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TOR@LAA: Alvarez dominates with first career shutout

ANAHEIM -- The Blue Jays' recent dominance on the mound continued Friday night, and this time it was Henderson Alvarez's opportunity to seize the spotlight.

On Thursday night it was Brandon Morrow pitching a shutout, and Alvarez followed suit with the first of his career in Toronto's 4-0 victory over the Angels in front of 33,160 fans at Angel Stadium.

"I feel like this is the best game that I've ever pitched," Alvarez said through interpreter Luis Rivera. "In low 'A' ball I had a complete game also, but it doesn't compare to a big league game like this one."

Alvarez's performance on Friday marked the first time the Blue Jays have received back-to-back complete-game shutouts since Jack Morris and Al Leiter did it June 16-17, 1993. The club hasn't allowed a run in its past 22 innings and during that span has surrendered just nine hits and one walk.

That has helped contribute to Toronto's four-game winning streak while the club also has won six of its past seven contests dating to April 28. A major reason for the success this season has been the performance of the starting pitchers, who have thrown at least five innings in 29 consecutive outings.

Alvarez was able to take that output to an even higher level because of an overpowering sinker that he managed to keep down in the zone and effectively throw to both sides of the plate. The native of Venezuela allowed just six hits and one walk while striking out three against Los Angeles en route to his second win in as many starts.

"Just another outstanding pitched game again tonight," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "Henderson, right from the first pitch of the game through the 97th one, he stayed in his delivery well, didn't overthrow the baseball.

"What can you say? A lot of first-pitch strikes, a lot of strikes overall and with that sinker can neutralize some of their power and keep the ball on the ground."

The 22-year-old Alvarez has five quality starts in six outings and has allowed two runs or fewer in four games this season. Dating to last year, he has 11 quality starts in 16 games and continues to be one of the Blue Jays' most consistent starters despite the lack of experience at the big league level.

Alvarez twice escaped innings in which he surrendered a leadoff double. That was the case in the ninth inning, when Maicer Izturis doubled to left-center field, but Alvarez calmly responded by retiring the next three batters on groundouts.

It seems as though no matter what type of situation Alvarez encounters, he maintains the same demeanor on the mound. He could be up six runs or down six and nobody would be able to the tell the difference, and in this case that worked to his benefit.

"The only thing I was worried about was the next hitter, [Albert] Pujols," Alvarez said of his reaction to the Izturis double. "I felt like I made some good pitches on him and then the next hitter and then the next hitter. I wasn't thinking about a complete game, or shutout, or anything like that. I was concentrating on the next hitter."

Alvarez's success at the big league level has been even more remarkable considering his pitches don't miss a lot of bats. He has just 52 strikeouts in 105 innings and heavily relies on his ability to force opponents into hitting the ball on the ground.

That's rare for a pitcher who has the ability to reach upper-90s velocity with his fastball, but it's the type of approach Alvarez said he has grown accustomed to.

"I've always been a guy like that," Alvarez said. "I'm not going to make a lot of pitches, I'm going to be a guy that makes those guys swing the bat. There are going to be days when they're probably going to hit me, but I'm fine with that as long as I stay aggressive and make those guys swing the bat. That's my gameplan."

Toronto opened the scoring with one out in the third inning. Angels starter Ervin Santana had recorded five consecutive strikeouts until he issued a walk to No. 9 hitter Jeff Mathis. Two batters later, shortstop Yunel Escobar came through with a two-out RBI single to give the Blue Jays an early lead.

Jose Bautista then capped the inning with a two-run home run off a first-pitch fastball from Santana. Bautista's fifth of the season was his second in four games and provided Toronto with a three-run cushion that was more than enough for Alvarez.

"He did a great job tonight and our pitchers in general, all season, have been great, but Brandon and Henderson the last two nights have been unbelievable," Bautista said.

"It's just about going out trying to win a ballgame any way that you can. Just trying to get that win. We've made it happen a bunch of different ways, but our pitching staff has done an outstanding job and they've given us a chance to win most of the games that we have because they kept us within striking range."

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