TORONTO — As the weather heats up, Marco Estrada’s pitching has turned cold.
The Blue Jays’ right-handed nstarter picked up his third straight loss this month in a 8-1 setback to the Tampa Bay Rays at Rogers Centre on Tuesday night.
Estrada gave up six runs, all earned, in 3.1 innings on 12 hits (a career high), including two home runs. He has now given up 17 earned runs in his last 12.1 innings. He has given up 28 hits in his last three starts.
“It sucks. I know I’ve been in a bit of a funk the last few outings (but) I’m not worried about it,” said Estrada. “I felt pretty good out there, I know things are going to change for me. It sucks when you feel good out there and you kind of let one get away from you. But it’s a long season and I went through a bit of a funk last season and I was able to correct it. So I plan on doing the same thing.”
Many of the hits off Estrada were bloopers, bleeders or weak grounders that found holes in the infield. But he also gave up two home runs in the third, including a monster three-run blast to centre by Logan Morrison. The Rays hammered three homers against the Jays, by Morrison, Taylor Featherston (off Estrada) and a ninth-inning bomb to right by Corey Dickerson off Toronto reliever Aaron Loup — the first homer Loup has allowed by a left-handed batter since June 9, 2016, against Baltimore.
Over his last six starts against the Rays, Estrada is 0-6 (0-3 this season) with an ERA of 8.19.
“I don’t really know,” said Estrada when asked about his problems against Tampa. “It doesn’t make any sense. I’m making good pitches and they’re all over everything. It’s tough. I’ve got to make better pitches.”
Toronto manager John Gibbons suggested that, as a finesse pitcher, if Estrada’s pin-point control is just slightly off, he can be vulnerable.
“I think that’s off for him right now,” said Gibbons, who waved aside suggestions that he is starting to get worried about Estrada. “He’ll be out there every fifth day, I know that. He’ll work it out.”
Meanwhile, Rays rookie starter Jake Faria was outstanding in his second career major league start, allowing only six hits and one run over 6.1 innings. He didn’t give up an extra base hit until the seventh inning when Jays catcher Russell Martin hit a double off the wall in left.
Estrada survived the first inning without giving up a run, which was a minor victory in itself. Heading into Tuesday’s game he held a 7.62 ERA (11 earned runs in 13 innings) in the opening inning this season with an opposition average of .333 and a WHIP of 1.92.
Morrison put the Rays ahead 4-0 in the third after second baseman Featherston led off the inning with a solo blast to right. Featherston was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday for cash considerations. Morrison, in hitting his 18th of the season, came up to the plate with Dickerson and Evan Longoria on base and deposited the Estrada offering into the Flight Deck in centre field. The damage could have been worse if not for a good play by Troy Tulowitzki. Following a double by former Jay Colby Rasmus, Robertson hit a hot grounder to the Toronto shortstop who went home with the throw to get Steven Souza Jr. in a run down for the second out. It also saved a run.
The Rays added two more runs in the fourth to take a 6-0 lead. Longoria hit a double to left off reliever Dominic Leone to score two runners who got on base via singles off Estrada, who was pulled for Leone with one out in the inning. The damage could have been worse if not for a fine running catch by Kevin Pillar in centre to get Souza out to end the inning.
Tampa added another run in the seventh when Rasmus punched a sacrifice fly off reliever Jeff Beliveau to deep centre to score Longoria.
The Jays finally got to Faria in the seventh when Martin hit his double and Ezequiel Carrera followed that up with a single to right to score Martin. That hit snapped a 0-for-17 slump for Martin.
Rays manager Kevin Cash pulled Faria after that and brought in Austin Pruitt.
Toronto had a chance to make it a game in the eighth. With the bases loaded and two out, Martin smashed a grounder off Pruitt that bounced hard off the pitching mound right to Featherston, who fielded it and touched second for the force out. Five of the Rays’ starters posted a multi-hit game, including Dickerson who had three singles and the home run.