Rzepczynski solid in debut, but Jays fall
Lefty allows one run in six innings after surprise promotion
ST. PETERSBURG -- Marc Rzepczynski was familiar with just one Rays player before heading to Tropicana Field on Tuesday. The Blue Jays rookie starter had some experience against third baseman Evan Longoria, though it wasn't much to go on.
"That was in high school," Rzepczynski said with a laugh. "That was a while ago."
Their last meeting was long enough ago that the young left-hander couldn't even remember if he got Longoria out in their days as California preps. Rzepczynski probably won't have any problem recalling his latest outing, considering it came after an unexpected promotion to make his Major League debut against Tampa Bay.
The end result wasn't ideal, with the Blue Jays dropping a 3-1 heartbreaker to the Rays in 11 innings, but Rzepczynski provided a solid performance that served as a bright spot for a rotation that has been ravaged with injuries all season. The lefty logged six innings and scattered two hits, walking away with a no-decision.
The primary issue was a lack of offensive help from Toronto's lineup, which was blanked through the first seven innings by Tampa Bay righty James Shields. The Blue Jays (43-42) banged out 10 hits, but they wound up with nine runners stranded on the bases. That led to an eighth loss in 10 games for a taxed Toronto squad that was coming off a grueling four-game series in New York.
As seems to be the case more often than not with struggling teams, things just didn't go the Blue Jays' way at key points in the game.
In the third inning, Final Vote candidate Adam Lind connected for a ground-rule double. Had the ball not bounced over the wall in center field, Aaron Hill said he "absolutely" would have scored from first base on the play. Instead, he was held at third base, and the Jays were unable to come through with a run in the frame.
"It's just not going our way right now," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "We have to keep battling and hope it turns around."
During the eighth inning, Vernon Wells singled up the middle, snapping an 0-for-10 skid with runners in scoring position. Hill bolted from second base on the play and attempted to score, but Rays center fielder B.J. Upton made a strong throw to the plate -- just in time for catcher Dioner Navarro to apply the tag for the inning's final out.
A run would have put the Blue Jays ahead by a run. Instead, the game remained in a 1-1 deadlock and moved into extra innings, opening the door for a two-run, game-ending home run off the bat of Rays designated hitter Pat Burrell with two outs in the 11th inning.
The Jays' lone run came in the eighth inning, when Scott Rolen sent a pitch from reliever Chad Bradford into center field for a single that scored Marco Scutaro. That extended Rolen's career-best hitting streak to 24 games -- not much of a silver lining in another frustrating loss for the ballclub.
"We just didn't drive in any runs," Gaston said. "We got hits, but we didn't get enough hits at the right time."
That robbed Rzepczynski of a chance to earn a win in his first big league start.
Rzepczynski became the fifth rookie starter to make his Major League debut for Toronto this year, setting a club record for a season. The last time the Jays had even four starters make their debuts was in the franchise's inaugural season in 1977. Overall, the club has used 12 starters, including six rookies, this year.
With eight starters having stints on the disabled list at some point this season, the Jays have been desperate for help. That's why they turned to Rzepczynski, who was with Triple-A Las Vegas for only two starts after opening the season with Double-A New Hampshire. With a 2.66 ERA over 16 Minor League outings, Toronto felt Rzepczynski deserved a shot.
It caught him off guard.
"I was really surprised, just from only being in Vegas for two weeks," said Rzepczynski, who was selected in the fifth round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. "Unfortunately, we've had a lot of guys get hurt. I was really surprised, but it felt really good getting up here."
Rzepczynski said he was able to calm himself during his pregame warmup, and he cruised through the first three innings, limiting the Rays (45-39) to one hit and piling up four strikeouts. The lone Tampa Bay hit to that point was a double by Navarro in the third -- a shot to right-center field that prompted some rookie jitters for Rzepczynski.
In the fourth, Rzepczynski issued three walks, including one to Gabe Kapler with two outs and the bases loaded to put the Blue Jays behind, 1-0. Rzepczynski, who featured a strong slider in a seven-strikeout performance, said he lost sight of his game plan some in that inning.
"I think because I gave up the double, I just tried too hard just to go after it," Rzepczynski said. "I started cutting off pitches and stuff like that. I think my nerves got to me a little bit that inning."
The fourth inning was one that went awry in an otherwise decent showing from Rzepczynski, leaving Gaston impressed.
"He pitched a lot better than I think all of us thought he was going to pitch," Gaston said.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.