08/27/08 11:37 PM ET
Purcey fans 11 as Jays lose to Rays
Left-hander stellar, but Garza stifles Toronto's offense
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
Purcey momentarily let his guard down when asked about his pitch command against Tampa Bay, which was met with a flurry of strikes that helped the left-hander spin his strongest showing on the big league stage. Purcey was in complete control with the exception of a solitary pitch, and that's the one that cost him a win.
"They gave me the ball tonight and I felt like I went out there and did my job," Purcey said. "I just tried to keep us in the game -- that's all I can do."
Purcey did more than simply keep the Blue Jays (68-64) in the contest. The 6-foot-5 lefty regained the dominant curveball that carried him to the Majors and exercised pinpoint control over eight innings against the Rays (80-51). It marked his first career complete game, but also his fourth loss in five outings.
The problem on this night was that Toronto's lineup was handcuffed by Tampa Bay starter Matt Garza, who has limited the Jays to just one earned run over 30 innings this season. Garza (11-7) was at it again, holding Toronto's hitters to just six hits -- four with two outs already in the books.
Toronto recorded a hit in each of the first four innings and managed to put runners on first and second base on three occasions, but Garza came away unscathed at each turn. His blanking of the Jays overcame the overpowering start by Purcey, who became just the fourth rookie in club history to strike out 11 batters in a game.
"He threw strikes," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "That's why he had the results that he had. It's a shame we couldn't score a couple runs for him."
The lone blemish on Purcey's pitching line came in the fourth inning, when Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena sent the first pitch he saw towering deep over the right-field wall for a solo home run. The blast, which was the 27th of the year for Pena, accounted for all of the Rays' offense in a game that required only one run to down the Jays.
Beyond that blast, Purcey (2-5) was stellar.
On eight of Purcey's 11 strikeouts, he used four or fewer pitches. He issued precisely no walks, becoming just the second American League pitcher this season to record at least 11 strikeouts without having at least one free pass. Purcey threw 20 first-pitch strikes and fell behind in the count just nine times against the 29 Rays he faced.
"It's just strike one, strike two -- don't get in their counts," Purcey said. "That's what they've always told me and you can see that it works."
Only once did Purcey throw three balls to any one batter, finishing with 22 balls among 92 pitches -- good enough for a 76 percent strike rate. Purcey had two balls called in a count just eight times and he scattered five hits. Over his previous four starts, Purcey had walked at least two batters and averaged just over five innings per outing.
"He was really throwing all strikes," Pena said. "When we didn't swing, it was a strike. When we did swing, it was a little bit off the plate -- on the corners and on the black. He hit his spots. That was probably the best game he's thrown in the big leagues. He did a great job -- an outstanding job."
Purcey said the difference in this latest trip up the hill was an improved curveball. He's worked extensively with Blue Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg on keeping from slipping into a lower arm slot with the pitch, which is a problem Purcey has struggled with in the past. Against the Rays, Purcey worked out the kinks.
"We went back over some film and saw my arm slot was dropping down," Purcey said. "I was slinging the ball, so we just worked on getting my arm back up and, once we got that slot again, the curveball started coming back to me a little bit.
"My first game up, I had a couple good curveballs. Tonight was the first day it's kind of come back to me."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.