SPORTS

Rays extend winning streak to four games by topping Blue Jays 3-2

04/14/2015 10:22 EDT | Updated 06/24/2015 08:59 EDT
TORONTO - Canadian Russell Martin was signed to a lucrative long-term contract by the Toronto Blue Jays in the off-season.

The early returns have not been good.

Martin struck out twice, was hitless in four at-bats and his eighth-inning throwing error led to the winning run Tuesday night as the Blue Jays dropped a 3-2 decision to the Tampa Bay Rays at Rogers Centre.

Toronto is only eight games into the regular season so it's a small sample size, but Martin's .043 batting average is one of the more surprising statistics early in the campaign. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said it's common for players to press a bit when they're in a new environment.

"It's pretty common in this game of baseball, I don't care how long you've been playing," Gibbons said. "You get traded or you're a free agent, these guys are human, so naturally. Everybody wants to get off to a good start, they're in a new place, things like that.

"I don't know for sure (if he's pressing) but he's a human being. I'm sure he is a little bit."

Martin isn't the only Toronto player who's scuffling at the plate. The meat of the batting order is off to a slow start with Jose Bautista (.154), Edwin Encarnacion (.226) and Josh Donaldson (.233) yet to find their rhythm.

However, big things were also expected from Martin, a 32-year-old Toronto native who signed a five-year deal worth US$82 million last fall.

The "pressing" question came up again when Martin met with reporters after the game.

"What's pressing? I feel like I'm going out there hunting for a good pitch to hit," he said. "I feel like I can still hit. I feel I'm a dangerous player. I'm going to go out there and feel that way probably for the rest of my career."

Martin, who grew up in Chelsea, Que., is in his 10th big-league season and has a career average of .258. He has been a valuable asset behind the plate, helping the team's crop of young pitchers adjust to regular big-league outings.

But a 1-for-23 start was not what he had planned.

"To be honest, it's not the first time this has happened to me," Martin said. "I've been 1-for-something early in the season before and I don't play for batting averages. That's not why I play. I want to win games so when we win, I feel good. When we lose, I don't feel good. When I'm 0-for-3 if we win, I feel good.

"So for me, the batting average is going to be where it needs to be at the end of the year. Right now I'm focusing on competing every day and trying to help our team win."

Steven Souza Jr. put Tampa Bay (5-3) on the board with a homer in the first inning off Jays starter Daniel Norris. Souza Jr. later scored the winning run on a sacrifice fly to help the Rays win their fourth straight game.

His monster solo shot reached the third level above the centre-field wall and nearly hit the stadium's large video scoreboard. Norris, who was inconsistent but still held the Rays to two hits over five innings, managed to stay focused after the blast.

"I've just got to tip my cap," Norris said. "He was sitting first-pitch fastball and if I missed my spot, it was by a couple inches. And he hit it about 700 feet."

Souza Jr. reached on a bunt single in the eighth inning, stole second base and took third when Martin was low with his throw. A Desmond Jennings fly ball to centre field off reliever Miguel Castro (0-1) brought him home.

Reliever Steve Geltz (1-0) got four outs for the victory and Kevin Jepsen earned his first save.

The Blue Jays scored both runs in the fourth inning. Kevin Pillar drove in Donaldson and a Jose Reyes double brought home Dioner Navarro.

Tampa Bay outfielder Kevin Kiermaier provided a highlight-reel moment with one out in the ninth as he jumped against the wall in right-centre field to take away an extra-base hit from Devon Travis.

Notes: The game took three hours six minutes to play. ... Announced attendance was 17,264. ... Tampa Bay's Matt Andriese made his first major-league start and allowed two earned runs over 3 2/3 innings. ... Toronto's Mark Buehrle (1-0) will start on Wednesday against Erasmo Ramirez.

———

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

MORE:cpSports