Cole and Yankees spoil solid debut from Blue Jays starter Ray

Article content

For a while Monday night at Dunedin’s TD Ballpark, it looked like Robbie Ray was going to steal the show in a compelling duel between a pair of on-the-mark starting pitchers.

Or at least claim his share of the spotlight with New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole.

Through four hitless innings, the Jays lefty did just that in his 2021 debut, holding the Yankees hitless. But with one out in the fifth, Ray allowed a singled to the notorious Rougned Odor, followed by a Kyle Higashioka homer to put a small blemish on what was an impressive effort.

That blast from the Yankees catcher was enough offence to propel the visitors to a 3-1 win, especially given the way Cole was unleashing his all-star stuff. The right hander struck out eight and at one point retired 15 consecutive Jays, who fell to 4-6 on the season.

With Cole keeping the offence at bay, the Jays were able to remain in it thanks to a solid return to the mound from Ray, who was activated from the injury list earlier in the day.

Advertisement

Story continues below
This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

But for both Ray and the Jays, the outing was about much more than one fastball hung over the plate that ended up deciding the game.

With the invigorated lefty appearing to be on his game, there is now some order to the top of the Jays rotation that will continue with Hyun-Jin Ryu working on an extra day’s rest on Tuesday. With Steven Matz solid in each of his two starts — winning both — the Jays appear to have some stability at the top.

It’s why the Jays dugout was buzzing over Ray’s performance, especially given the squeezed-tight strike zone he appeared to be working with at times.

“It’s a good feeling for the whole team to have him pitch like that,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “Now you’ve got Ryu and Matz dealing and if you have Ray doing that, you have a chance to win every day.

“He was lights out. He was really good.”

From the outset of spring training, the Jays had high hopes for Ray after not wasting any time extending their courtship with the pitcher permanent by making his signing their first off-season move.

Through a late-summer trial after acquiring Ray via trade, both sides wanted more. Ray, to work with pitching coach Pete Walker and build on the promise he showed in September, and the Jays to get a reliable arm in a rotation that was desperate for them for much of 2020.

He was good in September, better and stronger in March and now here in April seems ready to embark on a productive season.

“It felt good to get back on the mound,” Ray said after allowing three hits and three walks. “For the most part, it felt I was right around the zone the whole night. Big picture, it was definitely a good outing to build on.”

Advertisement

Story continues below
This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

Blue Jays infielder Marcus Semien throws to first base as New York Yankees’ Mike Tauchman slides during the fifth inning at TD Ballpark. JONATHAN DYER/USA TODAY SPORTS
Blue Jays infielder Marcus Semien throws to first base as New York Yankees’ Mike Tauchman slides during the fifth inning at TD Ballpark. JONATHAN DYER/USA TODAY SPORTS

During spring training, Ray has built a solid rapport with rookie catcher Alejandro Kirk, who was behind the dish on Monday and helping the southpaw paint the corners.

Kirk, who also caught Ray last fall, immediately noticed a difference in the pitcher, who added 15 pounds of muscle, some zip on his fastball and an attacking mentality.

“When we came here to spring training, you could tell he’d worked very, very hard for this season,” Kirk said. “It’s very impressive the way he attacks hitters. I love that about him.”

Getting the start against the Yankees three weeks after hurting his elbow while falling at his home (and keeping his young child safe in his arms) was never going to be an easy assignment.

But since Ray was almost built up to start the season and didn’t have to be shut down for long, he dug in to get ready and quickly returned to game shape.

Unfortunately one bad pitch and a stellar Cole kept the debut from ending in victory. But it’s clear that Ray is a significant upgrade over Tanner Roark, who has now been relegated to the bullpen for long relief duty.

“If you can get that one back, he’s out-pitching Cole,” Jays outfielder Randal Grichuk said. “If he can keep that up, it could be a really good year for him.”

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.
Try refreshing your browser.

GAME ON

After allowing a run in the first inning when a Grichuk groundout drove in Bo Bichette, Cole got down to business. He struck out eight over his six innings and retired the last 15 Jays pitchers he faced … Cole on pitching in the minor-league TD Ballpark: “I was indifferent to it.” …. Higashioka continued his battering of Jays pitchers, adding a solo shot off Ryan Borucki in the eighth inning to add an insurance run. It was the catcher’s second multi-homer games against the Jays in as many seasons … The Jays have been held to one run in three of their past five games and are 1-3 at home.

Advertisement

Story continues below
This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

More On This Topic

  1. Toronto Blue Jays catcher Danny Jansen (right) celebrates with centre fielder Randal Grichuk after scoring against the Los Angeles Angels during the second inning at TD Ballpark on April 10, 2021.

    Blue Jays bats break out with 15-run explosion in win over Angels

  2. Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero Jr. runs after hitting an RBI single against the Los Angeles Angels on April 10, 2021, at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla.

    Patience over power propels Blue Jays out of some early struggles

  3. A general view of the grounds crew laying the tarp down on the field in anticipation of approaching inclement weather prior to the game between the Blue Jays and the Los Angeles Angels  at TD Ballpark on April 10, 2021 in Dunedin, Fla.

    Injuries, COVID concerns open door for Blue Jays' Palacios to make big-league debut

AROUND THE BASES

After missing a game and a half because of reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine he was administered last week, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. returned to the lineup on Monday, taking his regular spot in left field … Struggling Rowdy Tellez avoided sole possession of some dubious Jays history when he lashed a third-inning single off of Cole for his first hit of the season. Tellez had been 0-for-21 to that point, sharing the mark for the longest dry spell to open a season in franchise history along with Socrates Brito (2019) and Pat Borders (1991). Kirk is now in the chase with an 0-for-13 start … Bichette’s first-inning single extended his hitting streak to nine games.

News Near Cold Lake

This Week in Flyers