Drabek sharp as Jays beat Bosox

Blue Jays starter Kyle Drabek pitches against the Red Sox at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ont.,...

Blue Jays starter Kyle Drabek pitches against the Red Sox at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ont., April 10, 2012. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:30 PM ET

TORONTO - Kyle Drabek’s journey from prospect to suspect to project is not yet complete. As a big-league pitcher he’s still a work in progress, but the key word there is progress.

It’s enough to say that when spring training started less than two months ago, few in the Blue Jays organization would have expected Drabek to be starting, and winning, game five of the regular season. But that’s exactly what happened Tuesday as the Blue Jays took down the Boston Red Sox, 7-3.

After a 2011 season that began with such high hopes for the centrepiece of the Roy Halladay trade turned into a train wreck, with Drabek confused and frustrated, 2012 was seen as a rebuilding year for the young righthander’s delivery as well as his mental approach.

But when Brett Cecil failed to measure up and Dustin McGowan injured a foot, the Drabek option, work in progress or not, became the avenue of least resistance for the Jays rotation.

After months of hard work and self-examination, Drabek gave the Jays five exceptional innings for his first win since last June 7, outdueling Boston’s Daniel Bard. Drabek, who gave up just three hits all told, lost his command in the sixth inning but there was plenty to like about this season debut.

“Kyle set the tone right from the start, pitching out of traffic in the second inning and kept things together,” said manager John Farrell. “He pitched ahead in the count for most of the five-plus innings he was out there. It was good to see him continue in the progression and the path that he established in spring training.”

A major difference for Drabek is that when he does make a mistake, or a batter hits a good pitch, he now leaves it behind him.

“Last year it seemed like it would stick in my head,” he said. “This year it’s been a lot easier to let it go and concentrate on the next hitter.

Meanwhile, the Jays offence got to Boston for a single run in the first, two in the third, three in the sixth and capped it off with Edwin Encarnacion’s first homer of the year in the seventh.

The Jays started chipping away at Bard from the very first pitch when Yunel Escobar led off with a single into left field. Two outs later, Adam Lind’s excuse-me double that dribbled down the left-field line put runners at second and third for Encarnacion, who delivered an RBI-single to open the scoring.

In the third, Escobar and Kelly Johnson both singled with nobody out. After Jose Bautista struck out, Lind’s single that bounced up the middle scored Escobar. Another out later, Lawrie’s seeing-eye single into right field scored Johnson to make it 3-0.

Meanwhile, Drabek was dealing. He set the Sox down in order in three of the first four innings.

“He didn’t’ try to get more velocity,” said Farrell. “Tonight was another step in his maturity as a pitcher. He made pitches rather than trying to reach back and get extra velocity to throw the ball by a guy.

“He’s collecting himself. It’s not speeding up on him mentally as it has in the past. What’s most important is that he’s trusting his stuff.”

In the second inning, Kevin Youkilis belted a one-out opposite-field double over Bautista’s head. Drabek promptly walked Ryan Sweeney to put runners at first and second. He then went to 3-0 on Cody Ross, putting himself in a perilous situation.

A year ago, this was where Drabek would have come apart at the seams, trying to throw each pitch harder than the last and losing what little command he had in the process. Instead, he bowed his neck and came all the way back to get Ross on strikes, then ended the threat by fanning catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

“I was kind of telling myself just to come back but not to the point where you’re just throwing fastballs down the middle,” said Drabek. “I wanted to execute good pitches and keep them off balance. (Ross) swung at a fastball up and probably saved me a little bit.”

Through five innings, Drabek allowed just three baserunners, but lost his compass slightly in the sixth. A walk to Jacoby Ellsbury and a double by Dustin Pedroia put runners at second and third with nobody out. Adrian Gonzalez then delivered a sacrifice fly to rightfielder Bautista, who threw a laser to third base and would have had Pedroia but his throw hit the baserunner in the back.

When Drabek walked David Ortiz, Jason Frasor was summoned from the bullpen to get out of the jam. This was a matchup the Jays braintrust was looking for since Youkilis came into the game just 1-for-15 against Frasor.

Frasor made it 1-for-16, inducing a double-play ball from the bat of Youkilis to end the inning and stop the bleeding at one run.

Having survived that threat, the Jays broke it open in their half of the sixth with three runs, dismissing Bard in the process.

Boston scored its final two runs on three hits and a walk after Casey Janssen had struck out the first two men he faced in the ninth. He finally struck out David Ortiz to end the rally.


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