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Varsho has grand slam as Blue Jays hold off Rockies 5-3 in Rodriguez's MLB debut

TORONTO — Yariel Rodriguez had been waiting his entire life for this moment: pitching in Major League Baseball.
Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Yariel Rodriguez throws his first Major League pitch against Colorado Rockies during inning interleague MLB baseball action in Toronto, Saturday, April 13, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — Yariel Rodriguez had been waiting his entire life for this moment: pitching in Major League Baseball.

Rodriguez did not disappoint, striking out six and giving up just one run on four hits over 3 2/3 innings as the Toronto Blue Jays held on for a 5-3 win over the Colorado Rockies on Saturday. The 26-year-old Cuban said he was trying to stay mentally present on the mound.

"It was very emotional but at the same time, I know I've got a job to do," said Rodriguez through translator Hector Lebron. "I was talking to myself, to just control yourself, mentally, physically, everything."

Rodriguez agreed to a US$32-million, five-year contract with the Blue Jays in the off-season and was called up to MLB for the first time earlier Saturday. He has pitched as a starter and a reliever in top leagues in Cuba and Japan.

He did not allow a run in 6 1/3 innings as a starting pitcher for triple-A Buffalo this season, striking out 10 over his two starts. 

"This is the best baseball in the world," said Rodriguez, who turned professional at 18 before moving to Japan when he was 22. "If there's any difference, it's location, you really have to locate your pitches here. 

"Don't miss your spot because if you do you're going to get hurt."

Daulton Varsho had a grand slam after Davis Schneider's bases-loaded walk as Toronto (7-8) built a 5-0 lead in the first. Cavan Biggio extended his hit streak to a career-best eight games with a basehit in the eighth.

Bowden Francis (1-2), Tim Mayza, Chad Green and Yimi Garcia came out of the Blue Jays' bullpen to preserve the win, with Francis giving up two runs over 2 1/3 innings. Garcia got his first save of the season.

Toronto manager John Schneider said the five-run lead allowed him to stick with his original plan of having Francis "complete" Rodriguez's start.

"I think getting that little cushion, it just gives Yariel a chance to take a deep breath and allow us to kind of roll out our pitching the way we had hoped," he said.

Brendan Rodgers's two-run single in the sixth inning kept Colorado (4-11) in the game, after Brenton Doyle's solo shot in the third.

Dakota Hudson (0-3) gave up five runs on five hits, striking out five over six innings. Victor Vodnik and Jake Bird each threw a scoreless inning of relief.

Toronto's offence backed Rodriguez up in the bottom of the first, with Schneider drawing a bases-loaded walk to push George Springer across home.

Varsho hit his second home run in as many games in the next at bat, clearing the bases for a 5-0 Blue Jays lead. He hit Hudson's 91.3 m.p.h. four-seam fastball 390 feet to right-centre field. The second grand slam of Varsho's career scored Bo Bichette, Daniel Vogelbach, and Schneider.

Varsho was happy to take some pressure off Rodriguez.

"I think for any pitcher going out there when you have a lead, they're able to do certain things that they want to do and be able to locate and be able to do what they've done," said Varsho. "It was awesome what he was able to do for us."

Doyle replied in the top of the third, crushing an 86 m.p.h. Rodriguez slider 420 feet to the second deck in left field. 

Rodriguez was pulled from the game after two outs in the fourth inning. Blue Jays manager John Schneider said before the game that Rodriguez would be limited to 70 pitches and the Toronto skipper was true to his word, bringing Francis out of the bullpen as soon as Rodriguez struck out Rodgers for his sixth K of the game. 

The 31,472 fans at Rogers Centre gave Rodriguez a standing ovation as he headed to the dugout, with the young pitcher taking his hat off and bowing his head in thanks.

Rodgers chipped away at the Blue Jays' lead in the sixth, hitting a bouncing single down the first-base line. That brought home Elias Diaz and Nolan Jones to make it 5-3.

ON DECK — Jose Berríos (2-0) will take the mound Sunday afternoon in the finale of the three-game series.

Kyle Freeland (0-2) will get the start for Colorado.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 13, 2024.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press

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