Right-hander Ramon Ortiz has done a decent job filling in for Toronto's banged-up rotation over his last two starts.
He was rewarded with another start Tuesday night and made his first appearance against the Tampa Bay Rays this season. It didn't take them long to figure him out.
The visiting Rays scored twice in the second inning and knocked Ortiz out of the game in a two-run third as Tampa Bay held off Toronto 4-3 at Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays chipped away at the deficit but Fernando Rodney struck out Melky Cabrera with a runner on first to end the game.
Toronto manager John Gibbons said Ortiz just didn't have it tonight.
"His command was off and that's something he needs," he said. "And [he was missing] up — if it was down it's a little bit different but it was up. He's pitched great for us, he really has. This is one of those nights.
"But we had a chance, we had a chance late but we just didn't come out on top."
Colby Rasmus, who hit a solo homer in the fifth inning, doubled in the ninth and eventually scored on a wild pitch to make it a one-run game. Munenori Kawasaki reached base on a walk but was stranded when Rodney got Cabrera looking on a pitch that could have gone either way.
"Right there at the end, that's a pretty tough call," Rasmus said. "It leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth. But that's baseball."
Cabrera voiced his displeasure with the call before slowly walking back to the dugout. Rodney earned his ninth save as the Rays ended Toronto's four-game home winning streak.
Gibbons said he didn't think it looked like a strike but Toronto can't use the call as an excuse.
"He's always been a pitcher's ump and he did it for both sides," Gibbons said. "I mean we benefited from that too."
Ortiz, a 12-year major-league veteran who spent part of the season at triple-A Buffalo, lasted just 2 1/3 innings. He threw five solid innings in his first start of the year May 10 at Boston and followed it up with a strong seven-inning performance five days later at home against San Francisco.
"I didn't have my best game today but I feel so happy because I have a lot of confidence in all my pitches," Ortiz said. "I know that everything can change. In five days I'll be fine."
Ortiz gave up six hits and four earned runs. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay starter Alex Cobb (5-2) recorded his seventh quality start of the year, allowing three hits and one earned run over 6 1-3 innings.
"I kind of felt like it was my worst game, stuff-wise," Cobb said. "When you have a quality outing without your best stuff, you're very pleased."
Kelly Johnson and Desmond Jennings homered for the Rays (24-21), who have won five of their last six road games. With the loss, the Blue Jays fell deeper into the American League East basement at 18-27.
The finale of the three-game set is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
Rays slugger Evan Longoria extended his hitting streak to 15 games with a double in the second inning. He moved to third on a James Loney groundout and scored when Luke Scott hit a slow grounder down the third-base line.
Johnson goes deep
Johnson followed with a solo blast. The former Blue Jay took a 2-1 pitch over the wall in centre field for his eighth homer of the year.
Jennings hit Ortiz's first pitch of the third inning over the wall in left-centre for his fifth home run of the season. Left-hander Aaron Loup relieved Ortiz with runners on the corners and one out.
First baseman Edwin Encarnacion made a nice defensive play by short-hopping a Loney chopper on the run and throwing out Ben Zobrist at home. Scott then drove in Longoria with a single to make it 4-0.
Rasmus woke up the quiet crowd of 15,802 with his seventh homer of the year. The ball bounced off the 300-level scoreboard in right field and fell into the seats in the second deck.
Toronto threatened with two outs in the sixth inning when Jose Bautista singled and Encarnacion walked. Adam Lind hit a sharp grounder that former Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar snagged behind second base and threw to first to get Lind by half a step.
"I thought for sure it was a base hit," Cobb said. "It was up the middle. I'll admit I didn't know where the defence was at that moment but [manager] Joe [Maddon] had them positioned perfectly and Escobar made an unreal play and finished it off with a great throw."
Brett Lawrie of Langley, B.C., reached on a throwing error by Longoria with one out in the seventh inning. Jake McGee relieved Cobb and got Rasmus on a flyout and pinch-hitter Mark DeRosa on a strikeout.
Toronto cut into Tampa's lead in the eighth inning. Kawasaki singled and moved to second on a Cabrera walk.
Bautista hit a single that scored Kawasaki. The Blue Jays loaded the bases with one out but J.P. Arencibia hit into an inning-ending double play.
Loup, Esmil Rogers, Steve Delabar and Brett Cecil handled relief duties for Toronto. Tampa Bay outhit Toronto 10-6 and the game took three hours 15 minutes to play.