TORONTO â€” The pain keeps growing for the Blue Jays.
Beaten 2-1 by Baltimore on Thursday, Toronto lost its sixth straight and eighth in nine outings this season. And the Jays may have lost star third baseman Josh Donaldson, who limped off in the sixth inning after aggravating a chronic calf injury running out an RBI double.
“It’s the same calf. We’ll have a better idea (Friday),” said manager John Gibbons, whose team sits in the major-league basement.
The calf issue shut Donaldson down for most of spring training and forced him out of last Sunday’s game in Tampa. The former MVP missed one game, returning as DH to protect the calf â€” and to get his bat in the lineup.
Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and Kendrys Morales have been the lone Jays to threaten at the plate as Toronto (1-8) becomes mired deeper in the worst start in franchise history.
Francisco Liriano (0-1), Joe Biagini and Joe Smith combined for 15 strikeouts while giving up just five hits Thursday but the pitching staff once again got no run support. The Jays have scored three runs or less seven times this season â€” and have lost five one-run decisions.
About the only thing missing for the league-worst Jays in the first month of the season has been a plague of locusts.
Toronto went into Thursday’s game hitting .190 â€” worst in the majors â€” and ranked last in runs scored (23) and tied for last in home runs (4).
“I’m getting opportunities to drive guys in and it just seems like nothing’s really going as planned up there at the plate,” said catcher Russell Martin, who is 1-for-24 this season.
“Baseball’s a grind. Right now, we’re in a tough one. Probably one of the toughest ones I’ve ever been in in my life. But I’ve never been afraid of a challenge and I’m never going to back down and I’m going to keep working hard. And hopefully things will turn for us.”
The last time the Jays were seven games under .500 was June 2, 2015. And the last time the club lost more than five in a row in the month of April was 2008.
Closer Zach Britton made it interesting in the ninth for Baltimore (6-2), putting men on second and third with one after a Tulowitzki single, Martin walk and wild pitch. But Kevin Pillar grounded out to the pitcher, with Tulowitzki staying at third, and pitch-hitter Steve Pearce lined out.
“Yeah, I thought this thing was going to end,” manager John Gibbons said of his club’s early-season slide. “I really felt that. But we didn’t get it done. It’ll happen.”
Britton’s fourth save of the season also marked the 53rd consecutive time he had converted a save opportunity â€” the third longest streak in MLB history.
Liriano and Baltimore starter Kevin Gausman (1-0) both had fine outings, with Liriano deserving a better fate after bouncing back from a disastrous opening start in Tampa that left his earned-run average at 135.00.
Liriano faltered in the fifth against the bottom of the Baltimore order, giving up two runs on four straight hits to open the inning: three singles and a Jonathan Schoop double.
It could have been more but Trey Mancini was gunned down at the plate by Tulowitzki’s relay of a Pillar throw on the Schoop double. And right-fielder Jose Bautista, bouncing off the wall, ran down Adam Jones’s deep fly ball for the final out of the inning.
Toronto ended an 18-inning scoreless drought on back-to-back doubles by Bautista and Donaldson in the sixth. The run came at a high cost with Donaldson pulled up lame running around first and had to leave the game.
Donaldson had seemingly shown his recuperative powers in the fourth when he looked to have beaten out a Manny Machado throw to first. But he was ruled out and the Jays lost a video challenge on the play.
Liriano exited with two outs in the seventh after a fine 91-pitch performance that lowered his ERA to 9.00. He gave up two runs on five hits with 10 strikeouts and two walks.
Gausman was equally good in his six innings, yielding one run on five hits with three strikeouts and two walks.
“There wasn’t much margin for error today,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. “Liriano didn’t make many mistakes, there was such a small margin of error. Most times, you’re not going to come out on the winning end of a game they way Liriano was pitching but Kevin was just a tad better.”
A Rogers Centre crowd of 32,957 was clearly keeping an eye on the Maple Leafs’ playoff opener in Washington, D.C., with fans reacting to goals 570 kilometres away.
The Orioles thumbed their nose at Toronto via Twitter, wishing the Capitals good luck. “Let’s both beat Toronto this series!” said the tweet which showed Showalter and several other Orioles wearing Capitals T-shirts.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press