Solid pitching helped the Toronto Blue Jays to a sweep of the defending World Series champions over the weekend.
The Jays look to continue their roll Tuesday behind A.J. Burnett, who will take on Rich Harden and the Oakland Athletics in a matchup of dominating - albeit oft-injured - right-handers off to strong starts to the season.
Toronto (4-2) took three games from Boston last weekend, winning 7-4 on Sunday to complete the home sweep. Frank Thomas hit his 11th career grand slam, Vernon Wells added a two-run homer and Roy Halladay gave up four runs in eight innings to lift the Blue Jays.
“To start off that way, where we’re playing sound defensively, pitching well and to see the bats come in and take advantage of chances, it’s nice to see that early on,” said Halladay, who struck out six and walked one.
Jeremy Accardo earned his third save in as many chances for Toronto, which has a 2.94 ERA through six games. That number is due in part to Burnett (1-0, 3.00 ERA), who will look to build on a solid season-opening start.
Burnett defeated the New York Yankees 5-2 on Wednesday, giving up two runs in six innings with one walk and three strikeouts, and hitting 96 mph on the radar gun.
“A.J. was dominating,” manager John Gibbons told the Blue Jays’ official Web site. “He threw some good changeups, and he was locked in with some good breaking balls - that was great to see out of him. That’s what he can do, and I’m proud of the guy.”
Burnett appeared to pick up where he left off last season, when he went 6-2 with a 3.01 ERA in his last 11 starts after coming off the disabled list following a bout with right shoulder soreness. He may have a good chance to keep rolling Tuesday, as he’s 1-1 with a 2.18 ERA in three career starts against Oakland.
Two of those starts came in a six-day span of last season, with Burnett pitching seven innings and allowing one earned run each time. He beat the Athletics 6-2 on Aug. 27 in the most recent matchup, giving up a season high-tying five walks but just four hits.
Burnett will be opposed Tuesday by another formidable starter in Harden (1-0, 0.82), who’s looking to put three injury-plagued seasons behind him. The right-hander has battled elbow and shoulder problems since 2006, but has looked healthy so far in 2008, giving up one earned run in 11 innings over two starts.
Harden threw five scoreless innings in his last outing Wednesday, allowing four hits and four walks with six strikeouts in Oakland’s 5-0 loss to the Red Sox. On a 90-pitch limit, though, he was removed by manager Bob Geren after 86 pitches.
“I’m fine,” Harden told the A’s official Web site. “I probably could’ve thrown another 20 or 30 pitches.”
It remains to be seen whether Geren will extend Harden closer to that total Tuesday. The right-hander has struggled in his career against Toronto, going 0-3 with 5.59 ERA in five starts.
Oakland (3-4) was also on the verge of a three-game sweep of one of the AL’s best teams last weekend, but lost 2-1 to Cleveland on Sunday. Joe Blanton allowed two runs in 6 2-3 innings but was bested by the Indians’ Cliff Lee, who gave up one unearned run in 6 2-3.
Blue Jays third baseman Marco Scutaro will face his former team for the first time Tuesday. The versatile Scutaro played the last four seasons with the A’s, batting .261 in 482 games, before being dealt to Toronto in November.
Oakland won last season’s series 5-4.