It took Eveland until the final day of the Florida portion of Spring Training to win a spot in the Blue Jays' rotation -- news that has had the pitcher smiling wide for more than a week now. On Saturday night at Camden Yards, Eveland showed why Toronto trusted him with the fifth starter's job, frustrating the Orioles with finesse in a 3-0 victory.
"That was a good day," said a grinning Eveland.
Eveland's route to the rotation was simple: focus less on trying to overpower hitters and more on mixing pitches and speeds to keep them off-balance. It was the approach Eveland adopted again in Baltimore, where he and catcher Jose Molina had a sudden love affair with a changeup that left the Orioles' offense looking baffled all evening.
For Eveland, it was a strange experience. In the past, the left-hander would rely heavily on his breaking ball -- a pitch he guessed he maybe turned to five or six times against Baltimore. This time around, Eveland kept going with his changeup, which mimics the action of his two-seam sinking fastball, because the Orioles struggled to solve the pitch.
"When you have a team that is chasing a pitch," Molina said, "you just try to keep going with it until they show you that they can make the adjustment. Tonight, the Orioles didn't make that adjustment on him, and that's why we took advantage of it."
Eveland said that was especially the case in the later stages of his 7 1/3 innings on the mound. As the game progressed, and the Blue Jays ran out to a 2-0 lead, Baltimore's hitters began to attack earlier in counts. Molina and Eveland picked up on the Orioles' altered approach at the plate and began using the changeup in counts typically reserved for a fastball.
In the seventh inning, Eveland needed just six pitches to retire Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold and Ty Wigginton in order.
"Four of them were changeups," Eveland said. "They were getting aggressive, so I slowed them down a little bit and let them hit it off the end of the bat."
When it was all said and done, Eveland had scattered five hits (four singles) with two strikeouts, two walks and one hit batsmen for the Jays (4-1). Every time Eveland fell into a jam -- and there were plenty -- he found an escape route. Eveland created 12 outs via ground balls, including two on an inning-ending double play in the first, ending the night with 94 pitches.
The way his start unfolded had Eveland scratching his head as much as Baltimore's hitters.
"It was actually one of the weirdest games I've ever pitched in my entire life," Eveland said with a laugh. "I just had a good changeup. It was down in the zone and had a little sink to it and they were just beating it into the ground or popping it up. I got a lot of soft contact on it, so that was real nice.
"I've had times in the past where I've had good changeups, but it's not my favorite pitch to throw. "
Considering the way Eveland was throwing, he did not require much offensive support.
In the fourth inning, Baltimore starter David Hernandez loaded the bases with two outs and then hit Molina with a pitch to bring home Toronto's first run. Then in the sixth inning, Molina delivered an RBI single with two outs and two runners aboard to push the Jays to a 2-0 advantage. A run-scoring double from Adam Lind in the ninth put Toronto ahead, 3-0.
That created the fifth save opportunity in five games this season for the Jays, who called upon closer Jason Frasor in the ninth. Frasor issued a leadoff walk to Markakis and later allowed a one-out single to Garrett Atkins to bring the tying run to the plate for the Orioles (1-4). Toronto's diminutive stopper brought an end to the drama with a flyout and a strikeout to seal the save and the win.
The night belonged to Eveland, though.
At the onset of Spring Training, the 26-year-old Eveland was not considered a favorite to land one of the five spots on the starting staff. At the very least, he could have filled a spot in the bullpen. Eveland's being out of options helped his cause, but the 1.80 ERA he fashioned in the preseason ultimately convinced the Jays to bring him north when camp broke.
"We were going to give him a shot to see if he could become one of the starters," manager Cito Gaston said. "If not, we thought maybe if he didn't pan out as far as a starter, we'd put him in the bullpen as one of our left-handers -- a long guy in the bullpen.
"He made the team as a starter and he proved tonight that he's worthy of it."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less