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Sanchez, Blue Jays' defense struggle in loss

Special to MLB.com

ST. PETERSBURG -- Frustration boiled over for the Blue Jays on Saturday night during a 5-3 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field.

Right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who struggled out of the gate, was frustrated with an inability to command his fastball. The offense was frustrated by its punchless start and its lack of clutch hits in the late innings. The defense was frustrated by its struggles to make clean plays. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, particularly, was frustrated by several calls in the eighth inning, when his team rallied to bring the potential go-ahead run to the plate.

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ST. PETERSBURG -- Frustration boiled over for the Blue Jays on Saturday night during a 5-3 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field.

Right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who struggled out of the gate, was frustrated with an inability to command his fastball. The offense was frustrated by its punchless start and its lack of clutch hits in the late innings. The defense was frustrated by its struggles to make clean plays. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, particularly, was frustrated by several calls in the eighth inning, when his team rallied to bring the potential go-ahead run to the plate.

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After Rays closer Alex Colome ended the eighth-inning threat by blowing a 2-2 fastball past Yangervis Solarte with the potential tying run on second base, Gibbons was ejected by home-plate umpire CB Bucknor.

"That eighth inning, I thought there were some calls … In the heat of the competition, you've got to feel we're still in that thing," said Gibbons, following the 46th ejection of his managerial career. "I thought maybe a couple of calls didn't help us out. But I've been known to whine, too."

Sanchez, who lasted just 3 2/3 innings in his shortest start since July 7, 2017, and issued four walks among the first eight batters he faced, said he struggled with his release point.

"It doesn't help when you go ball, strike, ball, strike … it just turns out to be a long night" Sanchez said. "You guys watched the game. You saw how it was all night. I need to do a better job at executing my fastball, no matter who's behind the dish.

"At the end of the day, you don't win the game. It's a month in. I've got to be better at the end of the day. This isn't doing anything good for me or my team."

The Blue Jays, who have lost four of their last five games, got solo home runs from Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. -- along with an RBI single from Hernandez in the eighth that made it a one-run game -- but the late-percolating offense could not overcome Sanchez's rocky beginning.

Video: TOR@TB: Gurriel Jr. belts a solo homer to left-center

Sanchez (2-3) entered the game with five consecutive starts of at least six innings, but he couldn't find the strike zone from the beginning. He threw 85 pitches (42 for strikes).

"It was a tough day," Gibbons said. "It's a funny thing about the way this game works sometimes -- you can't figure it out -- but I was talking to [pitching coach] Pete [Walker] and he said in warmups, [Sanchez] didn't miss a spot. That's the mystery of baseball. Sometimes you have days like that. But we didn't help ourselves."

Three of Sanchez's four walks occurred in the first inning, one he still nearly escaped unscathed. Sanchez induced a double-play ball after a leadoff walk. But the Rays scored later anyway when Gurriel bounced a throw from second base on the would-be third out to Kendrys Morales at first.

Video: TOR@TB: Duffy scores from second on a fielding error

The Rays made it 2-0 in the third on Wilson Ramos' RBI single before Hernandez cut the lead in half with his home run to lead off the fourth.

But Sanchez wasn't in the clear yet. In the fourth, he allowed a leadoff single to Mallex Smith, who advanced on a grounder and then scored on Denard Span's RBI single. The Rays' lead moved to 4-1 when Span stole second, reached third on another Gurriel error, then came home on Matt Duffy's sacrifice fly.

Rays manager Kevin Cash, though, wasn't secure with that three-run lead. He lifted starter Jake Faria (3-1) with two runners on and one out in the sixth. Reliever Chaz Roe got a double-play ball to escape the inning.

The Blue Jays put pressure on the Rays' bullpen but couldn't break through. Gurriel's homer and Hernandez's RBI single cut it to 4-3 in the eighth, finishing off Sergio Romo and leaving it for Colome, the Rays' fifth pitcher. With Hernandez aboard, Colome got Josh Donaldson on a grounder, then struck out Solarte.

C.J. Cron produced a ninth-inning insurance run for the Rays, then Colome retired the Blue Jays in order to close it out and earn his sixth save.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Trailing, 4-1, the Blue Jays had a sixth-inning threat when Dalton Pompey led off with a single and scooted to third on Aledmys Diaz's bloop single to right. After Faria caught Hernandez looking on a 2-2 pitch, Roe was summoned to face the dangerous Donaldson, and got the best-case scenario: an inning-ending double-play grounder. Rays second baseman Joey Wendle took it himself at the bag, then threw to first to complete the momentum-snuffing play.

SOUND SMART
The Blue Jays became the first team this season to reach 50 home runs when Hernandez went deep in the fourth. The total swelled to a Majors-leading 51 on Gurriel's leadoff shot in the eighth.

Video: TOR@TB: Hernandez lifts a towering solo homer to left

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
In the eighth inning, it looked like the twisting drive by Wendle could result in extra bases. But Blue Jays left fielder Pompey, on a full run, caught up to the ball by diving and gloving it before landing on the turf.

Video: TOR@TB: Pompey makes a fantastic diving grab in left

HE SAID IT
"We shot ourselves in the foot a few times. ... It cost us. We let in runs. We couldn't muster anything or get anything going.'' -- Gibbons

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Blue Jays challenged a fourth-inning ruling when Smith legged out an infield single. The call was upheld after delay of 1 minute, 53 seconds. Smith went to second on a groundout, and scored on Span's RBI single.

Video: TOR@TB: Smith reaches on infield single, call stands

UP NEXT
The Blue Jays have a tough challenge in Sunday's series finale, as they'll face Rays ace Chris Archer at 1:10 p.m. ET. Archer is 7-4 in 24 career starts against Toronto, his most victories against any club. Right-hander Marco Estrada (2-2, 6.19 ERA) will take the ball for the Blue Jays, and seek to get back on track after three rocky starts.

Joey Johnston is a contributor to MLB.com based in St. Petersburg.

Toronto Blue Jays, Aaron Sanchez