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Defense Shines, then Falters in 8-2 Loss to Rays

MLB: Spring Training-Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

With just 21 days until opening day, spring training is reaching its halfway point. Still, the Blue Jays keep losing with today’s 8-2 loss to the Rays, placing them 13th in the Grapefruit League, ahead of only Atlanta and the Detroit Tigers.

Today’s game began, and predominantly stayed, a defense-heavy game. In the first, Kevin Kiermaier made perhaps the best play of spring training so far on a line drive launched deep into centre field (see video), and in the bottom half of the inning, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., playing in his fifth spring game, kept it scoreless with a nice play at shortstop. Again, in the second, Anthony Alford reached over the wall to keep a near home run from Corey Dickerson inside the park (see video).

Pitching was mostly strong for the Blue Jays, despite struggling early on. Ryan Borucki, starting the game for the Blue Jays, allowed one earned run (in addition to one unearned) in his two innings of work, walking one and allowing two hits. Included was a two-run home run launched out of the park by Jake Bauers. Tim Mayza and Arnold Leone combine to pitch scoreless third and fourth innings, with neither allowing a hit.

Blue Jay pitching once again encountered trouble in the fifth and sixth. Brett Oberholtzer got the first two outs of the fifth easily but a fielding error from Jake Elmore and throwing error on a pickoff attempt by Oberholtzer continued the inning. Oberholtzer struck out Kevin Kiermaier for the third out, but again encountered trouble in the sixth. To start the inning, Evan Longoria homered, then both Corey Dickerson and Jake Bauer singled. That ended Oberholtzer’s game, with Chad Girodo striking out Willy Adames for the last out of the sixth.

The Blue Jays struck first in the fifth. Rowdy Tellez began the inning with a hit against the shift, followed by a double from Jonathan Diaz, moving Tellez to third. Dwight Smith Jr. hit a low line drive to left field, and Jake Bauers, fielding the ball, mistimed his scoop and both Tellez and Diaz scored. This tied the game at two a piece, but Toronto failed to score again.

Jason Leblebijian (try saying that five times fast - hell, just try saying it once), in the bottom of the seventh, bobbled the ball on his way in from third, allowing Dayron Varona to reach first base safely. Casey Gillaspie homered, giving the Rays a 5-2 lead, and later in the inning, Leblebijian made another mistake, this time ruled an error. Chris Smith came in to replace Chad Girodo, who was pitching at the time, but the bleeding continued. Back-to-back singles scored another run for the Rays, and pitcher Chris Smith walked in a run. All told, in the bat-around inning, the Rays score four and make the score 7-2.

In the eighth, Connor Gillaspie homered for his second home run of the game, this time off of Jarrett Grube. The game ended with a final score of 8-2.

Follow Mark Colley on Instagram and Twitter at @360BlueJayNews and @MarkColley.