Twins pound Scott Richmond early, Blue Jays can’t recover

Twins 6 Blue Jays 3 TORONTO — Amid yet another out-of-contention September for the Toronto Blue Jays, there is still plenty on the line for players like Scott Richmond.

Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Aaron Hill

Twins 6 Blue Jays 3

TORONTO — Amid yet another out-of-contention September for the Toronto Blue Jays, there is still plenty on the line for players like Scott Richmond.

The native of North Vancouver, B.C., is fast approaching the end of an up and down rookie campaign, and his final few outings offer a chance to cement his gains and show he has the ability to make adjustments at the big-league level.

Case in point was his start Monday in the Minnesota Twins, when he buried his team by surrendering five runs in a 46-pitch, 21-minute first inning, but at least managed to save the bullpen by recovering with five strong frames afterwards.

That salvaged the outing from ending in total disaster, even though the damage had already been done in what ended up a 6-3 loss.

“I’d never been a part of that, can’t get an out, can’t hit a spot, can’t do this, can’t do that, just trying to figure out what the problem is so you can get out of that inning and get into the dugout,” said Richmond, who have up a career-high six runs in six innings. “It was frustrating, I was just trying to keep my composure, trying to make the adjustment to execute the pitch better. …

“I’ve got to help the guys down there (in the bullpen), I didn’t want them to pick me up for eight innings.”

That they didn’t have to is a small credit for the 30-year-old, who is still trying to find his game since returning from a shoulder injury July 27. Richmond (6-9) was 6-5 with a 3.69 earned-run average when he went on the disabled list July 1, but has since allowed 27 earned runs in 32 innings over six starts, and hasn’t won since June 24.

“It’s been kind of rough since I’ve come back but it’s nothing to do with the arm,” said Richmond. “The arm feels fine and everything else feels good, it’s just poor location, plain and simple.

“It’s not executing the pitch where I want to put it and that’s something I need to start earlier in the game.”

The Twins (69-68), who had lost their last seven games in Toronto and came in cold at the plate, didn’t have any issues with that as they pulled 6 1-2 games back of Detroit in the A-L Central.

Joe Mauer opened the scoring with a two-run single, Justin Morneau of New Westminster, B.C., ended an 0-for-19 drought with an RBI single, Michael Cuddyer broke out of an 0-for-16 rut with an RBI single and Delmon Young brought home a fifth run on a fielder’s choice.

“We scuffled in Cleveland (losing two of three) and for a team that has scored runs all year, it’s tough when you go through stretches like that,” said Morneau. “The pitchers have been throwing the ball great. If they keep doing that and we swing the way we’re capable of, we can hopefully make this thing interesting down the stretch.”

The Blue Jays (61-76), who fell a season-worst 15 games under .500 for the third time, can only dream of having similar aspirations. They gave a crowd of 13,153, the third smallest of the year, little to cheer for, and the atmosphere at Rogers Centre was more like that at a neighbourhood beer-league game than a big-league matchup.

Not even the Canadian International Air Show buzzing overhead livened things up.

The Blue Jays did try to make a game of it as Adam Lind’s sacrifice fly in the third made it 5-1, while a homer by Jose Bautista and infield RBI single by Vernon Wells in the fifth briefly made it a two-run contest.

But reliever Bobby Keppel came on for starter Jeff Manship to snuff out that rally, while Denard Span’s RBI single off Richmond in the sixth restored some breathing space. Toronto-born reliever Jesse Crain (5-4) picked up the win with 1 1-3 scoreless innings while Joe Nathan pitched the ninth for his 37th save.

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