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MIN@TOR: Jenkins earns his first big league win

TORONTO -- Chad Jenkins spent most of this season struggling in Double-A New Hampshire, but he at least ensured on Tuesday night that the 2012 campaign would end on a positive note.

Jenkins went from being somewhat of an afterthought to a possible part of the Blue Jays' future in a matter of just two months. It was an impressive turnaround for a rookie hurler looking to solidify his standing within the organization.

The final piece was put in place against the Twins as Jenkins threw five-plus quality innings en route to his first Major League win in Toronto's 4-3 victory in front of 13,930 fans at Rogers Centre.

"From where I was a few months ago, it was a little tough," Jenkins said. "I was getting hit around the yard a little bit, but luckily I settled down, got up here, and tried to keep the ball down as much as possible."

Jenkins' start against the Twins originally belonged to veteran Carlos Villanueva, but the club changed its mind on Monday. The decision was made in part due to Villanueva's heavy workload this season and also because of Toronto's desire to have another look at Jenkins before the end of the year.

The fact that Jenkins was given a shot at all this season seemed like a remote possibility back in July. Jenkins was mired in a frustrating year with New Hampshire, where he would go on to post a disappointing 5-9 record with a 4.96 ERA in 20 starts.

But a series of injuries to the Blue Jays' staff, plus a desire to see how Jenkins would respond at the next level, led to his promotion in August. Since then, Jenkins turned around his season by posting a 4.50 ERA -- including a 3.95 mark in three starts.

"When they repeat a level, sometimes they stagnate," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "I'm not saying that is the case, but it is potentially as it relates to Chad. Then they come to the Major League environment and the adrenaline and the intensity might cause their stuff to pick up a little bit.

"In his case, he has been able to channel that the right way. That's the beauty about this game, is that it might not always reflect the sheer velocity or radar-gun readings, but the life in the strike zone is what allows him to be successful against Major League hitters."

Jenkins, who was pitching on three days' rest, was relatively flawless during the early stages of Tuesday night's game. He faced just one batter over the minimum through four innings and didn't experience any difficulty until coming back out for the sixth.

That's when Jenkins allowed the first batter he faced to reach base and then served up a first-pitch homer to center fielder Denard Span. It was the lone blemish in an otherwise productive night on the mound for the 20th overall selection of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.

Toronto's rookie allowed just those two runs on five hits while striking out a pair to earn his first victory in 13 career appearances.

"My hardest time I remember was right around July 4," Jenkins said. "I think I went three starts in a row with double-digit hits. There was a point right in there where I was like, 'this is tough,' I'm not sure how this season is going to end up, but fortunate enough that I was able to turn things around.

"There were parts this year I honestly wasn't sure if I would get here. But fortunately the Blue Jays gave me a chance, and now I'm just trying to run with it."

Toronto got on the scoreboard in the third inning on an RBI single by Rajai Davis. The big blow came an inning later when second baseman Kelly Johnson worked the count full and then unloaded on a poorly located fastball by sending it over the wall in right-center field. It was Johnson's 16th homer of the season and just his third since August.

Johnson is set for free agency at the end of the season and appears unlikely to re-sign with the club. The starting role at second base could instead be handed over to rookie Adeiny Hechavarria, but for at least one more night, Johnson was able to play a crucial role in a Blue Jays' victory.

"Never felt in any kind of rhythm or groove," Johnson said of his year after tying Jose Canseco for the club's single-season record with 159 strikeouts. "Can't really explain it. But I think I have learned a lot this year, offensively, defensively, on the bases.

"The coaching staff does such a good job of preparing and getting you ready to play. In that way, I'm really proud, because I feel like I came in ready, no matter what. No matter if I was feeling bad or not doing well. Learned a lot from the guys here, coaches, players, guys around -- so I can take that with me."

The Blue Jays added one more in the fifth on an RBI single by Yunel Escobar. All four runs were charged to Anthony Swarzak, who allowed five hits while walking three and striking out two.

"I feel like there were about three innings where I was pretty good, but after that, they pounded a few hits and had a few walks," Swarzak said. "They had some pretty timely hitting against me. I put them in hitters' counts and when you do that, it's usually not going to fare too well for you."

Toronto has now won two consecutive games and three of its past four. The Blue Jays will have an opportunity to sweep Minnesota when the two clubs put an end to their season on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre.

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