TORONTO – Just when you thought the Blue Jays' starting rotation was poised for the protracted regression so many are expecting, enter Drew Hutchison and one of his brilliant performances to set the club's proverbial planet back on its axis.
This one was special, rivaling and perhaps exceeding his two-hit shutout in a 2-0 win over the Rangers on a May night in Arlington, a night when he was better than Yu Darvish.
Hutchison had his fastball grooving, painting either side of the plate and working high and low, and his slider dancing with a nasty down-and-away bite that made the likes of Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy look silly.
He threw 8 2/3 innings of one-run, one-hit, one-walk, two-over-the minimum baseball. If not for a Chris Davis opposite field home run into the second deck in the second inning and an adrenaline-related two out walk to Nick Markakis in the ninth, Hutchison would have pitched a complete game and vied for a perfect game.
As the old saying goes, timing is everything.
"Perfect timing," said manager John Gibbons, whose club snapped a four-game losing skid and made up the game in the standings it lost to Baltimore on Tuesday night. "We've been struggling a little bit. Against a good ballclub we needed that. We scored some runs early and made them stand up. He looked good. He's pitched some great ballgames for us this year but perfect timing tonight."
Hutchison improved his record to 2-0 against the Orioles in four starts this season. How dominant has he been against Baltimore? His ERA against the AL East foe actually went up after his performance. He entered with a 0.95 number, which skyrocketed to 0.98 following the outing.
The Orioles boast one of baseball's best offences. Consistently shutting down a lineup that includes Nick Markakis, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Nelson Cruz and Chris Davis is no small feat.
"I approach it the same as always, whether it's on the road or here at home, whoever I'm facing," said Hutchison. "You approach them all the same. You game plan the same way and I've just had good success against them."
Hutchison made a small mechanical adjustment in his between-starts bullpen session, which he said allowed him to stay more on top of the baseball, driving through his delivery.
"Locate my heater down, which was more important and the slider comes off of that," said Hutchison. "I think that was more a byproduct of getting through the ball and getting through with the fastball command first and that came off it. I thought my changeup was really good tonight."
The search for consistency continues. Hutchison hasn't put together back to back quality starts (six or more innings, three earned runs or less allowed) all season. He'll look to do that on Monday when the Blue Jays open a three-city, eight-game road trip in Seattle. His mound opponent is scheduled to be "King" Felix Hernandez.
"You want to be as consistent as possible and as a competitor you expect yourself to be consistently good every time out so when you're not it is frustrating," said Hutchison. "You're not going to be great every time out. I think the key is the nights you aren't great to be able to get through them without a lot of damage, which I haven't been great at yet this year but going forward that's obviously something that you want to do."
Hutchison is only 23. He's also working his first full big league season coming off Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, which nowadays is routine but always will be a major procedure.
"That's a glimpse of what we think he's going to be down the road," said Gibbons. "He gets a year or two under his belt from his Tommy John, he's going to be physically stronger. We forget he's a young kid. He's got a chance to be a real good one."
LAWRIE'S STATUS UNCERTAIN
Brett Lawrie underwent an MRI on Wednesday after feeling tightness in his lower back during Tuesday's loss to the Orioles. He left that game after three innings. He'd just returned from a 36-game absence with a fractured right index finger.
As of this posting, the Blue Jays hadn't revealed the results of the MRI but the club announced that team doctors in Toronto and Florida were reading the imaging and comparing it to the MRI taken of Lawrie's oblique injury in 2012.
Lawrie missed 30 games, mostly in the month of August, that season.
Last year, he suffered an oblique strain in a Team Canada tune up game for the World Baseball Classic on March 5. He didn't make his 2013 season debut for the Blue Jays until April 16.
Expect the club to reveal more details on Thursday.
LIND NEARS RETURN
Adam Lind, out since July 8 with a fracture in his right foot, will begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment with the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays on Thursday.
Use a pencil, not a pen, to write Lind back into the Blue Jays' lineup at the start of the next road trip, Monday in Seattle.
"That would be a good goal," said manager John Gibbons. "He'll start playing games in the Gulf Coast (on Thursday) and we'll see where he's at."
The Blue Jays have missed Lind's left-handed bat in the middle of the order when the club faces right-handed starting pitching. Few in baseball hit right-handers better than Lind. In 166 plate appearances this season, he's worked a .369 batting average and 1.004 on-base plus slugging percentage versus righties.
NORRIS PROMOTED TO BUFFALO
Daniel Norris' rapid ascent through the minor leagues continues. He's been promoted to the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons.
In 21 starts with Single-A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire, the 21-year-old lefthander is 9-1 with a 2.38 ERA in 102 innings.
Norris appeared in the Florida State League All-Star Game in mid-June and then was moved up to New Hampshire.