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Blue Jays cool after fast start in home opener

Melky's homer sets tone vs. Tanaka, but McGowan struggles

TORONTO -- Dustin McGowan took the mound as a starting pitcher for the first time in almost three years on Friday night, and in some ways it showed.

McGowan has a few things that need to be worked out following a disappointing season debut vs. the Yankees. There were issues with his command, he was tipping pitches and he possibly worked a little too hard in the bullpen before the game.

The end result saw McGowan allowed four runs over just 2 2/3 innings while the Blue Jays' offense cooled off after a fast start against Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka in a 7-3 loss to the Yankees in front of a sold-out crowd at Rogers Centre.

"It was a battle for him, and they were throwing out some hits," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said after the loss. "We definitely need more innings out of that. We didn't get a lot of innings last night, and then tonight so you're forced to go to your bullpen. But he feels fine. He's better than that, and he'll get better than that."

The problems for McGowan began almost immediately, as he allowed a pair of runs on five hits in the first inning. There were a lot of hard-hit balls and the Yankees sent eight batters to the plate before McGowan eventually salvaged the inning by getting Yangervis Solarte to pop up with the bases loaded.

It was almost like the Yankees knew what was coming, and perhaps they did. Former Major League pitcher Mark Mulder said on Twitter during Friday night's game that he felt McGowan was tipping his pitches. Turns out the Blue Jays' coaching staff noticed the same thing.

Toronto pitching coach Pete Walker picked up on the fact that McGowan was coming to a different set position with his glove depending on what pitch he was about to throw. Yankees outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury denied seeing anything, but with so many others having noticed it, the New York dugout could have as well.

"It's tough some times on the fly to make adjustments like that," Gibbons said after admitting Walker picked up on the same thing. "He has never done that before, we've never seen that out of him. Sometimes they pick up little things every now and then. That makes it much easier to hit."

There was more trouble waiting for McGowan in the third. With one on and two outs, Ichiro Suzuki hit a high chopper up the middle. Second baseman Ryan Goins came up with the ball, threw a strike to first base and got the out call on a close play.

The Blue Jays started to leave the field, thinking the inning was over, but Yankees manager Joe Girardi challenged the call. Replay showed that Ichiro was safe, and the ruling was overturned to put runners on the corners. Solarte promptly doubled to the gap in right-center field, scoring both runners to give the Yankees a 4-3 lead they would not relinquish.

Gibbons then went to his bullpen but not before McGowan was charged with the four runs on eight hits and one walk while striking out three. Left-hander Aaron Loup eventually allowed one run in the fourth and right-hander Steve Delabar allowed another in the eighth as the game was put out of reach.

"They hit some balls hard, and there also some ones that just found the holes, too," said McGowan, who said it was a draining day and that he may have threw too many pitches in the bullpen warming up. "For me, I just learn to get the ball back down. It was up in the zone tonight, and when they're up they get hit hard.

"I have to fix that tipping thing for sure, because even I noticed after the first inning they were putting good swings on every pitch I threw and I knew something was wrong from the get-go, too."

Toronto had some early positive signs on offense but were unable to capitalize as the game progressed. Melky Cabrera led off the bottom of the first with a home run to right field. Cabrera's first of the year came on Tanaka's third pitch of his Major League career after coming over from Japan on a $155 million contract during the offseason.

Toronto added another pair of runs in the second as they loaded the bases for Jonathan Diaz, who came through with a single to left field, giving the Blue Jays a 3-2 lead. The light-hitting Diaz now has three RBIs in three games as he continues to fill in for the injured Jose Reyes.

But Tanaka settled down after his rocky start. The 25-year-old faced the minimum over the final four of his seven innings. He allowed six hits with eight strikeouts.

"I was nervous before going into the game," Tanaka said. "Once I was up on the mound, I felt that I really couldn't get into the game. I really couldn't focus myself into the game at the beginning."

The Blue Jays have now lost three consecutive home openers and four of their past five. They've scored a total of six runs over their last three, but are still 26-12 overall in home debuts.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB.
Read More: Toronto Blue Jays, Dustin McGowan