Ohka sharp as Jays roll past Rangers
Toronto scores early and often in dispatching Texas
TORONTO -- About midway through Sunday's game against the Rangers, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons strolled out to have a quick chat with home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez.
Gibbons had a small request in regards to a milestone that Toronto starter Tomo Ohka was on pace to reach. With a victory against Texas, Ohka would become only the second Japanese pitcher to reach 50 wins in the Major Leagues.
"I went out to ask, if we ended up winning this game, if I could have the lineup card," explained Gibbons, who wanted to present the memento to Ohka.
Gibbons' request was granted. Ohka turned in his best performance of the season, holding the Rangers in check for seven innings en route to a 7-3 victory. After the win, the pitcher shrugged off the personal feat. Ohka was happier with the fact that he was able to provide some rest for Toronto's weary relief corps.
"It's just 50. It's nothing special. I don't care about 50," Ohka said. "Those guys [in the bullpen] pitched a lot yesterday, so I was thinking about that. So, seven innings is not bad."
Actually, Ohka's seven-inning outing was very good for the Blue Jays (12-12). So far this season, Toronto ace Roy Halladay has logged at least seven innings on four occasions, which is the same number of times that the rest of the rotation combined has turned in a minimum of seven frames.
For Ohka (2-2), Sunday's start represented his longest outing of the year. The win also was the right-hander's second in a row for Toronto, which signed him to a one-year deal in January. In his first three starts, Ohka went 0-2 with a 7.02 ERA, but he's gone 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his last two trips to the mound, including a win over Boston in his previous start.
"That was huge," said Gibbons, referring to Ohka's seven innings. "We were limited down [in the bullpen] with who we could use. But he's been pitching good. That's two wins in a row against powerful lineups."
After the first two innings against the Rangers (10-14), it would've been hard to predict that Ohka would save the bullpen like he did. By the time the second inning was over, Ohka's pitch count had reached 40, and he had walked two and allowed one run to score.
Gibbons said Ohka had trouble locating his offspeed pitches early in the game, and the pitcher indicated that his fastball was ineffective in the first two innings, too. Ohka was able to adjust quickly, though, yielding no hits to a span of 14 batters during one stretch between the second and seventh innings. He needed just 62 pitches to work through the final five frames.
"I think they were sitting offspeed early in the game," Toronto catcher Jason Phillips said. "He was able to get through those first few innings until he was able to find his fastball for strikes. After that, it was just mixing and matching and keeping them off-balance."
Ohka wasn't the only one dealing with some early command issues. Rangers starter Brandon McCarthy (1-4) issued three walks to load the bases with one out in the first.
Toronto third baseman Troy Glaus was then hit by a pitch, sending Adam Lind jogging home from third for the game's first run. Two batters later, Toronto second baseman Aaron Hill sent an offering from McCarthy into left field for a two-run single that put the Jays ahead, 3-0.
"We put three runs on the board early, and that definitely helps out our pitcher," Hill said. "Lately, we've been struggling a little bit, but we've just had a couple bad breaks. The guys came out and swung the bats today."
Toronto added two more runs off McCarthy in the third inning, when Phillips and Lind chipped in RBI singles. Alex Rios entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the seventh and promptly added a solo home run off Texas reliever Scott Feldman, who also allowed a run-scoring double to shortstop John McDonald later that inning.
That was more than enough support for Ohka, who struck out two and walked three in the win. The native of Kyoto, Japan, joined Hideo Nomo (123 career wins) as the only Japanese pitchers with at least 50 big-league victories.
"He's been pitching very well," Gibbons said. "He's doing a nice job for us. We scored some runs today and took advantage of some wildness early. We needed that."
As for the lineup card, Ohka said it's not that important to him. That doesn't mean he won't hang on to it, though.
"I'll show it to my mom, my brother and my friends," said Ohka, allowing himself to smile. "But it's not for me."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.