Robbie gives Blue Jays rotation a Ray of hope in loss to Royals

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The Blue Jays rotation was always going to be a concern for the 2021 season, one of the more notable ground-under-repair areas remaining with the team.

And it may well continue to be that way.

But as the team looks to swat aside injury adversity in the early going, the potential of a 1-2-3 punch at the top of the rotation remains a possibility.

First to Sunday, where Robbie Ray somehow pulled out the magician’s act through five shutout innings that were nowhere near as efficient in the boxscore of what ultimately turned into a 2-0 loss to the Royals.

Battling the control problems that had plagued him in recent seasons, Ray seemed rusty. He left the bases loaded in each of the first two innings, took 91 pitches to get through five and left no fewer than 10 on the base paths in total.

Given that it was just his second outing after suffering a minor elbow injury late in spring training, perhaps Sunday’s effort as an outlier. Ray certainly feels he figured out the problem early.

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“One of the biggest things was getting a little too fast with my front side,” said Ray, who became the first Jays pitcher since the late Roy Halladay in 1999 to walk six and not allow a run. “Building off those last two innings, that felt normal. That felt like me.

“I didn’t have my best stuff today and I still put up five zeros, so there’s something to take from that.”

If normal returns Ray to the strike zone for his next start, the rotation could actually be in reasonable shape. Between ace Hyun-Jin Ryu and Steven Matz, who was superb on Saturday, that pair is 4-1 in six starts with a combined ERA of 1.69.

“It’s huge,” Jays pitching coach Pete Walker said on Sunday. “Those guys at the top definitely set the tone. Ryu’s been off to a good start. Matz is off to a good start and Ray obviously had a great spring and we expect him to continue to throw well.

“Those guys will feed off each other and then we hope we can get a couple other guys to step up and fall right in line there. But if we have some stability at the top of the rotation, it sets things up better for sure.”

Whit Merrifield of the Royals dives safely back to third base as Joe Panik of the Blue Jays applies the tag during the during inning. JAMIE SQUIRE/GETTY IMAGES
Whit Merrifield of the Royals dives safely back to third base as Joe Panik of the Blue Jays applies the tag during the during inning. JAMIE SQUIRE/GETTY IMAGES

GAME ON

While Ray was doing his escape routine, the Jays offence was deep in its disappearing act, managing just two hits — and none after the third inning — while getting shut out for the first time this season … The first (and only) runs of the game didn’t come until the bottom of the seventh when sometimes Jays starter T.J. Zeuch allowed a single, homer and double on his first three pitches. The big blow was that two-run blast by Salvador Perez to break the shutout, the day after hitting a walk-off homer to down the Jays … After dropping three of four to the Royals, the Jays are now 7-9 on the season … Manager Charlie Montoyo on the offensive struggles: “It was obvious we didn’t hit. I feel good where we are as a team with all the injuries we have. Maybe some guys are putting more pressure on themselves because the lineup isn’t as strong as it’s supposed to be.”

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WAIT ON NATE

His return will likely still be measured in weeks, but the Jays are optimistic with the progress of Nate Pearson, who has missed the entire season recovering from an adductor strain.

Pearson has a bullpen session scheduled in Dunedin on Tuesday, another big step forward in the hard-throwing righty’s recovery.

“He looks great,” Walker said. “His velocity and breaking stuff is there. He’s throwing strikes and he feels really good.”

Understandably, Walker isn’t at the point of sharing timelines on when Pearson will return, but the plan remains to build him up as a starter. Add a healthy Pearson to the other three and suddenly the rotation could be a strength.

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BRING ON SPRINGER

The progress of George Springer’s recovery from a pair of injuries has the centre fielder nearing a return to the lineup, possibly by the end of the week. And man, could the offence use their presence.

Speaking on MLB radio on Sunday, Jays general manager Ross Atkins said that the former Astros star has ramped up his activity in recent days.

“He’s really feeling good,” Atkins said. “He’s doing all of the baseball activity — not quite at 100% — but is getting live BP reps. He’s had good defensive action. He’s running again.

“I think it’s a matter of us being disciplined in the process to make sure we don’t move too quickly and that he’s at 100% or very near before we activate him,” Atkins said. “All signs are exceptionally positive.”

Meanwhile, Teoscar Hernandez, who is on the COVID-19 list after testing positive for the virus last week remains symptom-free and will look to rejoin the team when he clears testing.

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AROUND THE BASES

In other injury news, the Jays are pleased with the progress of late-inning reliever Jordan Romano, who threw in K.C. on Sunday and seems well on his way to recovery from the ulnar neuritis that put him on the injury list earlier in the week. “Bottom line is he feels good,” Walker said. “He was cutting it loose. (The injury) was a bit of a freak thing that irritated him a little but is nothing alarming.” … Third baseman Cavan Biggio was held out of the lineup for a second consecutive day after suffering a minor hand injury when fielding a ball on Friday.

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