DETROIT -- On a night when runs were going to be at a premium, Drew Hutchison once again rose to the occasion.
Toronto's 23-year-old righty seems to be at his best when the moment demands it. First, it was a shutout vs. Rangers ace Yu Darvish. On Tuesday, it was seven scoreless innings against the Tigers with Anibal Sanchez staring him down from the opposing dugout.
Hutchison matched Sanchez pitch for pitch and gave the Blue Jays' offense enough time to expose the Tigers' bullpen with a five-run ninth inning en route to a 5-3 victory at Comerica Park.
"I don't have any control over what's going on out there other than what I'm doing," Hutchison said after allowing three hits without any walks.
"I believe I'm a good pitcher and I'm capable of doing that every night, and that's what I expect out of myself to give this team the best chance to win. They're going up there leading the [American League] Central and we're leading the [AL] East, so these are obviously big games and kind of shows what you're made of."
This was the type of game where the final score masks what really happened on the field. Even though there were eight runs by the time the final out was recorded, this was the definition of a classic pitchers' duel. Hutchison and Sanchez went toe to toe with no margin for error, and the end result was a brilliant performance by each starter.
There are plenty of examples where this type of environment could have a negative impact on a young starting pitcher. Even the smallest mistake could have resulted in a loss, but as Sanchez cruised through inning after inning, so, too, did Hutchison.
The Blue Jays are learning a lot about Hutchison this season, and it's telling that his best two starts have come when the pressure has been at its highest. When matched up against Darvish on May 16, Hutchison allowed three hits, one walk and struck out six in the first shutout of his career. He wasn't quite as economical with his pitches in Detroit, but the scenario was similar and the results were, too.
"The kid's good," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of his pitcher, who has the fifth-best road ERA in the AL (2.03). "That's what you have to do against the better pitchers, you have to match them because they're stingy, they're not going to give up a lot of runs. So that's what you have to do, and I'll tell you what, he's doing a heck of a job."
Hutchison was coming off one of his worst starts of the season, a five-run, five-inning outing vs. the Rays. Toronto felt Hutchison might have been a little fatigued during that outing and decided to give him an extra three days' rest. It was an overly cautious approach, but one that likely will be repeated at least a couple of more times this season for a pitcher who didn't pitch in the Majors last season because of Tommy John surgery.
The approach seemed to work even though Hutchison's fastball only saw a modest increase in velocity. Hutchison was in the low 90s for most of the outing, but he located it down in the zone and complemented that with a very effective slider and changeup. The only time it seemed Hutchison's pitches were up in the zone was when it was by design.
"He pitched well," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "We didn't know much about him and he pitched well. Obviously he held us scoreless, so it's tough to win games when you don't score any runs through eight."
Hutchison's outing gave the Blue Jays a chance, and they finally capitalized in the ninth vs. Tigers closer Joe Nathan. With the score still tied at 0, Anthony Gose led off with a walk, stole second and then advanced to third on a single to left by Jose Reyes.
Two batters later, Jose Bautista hit a relatively slow grounder up the middle. It appeared as though there was some miscommunication between shortstop Andrew Romine and second baseman Ian Kinsler, and the ball dribbled into the outfield. Gose easily scored, Kevin Pillar added a sacrifice fly and then Brett Lawrie made his presence felt with his ninth homer of the season.
That put the game out of reach even though the Tigers did make things interesting in the ninth as J.D. Martinez hit a three-run homer off right-hander Steve Delabar. Casey Janssen entered after the Martinez homer and struck out Don Kelly for his ninth save. Despite that late scare, the Blue Jays have won 12 of their past 14 games.
"The whole team is contributing, that's the biggest thing. One through nine, it doesn't matter," Lawrie said. "It's not just the top of the lineup that's doing it, it's one through nine. You never know what's going to happen, it's just nice to have everybody contribute."