Fear not, Toronto Blue Jays loyalists. There is still a ton of time to turn this thing around.
The offence has been chugging like an old Volkswagen Beetle as the Blue Jays dropped the first two games of the season in Baltimore to the Orioles before the opening trip of the year continued Thursday night at Tropicana Field.
And with one mighty swing of the bat in the third inning, Toronto’s Kendrys Morales helped clear both the air of any offensive uncertainty and the bags of Blue Jays baserunners.
Morales’s grand slam, his first home run of the season and first as a Blue Jay, went a long way toward helping to lift the Blue Jays (1-2) to a 5-2 win over the Rays (2-2).
Marcus Stroman also played no small role in the breakthrough triumph in his season debut.
The tightly wound and combative Toronto starter picked up where he left off as the most valuable player in the recently completed World Baseball Classic for the gold-medal-winning U.S. side, subduing the Rays in a dominant performance.
Stroman pitched six-plus innings and stifled the Rays to one run off six hits while striking out five.
A lack of offence was never anticipated to be a real concern for the Blue Jays this season, even without the looming presence of Edwin Encarnacion, the noted big bopper, who skedaddled during the off-season as a free agent to Cleveland.
Still, with just three runs to show for 18 hits over the first two games – and zero home runs – one begins to wonder. Maybe it is just the early season blues to be blamed, where the pitchers are truly ahead of the hitters during the season’s infancy.
“You never know,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said when that proposition was put to him before the game.
“I chalk it up to, I thought the guys in Baltimore pitched pretty good,” Gibbons continued. “Our pitching basically shut them down, but they got a couple of big home runs – the walk off and then the two-runner by Jones and then Chris Davis. Which is kind of our game too, but they got them, we didn’t.”
The Toronto offence still has some work to do, and it is early. The Blue Jays only counted six hits on Thursday, but made the most of them.
Troy Tulowitzki, for instance, continued a shaky beginning with the bat, going hitless in four trips to the plate Thursday night to move him to 0-for-13 on the season.
And Jose Bautista, who did have two walks and scored a run, went 0-for-2 and is now 1-for-11 after three games.
After completing the four-game set against the Rays the Blue Jays return to Toronto for a nine-game home stand, beginning Tuesday night at Rogers Centre against the Milwaukee Brewers.
And the good news for that game for the Blue Jays is that closer Roberto Osuna, who was placed on the disabled list with a sore neck, is expected back in the lineup.
Gibbons gave Devon Travis the game off on Thursday, giving Darwin Barney the start at second base and moving left fielder Steve Pearce into the leadoff spot in the batting order.
Stroman served notice early on it was to be a good night for him. He struck out the side in the first inning and the first four batters overall. He was locating the ball well and getting the groundouts when needed.
The defence was also there to pick him up when required with three double plays turned behind him.
Stroman also threw out Steven Souza Jr. at the plate in the fifth inning with just a bit of help from catcher Russell Martin, who hung onto a high throw despite a hearty collision at the plate.
Snell wasn’t doing that bad on his own accord for Tampa early on, not allowing a Toronto hit through the first two innings before things went sideways.
It started with a one-out single by Barney and continued with back-to-back two-out walks to Donaldson and Bautista to load the bases for Morales.
It was the signing of Morales during free agency that paved the way for the exit of Encarnacion and the former Kansas City Royals star came through, teeing off on an 0-1 Snell fastball that vaulted Toronto in front 4-0.
The Rays finally broke through in the seventh inning, when Stroman gave up three of his hits, including a single by Logan Morrison that scored Evan Longoria from second.
That spelled the end of the night for Stroman.
Jason Grilli came into the game in the bottom of the ninth with runners at second and third and one out and served up a wild pitch that carded the second Tampa run. But Grilli struck out Adam Morrison and then Rickie Weeks Jr. to earn the save.Report Typo/Error
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