A.J. Burnett had a tough start to his Sunday, but unlike former Toronto Blue Jays teammate Frank Thomas, things improved as the day wore on.
Burnett battled for five innings on the mound, while shortstop David Eckstein socked a three-run home run in support of the right-handed pitcher in a 5-3 Blue Jays win over the visiting Detroit Tigers.
Thomas was released earlier Sunday, 24 hours after reacting angrily to being benched by manager John Gibbons. He accused the team of sitting him to keep his $10 million US option for 2009 from becoming guaranteed and then said he'd rather be released than be a part-time player.
"It's behind us now," Gibbons said of the Thomas affair. "We don't have to deal with it any more, I know he was frustrated, but we move on."
Backup catcher Rod Barajas started at designated hitter in place of the Big Hurt and went hitless in three at-bats with a strikeout.
Toronto pitchers Jesse Carlson, Shawn Camp and Jeremy Accardo combined for four shutout innings of relief that culminated with the latter's fourth save of the season.
Jays improve record
The Blue Jays improved their record to 10-9 with a second straight win and guaranteed themselves at least a split in the four-game series that concludes Monday at 12:37 p.m. ET.
Burnett, his start bumped two days after pitching the 14th inning of Wednesday's 7-5 loss to Texas, escaped minimal damage after loading the bases in the third and fourth innings.
After issuing three walks in the third, Burnett got Magglio Ordonez to ground out to second to end the threat.
With two out in the fourth, Clete Thomas singled in two runs to help the Tigers erase a 1-0 deficit. However, Burnett recovered to strike out Ivan Rodriguez en route to his second win of the season against one loss.
"Good thing I made a pitch when I needed to and that was with the fastball, it was doing its job today," said Burnett, whose curveball was inconsistent for most of his outing. "When you feel like I felt today, it's kind of hard to harness that, so we'll work on that."
'Getting my swing down:' Eckstein
The Blue Jays went ahead for good in the bottom of the frame, thanks largely to Eckstein's first homer of the season off Detroit starter Nate Robertson.
"Not at all," Eckstein, now 31 career homers to his credit, said laughing when asked if he was going to replace Frank Thomas's power. "I really haven't pulled a pitch effectively all year, I would say, so I was just trying to make sure I was getting my swing down where I'm staying on pitches. Fortunately enough I was able to stay on it."
John McDonald singled in the other run for Toronto, which outhit the Tigers 10-6.
Burnett was pulled after throwing 113 pitches over five innings, giving up three runs (all earned) and walking six. He also fanned four.
Carlson and Camp limited Detroit (6-10) to one hit in three innings, striking out five.
Accardo's scoreless ninth, in particular, was big for the Blue Jays, as he had been struggling for two weeks and had fallen to 0-3. With co-closer B.J. Ryan still unable to pitch on back-to-back days while recovering from Tommy John surgery — the big left-hander closed out Saturday's 3-2 win — a reliable Accardo is key to the bullpen.
'I hit my spots:' Accardo
"It feels good to those rough ones out of my system, that bear off my back," said Accardo. "I hit my spots, I gave up a hit but I got my ground-ball double play. Even on the hit I made my pitch where I wanted to."
Clete Thomas's one-out single put some bad thoughts in Accardo's head, but he bounced back, inducing Rodriguez to bounce into a game-ending double play.
"After [the single] I'm like, 'OK, here we go again,"' said Accardo. "I had to step off, get that out of my head and get back to work. One hit isn't going to make or break you, it's the next batter that matters."
Robertson, who left his last start Tuesday against Minnesota with tightness in his left side, was charged with five earned runs in five innings of work to fall to 0-2 on the season.
Tigers designated hitter Gary Sheffield sat out Sunday's game and will have his surgically-repaired right shoulder examined once the team returns home.
Toronto third baseman Scott Rolen (broken right middle finger) began a rehab assignment with single-A Dunedin on Sunday. He'll play three games before being re-evaluated Wednesday and could rejoin the team late this week.