ST. PETERSBURG -- During a season in which the pitching staff has been decimated by injuries, there hasn't been a lot of positive news on the mound for the Blue Jays.
It's a little late now, but right-hander Chad Jenkins is doing his best to bring some positive vibes back to the rotation. What was once a disappointing campaign for the rookie hurler is now showing signs of life.
Jenkins gave the Blue Jays everything they could have wanted and more with five strong innings, but it still wasn't enough, as a lack of run support led to a 3-0 loss to the Rays on Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field.
"He did a very good job for us," manager John Farrell said. "From the second inning on, he did a much better job of controlling the strike zone in the bottom half. He came out early, kind of overthrowing a little bit, and some balls were elevated, but still, the one run allowed, two hits -- an outstanding job on his part."
Jenkins performed admirably while handling the nerves in the first start of his big league career. He left a few pitches up in the zone, but for the most part looked poised on the mound and kept the game under control.
It was another step in the right direction for a pitcher who appeared to regress while in Double-A New Hampshire earlier in the year. He entered the season as one of the club's top pitching prospects, but proceeded to post a 4.96 ERA in the Eastern League.
Despite the subpar numbers, Jenkins still earned a promotion to the big league club in early August. The change has done wonders for his career, as Jenkins has turned what could have become a lost season into a positive experience.
"The fresh start was nice," said Jenkins, who has a 4.24 ERA while striking out 12 in 23 1/3 innings this season. "My numbers were not so good in Double-A and to be able to start fresh in a new atmosphere, new place, it was really nice.
"It's a huge boost in confidence. I've thrown pretty well up here. There are a few things I need to fix, but for the most part it has been nice. It will definitely give me a leg up going into Spring Training next year."
The outing did get off to somewhat of a rough start, as Jenkins surrendered a solo homer to the second batter of the game in B.J. Upton. Upton's 26th blast of the season gave Tampa Bay an early 1-0 lead, but instead of getting rattled, Jenkins managed to quickly settle into a groove.
Following the early setback, Jenkins faced the minimum over the next 12 batters. The only baserunner to reach scoring position was Matt Joyce, who hit an opposite field bloop double that likely would have been a routine out if not for a defensive shift.
Jenkins departed after the fifth having thrown just 66 pitches. He allowed just the one run on two hits while striking out four and walking one. The low pitch count stemmed from the fact that it was Jenkins' first start since July 29 while still with Double-A New Hampshire.
"The first inning I was a little excited, caught a little bit too much of the plate with my pitches and they hammered them pretty well," Jenkins said. "I got lucky, every one but one stayed in the yard and after that I settled down and everything worked out."
Toronto's lineup once again struggled to get any type of offense going against a tough Rays pitching staff. This time it was right-hander Jeremy Hellickson who caused the Blue Jays fits by pitching 5 2/3 scoreless innings.
The best scoring opportunity for Toronto came in the top of the sixth just after Hellickson departed from the game, as Kelly Johnson came to the plate with the bases loaded against left-hander Jake McGee. But instead of opting for a pinch hitter, manager John Farrell stuck with Johnson, who proceeded to strike out on five pitches to end the threat.
Farrell said after the game he was going with the numbers, despite Johnson hitting .204 vs. lefties this season.
"Right-handers are hitting .100 off McGee and left-handers are hitting around .260 so, in that situation I'm staying with [Johnson]," Farrell said.
The Rays would break the game open in the eighth with right-hander Brandon Lyon on the mound. With a runner on second and a 2-0 count to Ben Zobrist, Toronto made the curious decision to intentionally walk the Rays No. 3 hitter. Evan Longoria immediately made the club pay by sending a bases-clearing double off the wall in right field to secure the win.
"The breathing room was great," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He had some tough at-bats early in the game, but finally put the ball against the wall."
The Blue Jays have now lost six consecutive games and 10 of their past 12 overall. The numbers against Tampa Bay are even worse, as Toronto has lost 17 consecutive series in central Florida and has been outscored 105-54 by the Rays in 18 meetings this season.
Toronto will look to turn things around during a doubleheader in Baltimore on Monday. It will be another opportunity to spoil postseason aspirations for a division rival.
"We're all well aware of where we are," Farrell said. "What has transpired over the last two series, we have to continue to go out and execute. There's no secret formula to this, we have to go out, prepare, continue to compete.
"We have to continue to control the tempo of the game from the mound. It's not like we're looking for something that has been hidden in our clubhouse for the past month and a half, it's all in front of us."