ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Marcus Stroman outpitched Chris Archer in his first opening day start, helping the Toronto Blue Jays begin defence of their first AL East title in 22 years with a 5-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.
Stroman allowed three runs and six hits over eight-plus innings for the Blue Jays, who won 93 games in 2015 before making a run to the AL Championship Series in their first playoff appearance since 1993.
Troy Tulowitzki hit the first home run of the 2016 MLB season, a two-run shot for Toronto. Edwin Encarnacion had two hits and drove in two runs after not having an at-bat in a major league exhibition all spring training because of injuries.
The Blue Jays, the highest-scoring team in the majors last year, struck quickly on Encarnacion's two-run single in the first.
Archer struck out a Rays opening-day record 12 in five innings. But Encarnacion got him early and Kevin Pillar added an RBI single in the fourth. The right-hander limited the Blue Jays to five hits, but walked three during a 107-pitch outing.
Evan Longoria had two hits and drove in Tampa Bay's first run with a third-inning single. Offseason acquisition Corey Dickerson added a solo homer off Stroman leading off the ninth and Kevin Kiermaier drove in the final run charged to the starter with a bloop single off Roberto Osuna.
Osuna got the last three outs for the save.
At 24 years, 338 days old, Stroman became the third-youngest pitcher to make an opening day start for the Blue Jays. He earned the assignment after making just four starts, going 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA, in 2015, when he missed most of the season after undergoing surgery on his left knee during spring training.
Archer, who set a club record with 252 strikeouts last season, fanned the most batters on opening day since Seattle's Felix Hernandez struck out 12 against Oakland on April 2, 2007.
Blue Jays: Encarnacion was in the lineup as the designated hitter. He was slowed early in spring training by an abscessed tooth and limited to minor league games the final week of camp with a strained oblique muscle. Manager John Gibbons expects Encarnacion play some at first base this season. "Does him some good to get him out there occasionally," Gibbons said.
Rays: With the exception of losing closer Brad Boxberger for at least the opening month of the season following groin surgery, Tampa Bay emerged from spring training fairly healthy. Boxberger was an All-Star and the AL saves leader a year ago. Several relievers, including Alex Colome, will get an opportunity to finish games while Boxberger is out.
HE'S IN, HE'S OUT
Reliever Franklin Morales, signed to a one-year contract Saturday night, joined the Blue Jays for the season opener. He opted out of his contract and was released by Milwaukee last week. The left-hander was with Kansas City last season.
The Rays officially released 1B James Loney on Sunday. He had been told last week that he would not be on the opening day roster.
Loney batted .280 with four homers and 32 RBIs in 104 games in 2015. In three seasons with Tampa Bay, he hit .291 with 26 homers and 176 RBIs in 414 games.
The 31-year-old became expendable after the Rays acquired both Logan Morrison and Steve Pearce during the off-season.
"It's a difficult decision," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "He was a leader for us, had some good seasons."
George Wendt III, best known for playing Norm in the hit television series "Cheers" from 1982-93, threw out the ceremonial first pitch, bouncing a toss to the plate from in front of the mound.
Blue Jays: Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey starts the second game of a four-game series Monday. He was 11-11 with a 3.91 ERA in 2015.
Rays: Lefty Drew Smyly, 5-2 with, 3.11 ERA in 12 starts last season, starts Monday. He's 1-0 with a 1.10 ERA in five career appearances, including two starts, against Toronto.
Fred Goodall, The Associated Press