Blair struck out the last two batters he faced, Judge and Carter, and left after throwing 36 strikes in 56 pitches. After falling behind in counts at the outset of the game, he began throwing his fastball for strikes and complemented it with a slider that he’s worked hard to improve since his disappointing rookie season.
“First inning was big,” Blair said, “getting the first three guys on base and then making one pitch to get two outs, then being able to get (Aaron) Hicks to pop out to right, that was big for me. And getting the two strikeouts in the third, that was big for me.”
Blair struggled mightily in seven of his 15 major league starts as a rookie in 2016, when he had to get by mostly on fastballs and change-ups. He went 2-7 with a 7.59 ERA for the Braves and gave up 82 hits including 14 home runs and 34 walks in 70 innings while recording 46 strikeouts.
“Fastball felt like it was coming out a little better than two times ago,” Blair said, referring to his first spring outing, when he gave up three hits, one run and two walks in two innings against the Astros. “The last (start) was, like, four pitches (before he left the game). Slider was there today, change-up was there when I needed it, so I felt pretty comfortable.”
The slider could be a key to bigger things for Blair, he said.
“It was there all game, got some swing-and-misses, threw it for strikes when I needed to,” he said. “That, with my change-up, was kind of an equalizer for right-handed and left-handed hitters… I threw Judge a 2-1 slider today. Last year that would have either been a fastball or a change-up, so this year having a third weapon for me, hopefully it’s big.”