DUNEDIN, Fla. (AP) — Edwin Encarnacion hit a two-run homer in the Toronto Blue Jays’ 5-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday.
Ben Zobrist returned to the Rays lineup at designated hitter after missing three games with a stiff neck. He was 0 for 2 with a walk and two strikeouts.
“They threw some good pitches against me with two strikes, so there as not much I can do about that,” said Zobrist, who is expected to play second base on Thursday against Pittsburgh.
“I did a good job waiting and seeing pitches well,” He said. “Tomorrow, just make another step in the right direction.”
Rays starter Nathan Karns, who is a candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation, walked one, struck out one and allowed three hits in 3 1-3 scoreless innings.
Encarnacion connected off reliever Josh Lueke as part of a four-run fifth inning, which included an RBI double by Colby Rasmus. It was Encarnacion’s second home run of the spring.
“He can hit them, that’s what he does for a living,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “Eddie’s not just a slugger. He’s got a great idea at the plate and he’s not a free swinger either. When he gets a pitch to hit, he can burn you at any time.”
Adam Lind and Brett Lawrie each doubled for the Blue Jays.
Tampa Bay outfield prospect Jeremy Moore hit his third home run, a solo shot off starter Marcus Stroman that went over the 30-foot batter’s eye screen in center field.
Blue Jays: Stroman threw 70 pitches and allowed three earned runs with five hits in four innings. He also had one walk and three strikeouts.
“I thought it was better,” Stroman said. “Not exactly where I want to be, but I definitely made a lot better pitches than I made in my last outing.”
Rays: Manager Joe Maddon thought Karns looked a bit too excited to open the game but relaxed enough to have a solid outing.
“I thought he got better as the game was in progress,” Maddon said. “Fastball, curveball became a weapon and also changeup, mixed in. In the beginning maybe a little bit over-amped. But after that, he settled down and threw the ball extremely well.”
Blue Jays: Left-handed starter J.A. Happ returned to the team and participated in morning throwing drills after being excused for a couple days to rest his sore back. … Reliever Dustin McGowan was back in the clubhouse after being sent home before last Saturday’s game against Minnesota with a stomach virus. The right-hander said he is feeling better, but he lost 8 pounds because of the ailment.
Rays: Jeremy Hellickson played catch in Port Charlotte for the first time since undergoing elbow surgery in February. The right-hander, who is expected to be out until May, made 25 throws from 45-60 feet. . Joel Peralta (stiff neck) threw 13 pitches in one inning of a minor league game.
R.A. Dickey said there are no hurt feelings following Ervin Santana’s decision to sign with the Atlanta Braves.
The Blue Jays were rumored as the favorite to land Santana, who was the top remaining free-agent starting pitcher. But the right-hander opted instead to sign a one-year, $14.1 million contract with Atlanta on Wednesday.
Dickey said while it would have been a good signing, he doesn’t feel that it was a necessity.
“It was always kind of a bonus for me,” Dickey said. “I felt like, and so did our team . that we have what we need to do what we need to do. It was just going to be a bonus if he came. So, I’m not emoting one way or the other.”
Despite the team’s confidence that it can compete with its current staff, general manager Alex Anthopoulos did not rule out the possibility of landing another pitcher to the rotation.
“Still be on the lookout. We like the talent we have, I think that goes without saying,” Anthopoulos said. “But there’s obviously a lack of experience and that’s where you’d love to have some experience and you can have that depth and you can send some guys down on options.
“Ultimately, if we have to go with some of the inexperienced guys that have talent to do well, we’re prepared to do that, he added.”
Jerry Sands continued his torrid start to the spring with a home run off Blue Jays reliever Chad Jenkins in the ninth inning, his fourth of the spring.
Maddon said Sands, who ranks among the Grapefruit League’s top five in batting average, along with teammate Jeremy Moore have turned heads around the organization.
“Both of them are better athletically than I’ve known about,” Maddon said. “Both move better on defense, both throw well, got great work ethic and great teammates. They happen to be hitting the ball really well right now, but beyond that they grade out well in other areas, too.”