TORONTO - Ricky Romero opened the season as the Blue Jays No. 1 pitcher.
In his past two starts he’s been performing like one.
Thanks to another solid outing from Romero, the Jays split their two-game series with the first-place Tampa Bay Rays, earning a 3-2 victory Thursday night at the Rogers Centre.
His batterymate, J.P. Arencibia, was the offensive star as he snapped a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning with a two-run home run.
However, Romero was the difference maker as he followed up on his powerful outing against the Minnesota Twins six days ago. In that one, Romero came within one out of a complete-game shutout but had to settle for the victory in a 2-0 triumph where he allowed just four hits over 8 2/3 innings.
Against the Rays, Romero, who evened his record at 4-4, was almost as dominating.
Over seven innings he allowed just one run on three hits — a solo homer by B.J. Upton — walked two and struck out six.
In his only other start against the Rays this season — on April 23 — he allowed two runs on five hits over seven innings while striking out 10 in a 2-0 loss.
Arencibia’s homer, his seventh of the season, came on the first pitch and also scored Juan Rivera, who had walked.
The Jays opened the scoring in the second inning on a solo home run from an unlikely source — Rivera.
Rivera was making his first start of the season at first base due to the fielding woes encountered by Edwin Encarnacion the previous game — two errors in a 6-5 loss.
At the plate Rivera has had more than his share of troubles of late as he entered the game in a 0-for-12 rut and in his previous 37 at-bats had registered all of four hits. In 128 prior at-bats this season, Rivera had counted just four extra-base hits.
But in his first at-bat of the game against Rays starter Wade Davis, Rivera was The Man. With the count 3-1 Davis hit the outer half of the plate but Rivera hit the ball squarely and lined a shot to left-centre.
It had extra bases written all over it and the lone question was would it have enough juice to carry out. It did, but just, as the ball hit the top of the wall and bounced over for his third homer of the season.
Romero, meanwhile, was cruising for the Jays and had allowed just one single through the opening four innings — a single by Upton.
But with one out in the fifth, there was Upton back in the box and he ripped a 1-0 pitch into the seats in centre for his seventh homer of the season.
The Rays climbed to within a run in the eighth against reliever Marc Rzepczynski when Kelly Shoppach hit a one out homer to right. It was the first homer hit off Rzeczynski this season in 21 appearances.
On the shelf
When Jose Bautista was out of the lineup with a stiff and painful neck, Adam Lind was carrying the team and the Jays were salivating over the prospect of having both players in the lineup and in productive modes.
Those dreams went up in smoke when Lind was forced out of a game May 7 due to lower back pain and after missing eight games, he was finally placed on the disabled list.
The news Thursday before the game regarding Lind, who is rehabbing in the warmth and humidity of Dunedin, is that the first baseman will not be back any time soon. In fact, it could be a minimum of 10 days before he returns.
Manager John Farrell said that in Florida, Lind will work on strengthening his core. The thinking now is that lack of such training coupled with Lind’s return to the field — he moved from being the DH to first base — led to the back problems.
Lind will resume baseball activities in the next couple of days and then play in rehab games, either at extended spring training or with the class-A Dunedin Jays — or probably a bit of both.
Heading into the season the feeling was the Jays were taking a chance by having Lind man first base, that he was far from gifted defensively.
But compared to the play of Encarnacion in Wednesday’s loss, Lind looks like a Gold Glover.
Encarnacion made two errors in the sloppy affair and his body language registered a level of frustration and disappointment that was visible all the way up to the fans in the fifth deck.
“He takes his performances and he takes his work personally,” Farrell said before the game, defending his player. “He cares. I think more than anything it shows he does care.
“He wasn’t pleased with some of the things that unfolded during the course of that game. Those are some of the things we talked about today. The thing we have to do is continue to encourage him and put him in positions where he can have success, whether that’s in the DH spot, whether that’s at first.”
On Thursday, his spot was on the bench with Rivera making the start.