Toronto starting pitcher Matt Shoemaker has been training hard for the season since March, and he's hoping to add to the Blue Jays' winning ways.
Shoemaker gets the ball for the Blue Jays as they try to win their season-opening three-game series when they face the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday afternoon in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Despite a subpar Opening Day start by new ace Hyun Jin Ryu on Friday, the Blue Jays scored six times over two innings to earn a 6-4 win over their American League East rival.
A free agent acquisition by Toronto after 2018 following a six-season stint with the Los Angeles Angels, Shoemaker -- a 16-game winner as a rookie in 2014 -- opened hot last year. He posted a 3-0 record with a 1.57 ERA in five starts before an ACL tear ended his 2019 campaign in the first month.
Shoemaker, 33, increased his workload after the pandemic shut down spring training, firing pitches during the break to a college catcher back home in Michigan and facing live hitters. He powered through a 93-pitch effort on July 14 at Rogers Centre in Toronto.
His ability to toss 90-100 pitches right away is an asset that should lighten the bullpen's load.
"It definitely feels great to be at that point," Shoemaker said last week. "That was my mindset going into this break with this whole virus situation during our layoff. It was, 'Hey, I want to be as ready as possible when I come back.'"
In search of a home for this season, the Blue Jays announced Friday that Sahlen Field, home to their Triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons, would be the new host ballpark.
Toronto's first two home games were scheduled against the Washington Nationals on Wednesday and Thursday, but those games will be moved to the nation's capital -- convenient since the Blue Jays will play there for a two-game series starting Monday.
Their first game in Buffalo will be determined as Sahlen Stadium goes through an improvement in its lighting system.
Tampa Bay's Saturday starter will be left-hander Ryan Yarbrough, who earned the No. 2 spot in the rotation after a strong second half in 2019 and a good showing in summer camp.
A native of nearby Lakeland, just an hour's drive from Tropicana Field, the 28-year-old Yarbrough posted an 11-6 record with a 4.13 ERA last year. He also displayed a mastery over the Blue Jays in 2019.
In five appearances (one start) against Toronto, Yarbrough went 3-1 with a 2.18 ERA in 20 2/3 innings pitched. Opposing Blue Jays batted just .197 against him in the five outings.
Yarbrough is 6-1 and owns a 2.45 ERA in nine career appearances (two starts) and 36 2/3 innings against Toronto, with the Blue Jays batting only .207.
He has also shown an uncanny knack for winning games during his first two full seasons. The 6-foot-5 hurler has notched 27 wins in 66 appearances over that span.
"We don't get where we were last year without Yarbrough's performance," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "He went on a pretty dominant run for six, seven or eight starts. He's going to continue to get better.
"He wants to go out and get outs and be efficient. He's invaluable to us."
--Field Level Media