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Bullpen spoils Gaviglio's promising start in loss

MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' vaunted bullpen finally hit a bump in the road on Saturday afternoon and spoiled a rare strong outing from a Toronto starter.

Veteran relievers Tyler Clippard and John Axford combined to allow five runs in the top of the eighth as a four-run lead turned into a 5-4 loss at Rogers Centre. Oakland's Chad Pinder changed everything with one swing of the bat on a grand slam off Clippard that sent the Blue Jays to a seventh loss in their last nine games.

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TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' vaunted bullpen finally hit a bump in the road on Saturday afternoon and spoiled a rare strong outing from a Toronto starter.

Veteran relievers Tyler Clippard and John Axford combined to allow five runs in the top of the eighth as a four-run lead turned into a 5-4 loss at Rogers Centre. Oakland's Chad Pinder changed everything with one swing of the bat on a grand slam off Clippard that sent the Blue Jays to a seventh loss in their last nine games.

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The late-inning collapse overshadowed one of Toronto's most feel-good stories of the season as right-hander Sam Gaviglio was forced to settle for a no-decision despite tossing 5 1/3 scoreless innings. Gaviglio was pressed into action when left-hander Jaime Garcia hit the disabled list on Friday, and he responded by allowing just six hits with one walk while striking out six.

Video: OAK@TOR: Pinder smashes a go-ahead grand slam

"They have been so good, it happens," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of his bullpen. "Nobody is going to go through the season unscathed. It definitely did unravel on us, but Gaviglio, I thought did an outstanding job. They're dangerous over they. They have a good lineup, top to bottom."

Toronto's bullpen has been one of the best in baseball as the group entered play on Saturday with a 3.22 ERA, which ranked second in the American League. The strong numbers have come despite a heavy workload, which stemmed from a lack of innings from a struggling rotation. There has been a lot of talk about how the number of appearances will eventually take a toll, and it finally did vs. Oakland.

Top setup man Ryan Tepera was unavailable on Saturday because he had pitched in each of Toronto's previous two games. That forced Gibbons to use Axford in more of a high-leverage situation than normal and it did not work out. Axford allowed each of the first two batters in the eighth inning to reach base and he later served up an RBI single to Stephen Piscotty.

Video: OAK@TOR: Piscotty lines an RBI single in the 8th

With the score 4-1, Gibbons decided to pull Axford from the game in favor of Clippard, who generated a weak pop-up before walking the bases loaded for Pinder. Clippard worked the count to 1-1 before he served up a 91.1-mph fastball that was left up in the zone, and the A's second baseman hit a no-doubter over the wall in right-center field for the first grand slam of his career. Prior to Saturday, Clippard had not allowed an earned run since April 19, and this was his first blown save of the season. That was little consolation after another tough loss.

"It's never fun. We're going through a rough stretch right now and Sam pitched a heck of a game today, so it would have been nice to get us a W," Clippard said. "But it's over and we just have to move on. … I got [the pitch] away, I'm just trying it in lines. So I got it in my lane and he just put a good swing on it."

Video: OAK@TOR: Urshela hits his first homer as a Blue Jay

A's lefty starter Sean Manaea has been one of the AL's top pitchers this season, but he had some difficulty against the Blue Jays. Manaea opened with four scoreless innings in a pitchers' duel with Gaviglio, but the Blue Jays got to him on four runs in the fifth. Gio Urshela hit a two-run homer while Yangervis Solarte had an RBI double and Kevin Pillar added a sacrifice fly. Manaea was charged with the four runs on five hits and three walks over five frames.

Toronto has gone winless over its last six series (0-4-2) including the current four-game set vs. Oakland. It's the first time the Blue Jays have gone winless over six series since Aug. 18-Sept. 6, 2017.

"We're close," Clippard insisted after the game. "I think when you go through these stretches, it tests your character as a ballclub and we understand, as a baseball season goes, these stretches happen. We have to do our best to limit the damage right now and put all of this stuff behind us, move forward and start playing some good baseball. We're close."

Video: OAK@TOR: Solarte lines an RBI double in the 5th

SOUND SMART
With runners on the corners in the second inning, Kendrys Morales stole second base. He has two steals in his last 14 games after going 916 games without any. Morales now has six stolen bases in his 12-year career.

HE SAID IT
"We wanted to go after them right away. I didn't want to get into too many deep counts and just trust the defense. Solarte made a big play in the fifth inning, if he didn't make that play, the inning probably would have been a lot different." -- Gaviglio, on his outing and Solarte's diving grab that opened the fifth inning

Oakland later put two men on base but Gaviglio escaped without any damage.

Video: OAK@TOR: Solarte lays out for a stop at second

UP NEXT
Right-hander Joe Biagini will take the mound when the Blue Jays close out their four-game series against the A's on Sunday afternoon at Rogers Centre with first pitch scheduled for 1:07 p.m. ET. Biagini will receive at least one more start after Garcia was placed on the DL, but he might need a good outing here to keep his spot. Biagini is 2-14 with a 6.05 ERA in his career as a starter vs. a 3.44 ERA over 99 1/3 innings as a reliever. He opposes A's right-hander Daniel Mengden.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Sam Gaviglio