Pitching problems continue for struggling Jays, lose 3-1 to Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA — So far, the Toronto Blue Jays aren't exactly feeling the brotherly love.

Despite five innings of South Korean ace Hyun Jin Ryu's best efforts, bullpen problems and a shortage of offence kneecapped Toronto's best efforts Saturday in a 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.

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Ryu and a fifth-inning solo shot from infielder Travis Shaw were the night's only high points for Toronto, which remains in playoff contention despite what's now a six-game losing streak — including three to the Phillies in just the last two nights.

The final game of the series goes Sunday.

"He's an ace, he gave us a chance," manager Charlie Montoyo said of his starter. "Everybody felt good going into the game, and he did what he was supposed to do. He kept us in the game and gave us a chance."

Toronto held Philadelphia scoreless through the first 90 minutes, each side managing just a single hit over the first four innings before Shaw finally broke the logjam with a right-field blast off Vince Velasquez in the top of the fifth.

It seemed to wake up the Phillies.

Ryu quickly gave up five hits, starting with a double to left from designated hitter Jay Bruce that triggered a barrage and quickly turned Toronto's 1-0 advantage into a 2-1 deficit. Ryu escaped the inning with the bases loaded when slugger Didi Gregorius managed only a fly ball to centre field.

"We're definitely in a tough stretch, there's no denying that," he said afterwards through a translator, shouldering the blame for allowing the lead to change hands so quickly.

"Despite the fact that was the bottom of the order, they just kept on putting the ball in play," he said.

"A lot of them were soft contacts — I guess you could say that I was unfortunate, but as a pitcher you always feel bad when that happens, but I guess I'll just have to live with it."

In a stark illustration of Toronto's bullpen woes, Jays reliever Wilmer Font took over midway through the seventh and promptly walked two batters before Ryan Borucki came in to rescue the inning.

A.J. Cole took over in the eighth, loaded the bases and gave fielder Adam Haseley the chance to drive in another run before he managed to retire the side.

The loss leaves Toronto's magic number — the mix of wins and next-closest-rival losses needed to clinch a playoff spot — at seven, with the ninth-place Seattle Mariners taking on the San Diego Padres tonight.

Despite the dismal showing, Montoyo is trying to keep the team in its happy place, summoning the players to a meeting before the game to make sure they keep their spirits up.

"I told them all how proud I am of our team — after everything we've gone through and we're still in a good spot," he said.

"They're young guys, so you know, embrace it, have fun and learn from it, you know? Have fun — that's the main thing, have fun because you earned it, to be here after everything you've gone through."

It's a counter-intuitive message, perhaps, considering the Jays have seemed to be doing their best to squander a shot at the playoffs. But they remain squarely in the wild-card mix, thanks to middling results from a number of key challengers, including Houston, Seattle, Detroit and Baltimore.

It's perhaps the ultimate lesson of 2020: be grateful for small mercies.

"If somebody had told me in July that on Sept. 19, we're going to be in this spot — I'm in," Montoyo said. "As a manager, you're like, 'Man, we've done so much. And we're in this spot this late in the season?' I'm so proud of this team."

Coach John Schneider is just as sanguine when it comes to Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the Canadian-born heir to the Expos legend of the same name whose young Jays career has yet to fully blossom, and who is key to the team's hopes for a deep playoff run.

"It's been a weird year for everyone — a small sample size with the bat, so your numbers can kind of fluctuate quite a bit," Schneider said.

"But hopefully he kind of hits that peak as we're going here, towards the end and into the post-season. He's obviously, you know, a big, big difference maker in our lineup."

Guerrero Jr., who has also struggled to adjust to the move from third base to first earlier this year, stayed in the dugout for most of Saturday — the designated hitter came off the bench for a single at-bat — after taking a wild pitch to the head.

"He's a little dizzy, but it's got nothing to do with anything," Montoyo said. "I mean, he got hit, but he is fine."

On Friday, Bryce Harper hit a tying, two-run double and scored the go-ahead run as the Phillies rallied to beat the Jays 8-7 and earn their first doubleheader sweep in eight years.

Zach Eflin struck out nine in a four-hitter and Harper went deep in Philadelphia’s 7-0 win in the opener.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2020.

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