who won here on April 6, 2011, has al­ready made more starts and logged more in­nings than in any of his pre­vi­ous ma­jor-league sea­sons, he is not wor­ried.

Estrada was orig­i­nally slated to start on Fri­day at Rogers Cen­tre against the Red Sox, but man­ager John Gib­bons changed his ro­ta­tion. The Jays will go with a five­man group, and the os­tra­cized Drew Hutchi­son will work out of the bullpen with the op­por­tu­nity for an oc­ca­sional start if Mark Buehrle or Mar­cus Stro­man needs ex­tra time.

“I wasn’t re­ally sure when I was sup­posed to pitch,” Estrada said. “I never looked that far ahead. I wor­ried about my next one and when we were in New York, I knew off days were com­ing up and some­thing was go­ing to have to change just be­cause we had six starters.

“I didn’t re­ally put any thought into it. I was just wor­ried about pitch­ing in New York and once that out­ing fin­ished, the next day I did ask be­cause I do have a rou­tine that I have to fol­low. So I kind of wanted to know when I was pitch­ing. Once I was told it was Thurs­day, then it was OK.” Estrada has pitched 1521⁄ in­nings and

3 has al­ready made 24 starts, both ca­reer highs. Over his last six starts, he has al­lowed 10 home runs in 342⁄ in­nings, al

3 though many of those were when he was lead­ing and likely try­ing to chal­lenge hit­ters. Estrada led the ma­jors with 29 homers al­lowed in 2014 with the Brew­ers. Estrada knows the num­bers and work­load, but swears it is not an is­sue.

“Noth­ing’s changed, I go out there and try to get the job done,” Estrada said. “My last (game in New York) was a lit­tle rough, but the boys helped me out and we came back and won. Not ev­ery start’s go­ing to be per­fect. But phys­i­cally I feel good, I feel re­ally good. I’ve toned down a cou­ple of things with work­outs, but other than that body feels good, mind’s good, so I’m ready to pitch.”

Gib­bons knows the pos­si­bil­ity ex­ists that any one of Estrada, Buehrle or Stro­man may need a start off and he feels good that he has a sixth starter ready, will­ing and able to go in Drew Hutchi­son. But he hopes he doesn’t need him in that spot-start­ing role un­less it’s af­ter the Jays have clinched a post-sea­son berth. He is well aware of the load that Estrada has car­ried to this point and with four more starts re­main­ing.

“In a lot of ways he’s saved us this year, the way he’s pitched,” Gib­bons said of Estrada’s emer­gence from the bullpen. “He’s start­ing to chalk up in­nings, so you don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen. But it is good to have Hutch. He’s not to­tally elim­i­nated from the ro­ta­tion. Who­ever it might be, if they need an ex­tra day for some rea­son, he can slot in.”

Estrada, in parts of seven ma­jor-league sea­sons, started out with some medi­ocre Washington Na­tion­als teams and then was part of a play­off club in 2011 with Mil­wau­kee. But there is a spe­cial feel­ing with this group of Blue Jays where he feels they know they have each other’s back.

“We know how good this team is, Estrada said. “We’re just hav­ing fun, to be hon­est with you. We’re not wor­ried about the out­come — we are, but we’re not. We ba­si­cally feel we’re go­ing to win and it’s a good feel­ing to walk in this club­house and have that over your shoul­ders that you feel like you’re go­ing to win. We have a very good team, one of the best and it’s a close group of guys. Ba­si­cally the en­tire team spent the off-day (Mon­day) to­gether. It shows you how close we are.”

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