TORONTO — Roberto Osuna received a much-needed confidence boost on Saturday. All he had to do was get back to his four-seam fastball to get it.
The Blue Jays closer, who had struggled through recent outings, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to cement Toronto’s 4-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Osuna said he had been trying to incorporate more of his two-seam fastball into his arsenal early in the year. But a chat with catcher Russell Martin convinced him to change that approach.
"We tried to work a little different in the beginning, throw more two-seam, breaking stuff. It was my decision," Osuna said. "And we had a conversation and (Martin) told me ‘you’ve been having a lot of success the past two years with the four-seamer so I don’t think you need anything else,’
"Just the four-seam, locate the fastball, and that’s what we did today."
Osuna lowered his earned-run average from 7.50 to 6.43 while picking up his second save of the year.
"A lot more confidence for me," he said with a smile. "Hopefully I can keep pitching like this."
Justin Smoak hit a two-run homer and Martin drove in a run with a double for the Blue Jays (7-17), who can win their first series of the year with a victory Sunday.
Francisco Liriano (2-2) allowed a run on four hits while walking four and striking out six through five-plus innings. And relievers Joe Biagini and Joe Smith kept the Rays scoreless through the sixth, seventh and eighth.
Smoak, who came into the game as one of Toronto’s better hitters, went 3 for 3 to raise his average to .274. The first baseman has 12 RBI’s this season, second only to Kendrys Morales (14).
"It’s always been swing at strikes and take the balls, but I feel like I’m a little more relaxed right now at the plate," Smoak said of his hitting strategy. "That’s always the key to have success, now just gotta keep it going. It’s a long season."
Manager John Gibbons has liked what he’s seen from Smoak, who didn’t play much in the second half of last season with Edwin Encarnacion manning first base full-time.
"I see him laying off those breaking balls. He’s recognizing them better," Gibbons said. "It’s in there, Smoaky does some good things for us. … We’re counting on him and he’s off to a good start."
Matt Andriese (1-1) allowed four runs, three earned, and struck out four through seven innings. He also walked three batters and was charged with one balk.
Jesus Sucre had the lone RBI for the Rays (12-13).
Jose Bautista gave Toronto a 1-0 lead in the first inning, scoring on an error to shortstop Tim Beckham, who threw a Morales ground ball wide of first base while trying to make the out.
Sucre’s RBI-single scored Beckham to tie the game in the second. The play at the plate was a close one — Bautista had rifled an on-target throw from right field to Martin, who swiped at Beckham as he crossed home. Beckham was initially called out but a video review confirmed he beat the tag.
Martin drove in Smoak with a long double to centre field for a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning. It was the catcher’s fourth RBI of the season and his first to come via something other than a solo home run.
Liriano left the game in the sixth with two on and nobody out following a walk to Rickie Weeks Jr. and a Chris Coghlan fielding error that allowed Corey Dickerson to reach. Biagini got two strikeouts and a groundout to end the inning.
"I’ve said many times, as tough as things have been — and they’ve been real tough — (the bullpen) competes, they play to win, they don’t get down on things which can be a hard battle," Gibbons said.
"We think good things are on their way, we really do."
Bautista led off the bottom of the sixth with a walk, stole second, advanced to third on a Morales groundout and scored on Smoak’s homer.
Attendance was 42,419 and included Toronto Maple Leafs star and Calder Trophy finalist Auston Matthews, clad in a denim jacket, grey Blue Jays cap and sunglasses.
NOTES: Steven Souza Jr. left the game after he was hit in the left hand by a Biagini pitch in the seventh inning. The team said he had a left hand contusion. Initial X-rays were negative.