Richmond finds win column; Jays sweep
Rookie tosses five innings for first victory since June 24
TORONTO -- Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston leaned back in his chair and chuckled. Asked his thoughts on moving one step closer to clinching a higher finish in the American League East than the Orioles, Gaston couldn't help himself.
Behind rookie Scott Richmond's first win in nearly three months, Toronto completed a three-game sweep of Baltimore with a 7-3 victory on Wednesday at Rogers Centre. That put nine games between the Jays and the fifth-place Orioles in the standings with only 10 contests remaining.
"I hope we win one more and they lose one more," joked Gaston.
All kidding aside, Toronto (69-83) would love nothing more than to avoid having its four-month tailspin end with a last-place finish in the division. Its latest win over Baltimore (60-92) wrapped up the first series sweep by the Jays since June 16-18 and it marked Toronto's first brooming at home since May 15-18.
The Jays, who also swept the O's on May 1-3, improved to 9-6 this year against Baltimore -- the lone division rival against which Toronto boasts a winning ledger.
"Before they got their guys hurt over there, they were giving us a tough time," Gaston said. "We weren't playing them too well. We certainly didn't want to finish behind them, that's for sure."
In sending the Orioles to their season-worst seventh loss in a row, the Blue Jays have pieced together only their third three-game winning streak of the past three months. The win for Richmond (7-10) was also a long time coming, considering his most recent victory came on June 24 -- shortly before he missed nearly a month with a right shoulder issue.
Prior to his outing against Baltimore, Richmond had gone 0-6 with an 8.14 ERA over his past nine trips up the hill. Since returning from the disabled list at the end of July, he posted an 8.92 ERA across eight outings. Richmond did not return to the win column with a masterful performance, but his five-inning showing was effective in leading Toronto.
"It was an improvement," Richmond said. "But there's still work to be done. I'd like to go from struggling to lights-out, but it just doesn't work like that. You've got to go pitch-by-pitch, batter-by-batter, and just focus on locating each pitch. When you do that, more times than not, you're going to go deep in a game and have few runs scored."
Richmond worked with plenty of baserunners -- he allowed five hits and issued four walks -- but the pitcher limited the damage. He still struggled with the long ball, giving up a two-run home run to Baltimore's Michael Aubrey in the second inning and a solo shot to catcher Matt Wieters in the fifth, but Richmond did show better command of his fastball.
"I don't want to go [only] five innings," said Richmond, who has allowed a team-high 24 homers this year. "But the way the last few outings have been going, five innings is an improvement. I was able to locate my fastball a little better early in the count today. I'd get ahead of hitters and then I'd fish around a little bit and get back in 2-2, 3-2 counts. I worked myself back into trouble."
Fortunately for Richmond, the Blue Jays' offense provided plenty of support against Orioles right-hander Jeremy Guthrie (10-16) and the bullpen held Baltimore in check following the rookie's exit.
Aubrey's second-inning blast helped Baltimore run to a 2-0 lead, but an RBI double by Toronto's Lyle Overbay in the home half of the frame and a sacrifice fly from Edwin Encarnacion an inning later pulled the game into a tie. Jose Bautista then highlighted a three-run outburst in the fourth with a run-scoring triple to help the Jays grab a 5-2 lead.
In the sixth inning, Blue Jays rookie Travis Snider sent the first pitch he received from Guthrie slicing down the left-field line, where it ducked over the wall for a solo blast. Snider added an RBI single off Orioles reliever Sean Henn in the eighth, adding a seventh run to Guthrie's line, as the runner was inherited.
That was ample support for Richmond, who said Toronto pitchers such as Ricky Romero and Jesse Litsch provided welcome words of encouragement during his prolonged slump on the mound.
"It's good to have guys behind you rooting for you," Richmond said. "They come up and they tell you, 'Hey, we know you're trying really hard. We know you're working really hard out there to try to get outs. It's not due to a lack of effort. Maybe you're trying too hard. Try to take it back a little bit. You know you have the stuff. You've been effective at this level.'"
Richmond, who will be in the running for a rotation job next spring, is trying to keep that in mind as he aims at a strong end to this season.
"I'm just trying to grind it out here -- get through the next couple starts and just improve each time," he said. "I'm trying to make adjustments. Nobody likes going out there and struggling -- not pitching the way they know they can pitch."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.