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Toronto Blue Jays batter Vernon Wells reacts after striking out against Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Matt Albers in the seventh inning. (JOE GIZA)
Toronto Blue Jays batter Vernon Wells reacts after striking out against Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Matt Albers in the seventh inning. (JOE GIZA)

Gloom deepens for Blue Jays Add to ...

The amiable Gene Tenace, whose job as the hitting coach of the Toronto Blue Jays is being put to the test these days, demonstrated his swing in the clubhouse before last night's game against the Baltimore Orioles.

"Once you get your hand-eye co-ordination down, you should be fine," Tenace preached, following through with a bat in his hands as Adam Lind, the young slugger, looked on intently.

Keep in mind here, the advice Tenace was imparting had nothing to do with how to strike a baseball but a golf ball.

Such is the atmosphere that continues to surround the Blue Jays despite a sudden adversity to clutch hitting that has the team dealing with its first extended slump of the major-league baseball season.

No worries remains the credo, this will end sooner or later.

Not last night, when Toronto's painful nine-game trip continued at chilly and rain-swept Camden Yards. The Blue Jays' season-high losing string reached eight games with a 7-2 setback to the Orioles.

The Orioles (20-26) have won the first two games of the three-game set and can now hand the Blue Jays (27-22) their third successive sweep of their trip with a win in this afternoon's finale.

Rookie pitcher Ricky Romero marked his first return to the pitching mound for the Blue Jays in more than a month after suffering a strained right oblique muscle and the rust was evident.

Romero surrendered all five Baltimore runs off 11 hits - all scoring off home runs struck by Aubrey Huff, Adam Jones and Nolan Reimold.

Not that the Blue Jays hitters gave him much of a chance.

After a positive start - hits by Lind in the first inning and Rod Barajas in the second provided Toronto with a 2-0 lead - it was back to sleep time for the offence.

The Blue Jays stranded 10 base runners in the game as the team went 2-for-13 hitting with runners in scoring position.

Baltimore got one of the runs back in the second on a solo blast by Huff to right field.

The Orioles then took the lead for good at 3-2 in the fifth inning when Jones whacked a two-run shot to left field.

Jason Berken, making his major-league debut for the Orioles, recorded the win, giving up two runs off seven hits over five innings.

Tenace said he had nothing but baseball on his mind in Atlanta over the weekend when he called a hitters-only meeting to discuss Toronto's current woes.

Through the first seven games of the slide, the once-hot bats of the Blue Jays have grown tepid, with Toronto hitting a meek .138 with runners in scoring position.

"Like I told them … it wasn't an accident what they did the first month and three weeks [of the regular season]" Tenace said before the game. "We're just in a little skid right now and we'll come back out. We've got too many hitters here not to."

Toronto manager Cito Gaston, a loyal sort who likes to stick with a set lineup even through the toughest times, raised more than a few eyebrows when he first inserted, and then later scratched, Alex Rios' name from the starting lineup for the first time this year.

"I decided to give him a day off," Gaston replied. "Maybe give somebody a day off [today] too. We'll see. But that's all it is."

In place of Rios, Gaston gave the start to Joe Inglett in right field.

Rios has been a puzzle for the Blue Jays for a couple of seasons, never quite living up to the immense promise he displayed in 2007, when he knocked 24 home runs and totalled 85 runs-batted in.

The rangy 28-year-old was selected to the all-star team for the second consecutive season that year and his ticket for future stardom appeared to have been punched.

That belief was obviously felt by Jays' management. Before the start of the 2008 season, Rios was rewarded with a seven-year, $70-million (U.S.) contract extension that secures him to Toronto through 2014.

But Rios' power numbers have dipped precipitously since, to 15 home runs last year, to just five so far this season.

Approached by a couple of reporters before the game, Rios said everything was fine and he was not the least bit perturbed by his lack of power so far this season.

"I'm just going to go out there and whatever happens, happens," he said. "If I don't hit homers I don't hit homers. If I don't get hits I don't get hits. I don't put any extra attention on myself and just day to day."

On deck

Notes The Toronto Blue Jays have released an advisory to those planning on attending Friday's home game against the Boston Red Sox: Be prepared for increased traffic volume in and around the downtown core. Former U.S. presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton are scheduled for a speaking engagement the same night at the Toronto Metro Convention Centre. … The Jays have now gone nine consecutive games without scoring more than three runs. Over that span, they've totalled just 16 runs. … The Jays have also gone seven games in a row without hitting a home run.

Next game Today, at Baltimore Orioles, 1:35 p.m. EDT

Probable pitchers Jays RHP Roy Halladay (8-1, 2.52 ERA) v. Orioles LHP Rich Hill (1-0, 3.18)

TV Rogers Sportsnet

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