Redmond’s solid start spoiled in loss to Rays

Todd Redmond continued to impress Sunday with six innings of one-run ball. (AP/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Success in bottom-feeding depth player acquisitions is one the few areas where the Toronto Blue Jays have excelled during this season of sustained failure, and Todd Redmond continued Sunday to provide some unexpected quality in that regard.

Six innings of one-run ball, matching the overpowering Chris Archer at the place of pain Tropicana Field is for his team is a nice bit of work for the 28-year-old right-hander. He more than did his job.

The bigger issue facing the Blue Jays is the ongoing inconsistency from parts of the club expected to carry the load, a suddenly barren offence serving as the prime culprit of late, and again offering little in a 2-1, 10-inning loss Sunday to the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Blue Jays didn’t have many opportunities to score but Anthony Gose’s leadoff single in the fourth and immediate steal of second base was wasted, as were runners at second with two outs in the seventh and ninth innings.

The end result was Jose Lobaton taking Brad Lincoln deep with one out in the 10th for his second walkoff hit of the three-game set — he also tripled home the winner Friday — as the Blue Jays’ series drought at Tropicana Field stretching back to April 2007 remained intact.

Four games with the New York Yankees, starting with a doubleheader Tuesday, are up next.

“We wasted a great pitching outing,” manager John Gibbons said, oozing frustration. “The last couple of weeks we’ve been pitching our butts off, and our offence has disappeared. Their guy’s good, no question, but if you’re going to play in prime time you’ve got to win those games sooner or later.

“We’ve had so many of them over the course of the season, we haven’t been able to win them, that’s the difference. Big hits, big time, got to step up.”

The Blue Jays haven’t done that, as evidenced by a 15-21 record in one-run contests, and 11-13 mark in two-run contests. When games are there for the winning, they too often fail to come through.

The wild-card leading Rays, meanwhile, are 20-17 in one-run games, but 18-9 since starting the season 2-8.

“They play to win, they got one thing on their mind, winning,” said Gibbons. “Everybody pitches in, everybody’s got their role and they do it.”

The Blue Jays, on the other hand, have needed to run through their farm system due to injuries and underperformance, and minor-league free agents like Munenori Kawasaki, Neil Wagner and Juan Perez (before he got hurt), and Redmond, a waiver claim from the Baltimore Orioles on March 22, have certainly taken advantage.

Redmond is 1-1 with a 3.32 ERA in 10 games, seven of them starts, routinely giving his team a chance to win each time out. That it hasn’t happened more frequently is on them, but in a mostly joyless year, his ascension and the dogged way he pitches is a bright spot.

“They’ve gotten an opportunity and they’ve taken advantage of it,” Gibbons said of his depth guys. “Shoot, Red’s been great since he stepped into that role. There was that game in San Diego early where he came in and pitched in relief, really caught our attention, he went (3.2) innings, got the loss, but he pitched great. Then he goes into the rotation and he doesn’t give up much, he never does. Great competitor — he matched Archer, who’s pretty darn good himself.”

Redmond gave the Rays precious little after Evan Longoria’s solo shot in the first opened the scoring. He worked around Longoria’s one-out double in the second, a Yunel Escobar leadoff double in the third knocked out of Gose’s glove in centre when Kevin Pillar brushed by him, and a one-out double by Matt Joyce in the sixth.

He was pulled after the first two batters reached in the seventh, but a masterful escape act by Brett Cecil — fuelled by Jason Bourgeois’ failed safety squeeze and a 2-5-2-6 rundown that got Sean Rodriguez at third — kept things level after Edwin Encarnacion’s solo shot in the top of the frame tied it.

Still, coming on the heels of 5.1 shutout innings against Boston in what finished as a 4-2 loss in 11 innings last week, Redmond continues to establish himself as an asset.

“Nothing, absolutely nothing,” Redmond said when asked what adjustments he’s made this season to help him break through. “Staying with my strengths, the game’s about timing, right now I’ve got a good opportunity and I’m trying to take advantage of it.”

A St. Petersburg native, he’s the fourth local to start at the Trop, and with a big group of family and friends in the stands, he put on a show. In 43.1 innings, he’s walked just 12 batters while striking out 44, demonstrating an ability to throw quality strikes, and not give in.

That toughness has helped him in his first sustained stint in the majors after signing as a 39th-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2004.

“From my first year of professional baseball, you definitely grow as a pitcher, as a player and as a person,” Redmond said of his mental approach. “But it’s nothing different than a little bit more maturity on the mound. You get to know hitters, and coming up through nine years of minor-leagues, I probably faced a good number of those guys at some point in my life. They’ve seen me, I’ve seen them, it’s a battle out there, you’ve got to throw strikes and make pitches.”

The Blue Jays picked him up late in the spring during their waiver wire bonanza period to bolster the starting rotation at triple-A Buffalo. The Orioles claimed him from Reds right when spring camps opened, after Cincinnati had traded Paul Janish to Atlanta for him the previous summer.

His thoughts on being claimed by the Blue Jays?

“It was shocking,” he said. “The Orioles, I thought I was good with them. Then I was picked up by the Blue Jays and I couldn’t be happier right now.”

On a personal level, sure, but from a team perspective nobody is happy. Shocking, too, is the way this season continues to play out, and how wide the gap is between the Blue Jays and their key rivals when games are on the line.

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