Brandon Morrow takes turn frustrating Rays hitters
Blue Jays righty follows up Villanueva gem by tossing 6 2/3 solid innings before bullpen follows suit
The Toronto Blue Jays had their outfielders put in some extra time before the game to work on throwing. The results paid off in a big way.
Right-fielder Moises Sierra gunned down the potential tying run to end the game as Toronto won its second straight over the Tampa Bay Rays with a 2-1 victory on Friday night.
In the second inning left-fielder Rajai Davis threw out a runner at home as well, as the Jays won three in a row for the first time since July 26-28.
Back to scene of injury
The Tampa Bay Rays plan to activate right-hander Jeff Niemann off the 60-day disabled list to start against the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday.
Niemann hasn't pitched since May 14 when he left a start at Toronto with a fractured right leg after being struck by Adam Lind's line drive. Niemann was 2-3 with a 3.88 earned-run average in seven starts before the injury.
The Rays will call up four players from AAA Durham when rosters expand Saturday. Joining the team will be infielder Reid Brignac, catcher Chris Gimenez, left-hander Cesar Ramos and outfielder Rich Thompson.
The Rays also recalled infielder Sean Rodriguez and placed him on the 15-day DL. Rodriguez broke his right hand while punching a locker at AAA Durham.
— The Canadian Press
"It was really awesome how the day shaped up," said catcher Jeff Mathis, who blocked the plate expertly both times.
"Because before the game they were out there working on their throws, every outfielder, and tonight we gun two guys down at the plate. Two good throws by both of those guys saved the game for us."
Sierra hit his third home run since being called up from AAA Las Vegas last month, while Edwin Encarnacion also homered as Toronto made the most of four hits against Tampa Bay right-hander Jeremy Hellickson.
Brandon Morrow pitched 6 2/3 innings to pick up his first win since June 6, when he shutout the Chicago White Sox. He was making his second start since coming off the disabled list last Saturday and allowed eight hits with the only run coming on a homer by Desmond Jennings.
The struggling Rays (71-61) have lost six of their past seven games.
Casey Janssen pitched the ninth to pick up his 19th save despite giving up two hits.
The game-ending play came when pinch-runner Elliot Johnson tried to score from second on a single to right by pinch-hitter Carlos Pena.
Sierra fielded the ball and fired home to Mathis who blocked the plate and Johnson was out to end the game.
"Jeff makes an incredible block on a bang-bang play," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said.
First base coach Torey Lovullo, who works with the outfielders, had them out before a game working on throws.
He says the raw talent is there with Sierra. It's just a matter of refining it.
"It was just fine-tuning," Lovullo said. "He was just probably trying to throw the ball too hard and too aggressively. It's been a work in progress for the last couple of weeks and we've seen glimpse of it, but all came together in one great moment."
Mathis, who absorbed a crushing charge from Johnson, says he's never been involved in a play like that that ended a game.
"It doesn't hurt as bad when you come out a winner," Mathis said. "I was just trying to do anything I could to get in front of the plate.
"I saw where Mo's throw was going to be and it was perfect so it allowed me to get my body in a position to block the plate."
Even Pena was impressed with Sierra's throw.
"That was an unbelievable throw," Pena said. "He had to jump to get that hop on a bounce and then set and throw. I was very surprised when he threw him out. I knew it was going to be close so I just kept going to second, trying to draw a throw."
Another key play from the outfield came in the second inning when Davis threw out Matt Joyce at the plate to keep the Rays off the board for the 11 consecutive innings in the series.
Jennings led off the third with his 11th homer of the season and the seventh of his career against the Blue Jays. B.J. Upton followed with a single but Morrow retired the next three hitters.
Hellickson retired his first six hitters of the game, but Sierra led off the third with a home run. Encarnacion hit his 35th of the season with one out in the fourth to put Toronto into a 2-1 lead.
Morrow did his best to hold the lead. Roberts hit a two-out double in the fourth but Jose Molina fouled out.
Keppinger hit a two-out double in the sixth when Davis made an ill-advised dive instead of keeping the ball in front of him for a single. But Scott struck out.
The Rays had another two-out double in the seventh by Jennings and that was Morrow's final batter. Steve Delabar took over to retire Upton on a grounder to second and then struck out the side in the eighth.
"I felt good the whole way," Morrow said. "After the first couple of innings my pitch count was climbing and I settled in and was locating better with the off-speed stuff and staying ahead of guys and that carried me through."
Morrow injured his left oblique (rib cage) muscle nine pitches into his start against the Washington Nationals on June 11.