First, start a reliever. Then, bring in two guys just called up from the minors.
The result was a four-hitter against the Atlanta Braves, who looked downright feeble in a 3-0 loss to the last-place Blue Jays on Wednesday night.
Four pitchers combined on Toronto’s second shutout of the season, with Casey Janssen working a 1-2-3 ninth to finish it off.
But the most important work was turned in by the three pitchers who came before the closer.
Esmil Rogers lasted 3⅓ innings in his first start since 2011. He was followed to the mound by two pitchers called up from Triple-A Buffalo before the game: Juan Perez (1-0), who went 2⅔ hitless innings with four strikeouts for the win, and Neil Wagner, who got through the seventh and eighth allowing just one hit.
Atlanta starter Kris Medlen (1-6) failed to last even as long as Rogers.
Medlen took a liner off the left leg in the second and didn’t return the next inning because of a contusion to his upper calf. He is expected to make his next start, though his leg was heavily wrapped after the game.
“I’ve been hit by a lot of balls in my life. That’s one of the harder ones I’ve felt,” Medlen said. “I knew right away (that he’d have to leave the game), but I at least wanted get through the inning.”
Cabrera led off the game with a single and scored Toronto’s first run on a fielder’s choice grounder by J.P. Arencibia. With one out in the second, Emilio Bonifacio lined one off the back of Medlen’s leg, reaching on the infield single. Medlen walked gingerly around the mound before deciding to stay in the game.
Munenori Kawasaki walked, Rogers bunted the runners over and Cabrera singled to left to drive in two more runs. Medlen finished the frame but was done for the night, having allowed four hits, a walk and all three Toronto runs.
Rogers had pitched 22 games in relief for the Blue Jays this season. He gave them as much as they could’ve hoped for as a starter, surrendering three hits and two walks before Gibbons lifted the right-hander in the fourth with two runners aboard.
Perez escaped the jam by retiring Juan Francisco on a popup, then striking out B.J. Upton, who has grown so frustrated during a season-long slump that he slung his bat into the dirt and slammed down his helmet with both hands, bouncing it high in the air.
“I’ve got to try to flush this as fast as possible,” Upton said, his voice barely above a whisper after his average dropped to .146. “I don’t know what to say. I’m at a loss for words.”
Upton had plenty of company in misery. Younger brother Justin fanned three times and the Braves finished with 11 strikeouts on the night, the 24th time in 52 games they’ve reached double figures in that category. Appropriately, Brian McCann whiffed to end the game.
The Blue Jays made a flurry of moves to deal with their injury-plagued pitching. The 34-year-old Perez wound up getting the win, just his second in the big leagues. The first came on July 8, 2011, with Philadelphia.
“They weren’t even through the lineup one time, and all of sudden they’re bringing in another guy,” said Freddie Freeman, who had two of Atlanta’s hits. “It’s tough when you don’t get to see guys a few times.”
After Medlen departed, four Atlanta relievers shut down Toronto the rest of the way. But it didn’t matter on an otherwise grim night for the home team, which made two errors and squandered a sure double play when Andrelton Simmons dropped a line drive, though he was able to throw out the hitter at first.