TORONTO — Chris Rowley's unusual journey to the major leagues culminated in a sharp debut Saturday, as the rookie right-handed pitcher led the Toronto Blue Jays to a 7-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Rowley, who missed the 2014 and 2015 seasons to serve active duty in the U.S. Army, gave up one run in just over five mostly trouble-free innings as the Blue Jays (55-61) evened their three-game series in front of 46,179 under a closed Rogers Centre.
Rookie right-hander Trevor Williams gave up four runs (three earned) over six innings and Jordy Mercer hit a solo home run for the Pirates (58-59), who had sailed to five wins in their last six games heading into Saturday's matinee.
The Blue Jays wasted no time getting to the 25-year-old Williams, who was coming off his best start of the season against Detroit. In the first inning, Toronto turned Jose Bautista's lead-off walk into a 1-0 lead after a Justin Smoak single and an RBI fielder's choice from Steve Pearce.
Pittsburgh tied the game after Josh Bell led off the second with a triple into left-centre, but again the Blue Jays inched ahead in the bottom half of the inning when Josh Donaldson's bases-loaded walk put Toronto ahead 2-1.
The Blue Jays extended their lead to 4-1 during a messy fifth for Pittsburgh. Bautista again reached base after taking a sinker to the back, Donaldson followed with a bloop single and Pearce walked to load the bases. Although pinch hitter Kendrys Morales's ensuing ground ball to short seemed to set up a routine double play, Pirates second baseman Adam Frazier's throw in the dirt scuttled past first base to allow Bautista and Donaldson to score.
Rowley, meanwhile, looked dependable in his debut. He scattered five hits and only one walk over his 5 1/3 innings, throwing only 75 pitches before exiting the game during one of his only real jams, when he allowed a pair of runners in the sixth. Reliever Dominic Leone took over and quickly got two outs to end the frame.
More of Pittsburgh's follies in the field helped Toronto nudge the game out of reach in the seventh. After Smoak and Pearce singled off former Jays reliever Joaquin Benoit, catcher Mike Ohlman hit a gentle grounder to third baseman Josh Harrison, who followed with a wild throw to first that scored two runs and allowed Ohlman to sprint all the way to third. Kevin Pillar followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 7-1 for Toronto.
NOTES: Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a left oblique strain before the game. He was scheduled to have an MRI later Saturday. … Left-hander J.A. Happ (5-8, 3.77 ERA) takes the mound for the Blue Jays in Sunday's series finale against Chad Kuhl (5-7, 4.53 ERA).
Nick Patch, The Canadian Press