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Rays keep it close but come up short again

Two two-run homers off Ryan Yarbrough, who stepped in to work 5-1/3 innings, are the difference in the Blue Jays’ win.
Rays leftfielder Randy Arozarena and members of the Blue Jays bullpen watch a two-run home run by Toronto's Teoscar Hernandez during the second inning Thursday in Toronto.
Rays leftfielder Randy Arozarena and members of the Blue Jays bullpen watch a two-run home run by Toronto's Teoscar Hernandez during the second inning Thursday in Toronto. [ JON BLACKER | AP ]
Published Jul. 1|Updated Jul. 1

TORONTO — The Rays’ uncanny streak of 14 consecutive games decided by one or two runs came to an end Thursday, four shy of the major-league record.

They lost by three.

But the 4-1 defeat to the Blue Jays was very similar to many of the Rays’ nine losses during their previous 14 games. The Rays pitched relatively well but didn’t do much with their bats.

“What’s getting old is we’re not doing ourselves any favors by making the most of some opportunities,” manager Kevin Cash said, noting two prime scoring chances that went to waste.

Adding to the frustration, there doesn’t seem to be much the Rays — 40-35 and losers of 14 of their last 23 games — can do about it, besides hope they start to get some hitters — besides Isaac Paredes, who hit his team-high 11th homer — swinging hotter bats. Cash noted the youth and inexperience dotting their injury-depleted lineup.

“I think it’s just that we’ve got a bunch of guys that are finding that hitting in the big leagues is tough,” Cash said. “And we owe it to them, because we know they’re good players, they’ve got to go through some stretches like this.

“It’s just we’re in a run right now where we’ve got four or five guys that are kind of going through it together, and it’s just not coming easy.”

Paredes is the only one it seems to be coming easy for. He is hitting .271 with eight homers and 14 RBIs in his last 20 games. “Like to find a way to get some guys on base when he’s up at the plate,” Cash said.

Yandy Diaz similarly noted the frustration and suggested it might be time for extreme action.

“I was actually thinking about throwing all the bats in a big dumpster of garbage and seeing what happens,” he said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “Or maybe spray them with some gas.”

Between the pair of two-run homers allowed by Ryan Yarbrough, who stepped in to work 5⅓ solid innings with Jeffrey Springs missing the start due to a family medical emergency, the Rays had two prime scoring chances.

In the sixth, Diaz and Wander Franco opened the inning with singles off solid Jays starter Yusei Kikuchi. But Harold Ramirez grounded into a double play and Randy Arozarena into the third out, with third baseman Matt Chapman having a slick hand in both plays.

In the seventh, Vidal Brujan singled off reliever Trent Thornton with one out, stole second and went to third on an errant throw. But Taylor Walls couldn’t put the ball in play and struck out, and Francisco Mejia popped out.

“First and second, no outs, double-play ball,” Cash said. " ‘Bru’ gets to third base less than two outs, we don’t capitalize. Too many strikeouts. We’re just not putting enough pressure on pitchers.”

The Rays had five hits total, left five on and were 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position.

“The pitching that we’ve been facing, I think they’ve been doing a really good job,” Diaz said. “I don’t think we’ve been supporting our pitchers as well as we have (previously). And I think that’s kind of been one of the frustrating parts of it.”

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Yarbrough had made five starts for Triple-A Durham with mixed results since being sent down in early June. Following opener Matt Wisler on Thursday, he scattered eight hits and had baserunners on in five innings, but only the homers hurt.

Teoscar Hernandez hit one after a leadoff single in the second by Alejandro Kirk on a ground ball Walls got to at second but couldn’t handle. And Santiago Espinal hit the other with one out in the seventh after Lourdes Gurriel Jr. reached on a blooper that dropped in shallow right between Walls and Brujan.

“I think it was just a matter of staying really aggressive,’’ Yarbrough said. “I was just trying to keep us in the ballgame, mixing and matching. They’re a good lineup, so I’m just going to keep attacking.”

Cash said he was impressed and encouraged.

“He came in and threw strikes,” he said. “The strike zone has kind of eluded him for whatever reason this season. So I’ve got to think that’s as good (an outing) as we’ve seen from him.”

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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