07/18/09 6:07 PM ET
Jays' bats fuel Rzepczynski's first win
Five runs in middle innings off Boston's Penny do the trick
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
"I'm practicing it myself," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said with a laugh. "I think it's probably going to become 'Zep' more than anything else. That's what I would think -- keep it simple. But I'm pretty sure his parents and a lot of his relatives would love for us to say 'Zep-chin-ski.'"
On Saturday afternoon, Rzepczynski introduced himself to the Red Sox with six respectable innings in a 6-2 win for the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. The young left-hander's ascent to the Major League stage has been rapid, and his showing against Boston paved the way for Rzepczynski's first career victory as a big leaguer.
Asked how many different ways he's heard his name pronounced since joining the Jays, Rzepczynski laughed.
"This is the most I've heard it right," Rzepczynski replied.
In only his third professional season, it took Rzepczynski three starts with Toronto to check that milestone off the list. A few years ago, while pitching for University of California-Riverside, Rzepczynski wasn't sure he'd even reach the Majors, and he said it was "an honor" to be selected by the Jays in the fifth round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft.
Under the circumstances, Rzepczynski can hardly believe the events that have followed.
"It's been a dream so far," Rzepczynski said with a smile. "I never thought it was going to happen that quick, to tell you the truth."
A wave of injuries to Toronto's rotation helped clear a path to the big leagues for the 23-year-old southpaw. Rzepczynski, absent from the rotation race during Spring Training, became the fifth rookie to make his Major League debut for the Blue Jays after being called up on July 6. Overall, Toronto's pitching woes have forced the club to turn to six rookies so far this season.
One of those first-year starters, Ricky Romero, invited Rzepczynski out to lunch after he joined the Blue Jays in St. Petersburg for his first career outing. Romero wanted to offer some advice, and the meeting meant a lot to Rzepczynski.
"Ricky pulled me aside the first day," Rzepczynski said. "He said, 'The game's the same. The hitters are better, but the game's the same. You've got to just look at it like that, and you can't think about too much. When you get involved in too much, your head starts spinning, and that's when you get in trouble.'"
Rzepczynski, who has a 2.50 ERA and three quality starts since being promoted to the Jays' rotation, said he prides himself on keeping his nerves under control. Gaston said that trait is critical for young pitchers to survive in the Major Leagues.
"The ones that stay calm and cool have done a great job up here," said Gaston, referring to the many rookies Toronto has used this year. "The kid today, he just looks like he belongs here. He handles himself that way, and he doesn't get rattled out there at all. He seems to just be able to deal with pressure."
The Blue Jays (45-47), who won for only the third time in the past 12 games, provided Rzepczynski with ample support with a outburst of offense against Red Sox right-hander Brad Penny. Toronto scored once in the second inning, added a pair of runs on a double from Jose Bautista in a three-run fourth and received a two-run homer from Adam Lind with one out in the fifth.
Lind's blast, the left fielder's 20th of the season, pushed Toronto out to a 6-1 advantage. Boston's Jed Lowrie belted a solo homer off Jays reliever Jesse Carlson to open the seventh inning, but that late shot was hardly enough to counter Rzepczynski's six-inning performance. Boston (55-35) had its chances, but the lefty pried himself free of a handful of jams.
"He was kind of effectively wild," Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell said. "He didn't really miss over the middle. We were looking at his starts before and he's a lot more efficient around the zone, but he pitched well enough. He scattered just a few hits and never had any real damage."
The lone run Rzepczynski (1-1) allowed came in the second inning, when Rocco Baldelli came through with an RBI single with no outs. From there, with runners on second and third base, Rzepczynski settled down and retired the next three hitters in order. Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis doubled with one out in the third, but Rzepczynski escaped that frame unscathed as well.
Perhaps the most important escape came in the fifth inning, when Toronto clung to a 4-1 lead and Boston had runners on first and second base with one out. Youkilis followed with a strikeout, and Rzepczynski then shattered the bat of slugger David Ortiz, who lofted a pitch to Jays second baseman Aaron Hill for an inning-ending out.
Damage control was the key for Rzepczynski.
"There are times in my career where I'm not going to get out of that," said Rzepczynski, who finished with four walks and four strikeouts in the outing. "There's going to be damage, and I'm not going to be able to limit it. So far, I'm glad that I've been able to limit the damage, and I'm going out there and giving the team a chance to win."
For the most part, the rookies that the Blue Jays have been forced to throw into the fire have pitched admirably. The six rookie arms used this season by Toronto (Brett Cecil, Brad Mills, Robert Ray, Scott Richmond, Romero and Rzepczynski) have combined to go 18-14 with a 4.21 ERA for a pitching staff that has already cycled through 12 starters.
"The guys that have come up this year have done a great job for us," Hill said. "They make the adjustments to hitters, and we're going to see how far they go."
The final out of the game, which sealed Rzepczynski's first career win, came in the form of a grounder off the bat of Boston's Jason Varitek. Blue Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay gloved the throw from third baseman Scott Rolen for the out and then, out of habit, tossed the baseball to a young fan sitting in the stands.
The only problem was that "game ball" was meant for Rzepczynski. Toronto pitching coach Brad Arnsberg quickly offered two baseballs in order to retrieve the one Overbay tossed into the stands, and the coach presented it to Rzepczynski as a memento.
Rzepczynski planned on sending the baseball to his mother and father back home in California. First, though, he wanted to call his parents to talk about his first win.
"I won't be surprised if my mom's crying," Rzepczynski said. "I'm sure my mom did not leave her computer, and my dad was probably wandering around the entire time. My dad can't sit still. He was probably more nervous than I was today."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.