Purcey passes Jays' audition
Lefty tosses 7 2/3 strong innings in first win of 2009
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have been waiting a long time for David Purcey to realize his potential. The big lefty showed flashes of his ability on the mound last season and was trusted with a spot in the club's rotation when this year began.
On Monday night, Purcey helped lead the Blue Jays to a 9-2 victory over the Orioles at Rogers Centre, but it was a win that was a long time coming for the pitcher. The win was Purcey's first in more than a year for Toronto -- a drought that Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston did not expect.
"I didn't think so," Gaston said. "He's still a kid, too, I guess."
At 27 years old and with enough Major League service time to no longer be considered a rookie, Purcey is hardly a kid anymore. He was supposed to be a fixture in Toronto's staff this year -- rather that someone who needed another four months of seasoning on the farm with Triple-A Las Vegas.
Now, as a September callup, Purcey is back to auditioning for a spot with the Blue Jays, trying to convince the team down the stretch that he is worthy of consideration for a rotation job in 2010. Through two outings back with the big league club, Purcey has shown improvement over the forgettable five-start stint in April.
In defeating the Orioles (60-90), Purcey surrendered just one run on four hits over 7 2/3 innings, during which he ended with four strikeouts and four walks. On Sept. 14 in a road start against Detroit, the left-hander walked away with a no-decision, but he allowed just two runs on five hits in 5 2/3 innings for the Blue Jays (67-83).
Command still has been an issue at times -- Purcey has issued eight walks over his past two starts after giving up 78 free passes across 139 1/3 innings at Triple-A -- but Gaston has seen positive strides in that regard.
"The last two outings, he's been good," Gaston said. "He struggled starting off with balls and strikes, as he normally would do, but he came back and pitched a great game for us. I'd like to see him close it out, though."
Gaston referred to the eighth inning of Purcey's latest effort, when he issued a pair of walks and allowed a base hit to load the bases with two outs. With Purcey's pitch count at 111, Gaston opted to turn to reliever Shawn Camp, who escaped the jam by inducing an inning-ending groundout off the bat of Melvin Mora.
That preserved a 5-1 lead for the Blue Jays, who received a two-run single from Adam Lind in a three-run third inning and then had Lyle Overbay and John McDonald each belt a solo home run in the sixth. In the eighth, Toronto padded its advantage with two-run singles from Edwin Encarnacion and Travis Snider.
Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman (2-4) took the loss after allowing four runs over five-plus innings, while Purcey finally found the win column again. It marked his first since spinning eight shutout innings in a victory over the Rays on Sept. 7 of last season. That was the type of outing that had the Jays believing Purcey could play a big part this year.
The same hope exists for next season -- not that Purcey is looking that far ahead.
"I haven't thought once about next year yet," said Purcey, who was a first-round pick by the Blue Jays in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft. "I'm getting an opportunity now to go out and pitch every fifth day, and that's all I can ask for. That's what I want to do, and I'll try to make the most of it."
That includes continuing to work on some mechanical adjustments with Toronto pitching coach Brad Arnsberg. Purcey said he is trying to be more aggressive against hitters and has worked on speeding up his tempo on the mound while keeping his delivery balance more over the pitching rubber.
"I've made some mechanical changes this year that have been effective for me," he said. "They've helped me out a lot. I feel like it's a step in the right direction."
Gaston is looking forward to seeing if Purcey can continue his recent success until the season's end.
"Hopefully we get to see what he's like a couple more times," Gaston said. "If he can bring it back to Spring Training, the more the merrier."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.