TORONTO — The slumping Toronto Blue Jays were beaten 2-1 by the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday, losing their sixth straight and eighth in nine outings this season.
They may also have lost star third baseman Josh Donaldson, forced to leave the game in the sixth inning after pulling up running out an RBI double.
About the only thing missing for the league-worst Jays in the first month of the season has been a plague of locusts.
Closer Zach Britton made it interesting in the ninth for Baltimore (6-2), putting men on second and third with one after a Troy Tulowitzki single, Russell Martin walk and wild pitch. But Kevin Pillar grounded out to the pitcher, with Tulowitzki staying at third, and pitch-hitter Steve Pearce flied out.
Toronto (1-8) is mired in the worst start in franchise history, due mostly to a popgun offence.
Toronto pitchers recorded 15 strikeouts but once again got no run support. The Jays have scored three runs or less in seven of their nine outings.
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.
Starters Francisco Liriano (0-1) and Kevin Gausman (1-0) both had fine outings, with Toronto’s Liriano 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, DH’ing for the second night in a row to protect a calf injury, 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.
Toronto stranded two runners in the sixth with Tulowitzki and the slumping Martin unable to cash them in.
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.
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 manager Buck Showalter and several other Orioles wearing Capitals T-shirts.
Gibbons tweaked his battling lineup slightly, hoping that inserting Ezequiel Carrera into the leadoff spot might spark some offence. Second baseman Devon Travis dropped to No. 9.
Liriano was pulled in an April 7 outing that saw him face only eight batters, walking four and giving up three hits before getting pulled. It marked his shortest ever start and only the second time in 257 starts that he failed to finish the first inning.
A different Liriano came out Thursday. He needed just 13 pitches including 10 strikes, for a 1-2-3 first that included two strikeouts.
Gausman, his fastball clocking 96 m.p.h., was equally good with his own 11-pitch 1-2-3 first.
Liriano retired the first seven Orioles, striking out four, before Scoop doubled to left with one out in the third. And after yielding two runs in the fifth, the Toronto starter needed just five pitches to get through the sixth.
Gausman faced just three hitters over the minimum in the first five innings before running into complications in the sixth.
Baltimore swept a two-game set against Toronto to open the season, holding the Jays to just three combined runs.
Toronto’s offence continued to tank.
The Jays went into Thursday’s game with the worst record in the majors, hamstrung by a sputtering offence. Toronto was hitting .190 — worst in the majors — and ranked last in runs scored (23) and tied for last in home runs (4).