Same score, different result: Blue Jays struggle to execute in second game

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — At his best, the way he was in the early going Friday night, Chris Bassitt is a riddle that keeps opponents guessing.

Take his first-inning encounter with Randy Arozarena. He threw the Tampa Bay Rays slugger three straight sinkers at 92.9, 92.3 and 93.9 m.p.h. to jump out ahead at 1-2, followed up with a cutter at 89.5 to even the count before dropping an 83.8 m.p.h. changeup that Arozarena just knicked before his bat flew out of his hands and propellered out to third base.

With the hitter’s timing discombobulated, good time to go back to the heater, you’d think but nope, Bassitt had other plans. He went slower instead, spinning a 70 m.p.h. curveball that Arozarena waved through meekly to end the inning.

Masterful stuff.

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“He’s one of the very few guys that he’s thinking along with what a hitting coach is probably telling their hitters and trying to do the opposite,” said manager John Schneider. “He’s trying to do that in-game, too, and then there are times where he’s just going to say, I’m throwing you all sinkers and there’s going to be, OK, you’re not expecting a splitter right on right, I’m going to throw one. It varies. Threading that needle of in-between (following a game and adapting on the fly) is when he’s really good… I mean, he remembers every pitch he’s ever thrown to every hitter and he’s got a reason for what he’s doing.”

Sometimes, though, unpredictability simply isn’t enough, even after two brilliant innings out the gate, the way things played out for Bassitt and the Toronto Blue Jays in an 8-2 loss to the Rays.

A messy third was their undoing before a Tropicana Field crowd of 18,653 as Ben Rortverdt opened the inning with a single, Bassitt hit Jose Caballero on the hand and then Bo Bichette failed to cleanly pick a Yandy Diaz chopper, picking the ball up too late to even get one out.

Up came Brandon Lowe, who struck out in the first after seeing three straight sinkers before a put-away splitter, and he fouled off a cutter for strike one, took a slider for a ball and then pummelled a second cutter 444 feet over the wall in right field.

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Not exactly ideal after George Springer opened the scoring in the top half of the third with his second homer in as many games and Aaron Civale settled in from there, allowing only two hits, both singles over the next three frames to finish with six strong innings.

A second Bichette error to open the fifth, this one on an in-between Diaz chopper he stepped back to field before firing a tick wide to first, led to a fifth Rays run on an Arozarena RBI single, as Bassitt again had to grind his way out of trouble.

Still, he did, eating five innings in an outing in which his pitch count ran up early as he struck out five of the first eight batters he faced, including four in a row to start the game.

Providing reliable, quality innings is, of course, Bassitt’s forte and in an outing that unravelled, his ability to at least get through five, along with the four innings provided by long man Wes Parsons, who allowed three runs in four frames, saved the bullpen for another day.

That will come in handy with Yusei Kikuchi slated to start Saturday against righty Zack Littell, with the Blue Jays still deciding whether to start Kevin Gausman in Sunday’s finale or Monday’s opener at Houston. The ace righty threw a side without issue Friday, setting him up well for Game 4 at the Trop should they lean that way.

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Another arm the Blue Jays are keeping an eye on, lefty prospect Ricky Tiedemann, started triple-A Buffalo’s opener Friday, allowing a run on three hits and two walks with three strikeouts in a 12-9 loss to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Tiedemann impressed with his repertoire at camp and particularly with the way he used it over three dominant innings of a Grapefruit League game against the Pittsburgh Pirates last week. Schneider praised how the 21-year-old “was like, ‘Alright, I’m going to go just execute pitches.’”

“That’s it with him. It’s going to get harder when he gets up here, but I think it’s just executing every single pitch and not just saying, I’m better than whoever I’m facing in in the minor leagues,” said Schneider, who relayed that very message as they parted with Tiedemann. “Every pitch has to have a purpose. And, you’re at the point where, yeah, you’re a good prospect, but you need to execute at a really high level, too.”

The same applies for the Blue Jays, of course, something they did in an Opening Day rout of the Rays and something they didn’t do Friday, when the Rays reversed Thursday’s score.

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