Saunders sparks rally in Jays' win over Bucs

Saunders sparks rally in Jays' win over Bucs

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Blue Jays put together a four-run, two-out rally against left-hander Jon Niese in the second inning and held on to beat the Pirates, 10-8, at McKechnie Field on Thursday afternoon.

Niese, making his Pirates debut, retired the first five batters he faced before Toronto strung together four straight hits, including two that didn't get out of the infield. Niese then walked in a run and served up an RBI single to Jays left fielder Michael Saunders.

The Pirates had a chance to escape the inning before a run scored. With two on and two outs, Matt Dominguez hit a slow roller, and Bucs third baseman Jason Rogers whiffed on his barehanded grab for the ball. That loaded the bases, setting up Humberto Quintero's RBI single to shortstop Jordy Mercer.

Right-hander Gavin Floyd, competing for a spot in the Jays' rotation, gave up one run on two hits and a walk while striking out two in two innings of work.

"I've done this for a long time. It's going play out the way it's going play out, and I'm treating it like a spring where I'm just getting ready for the season," Floyd said. "There's things I've got to work on, and it's a process just trying to go out there and execute the best I can."

Pirates starter Ryan Vogelsong followed Niese on the mound and threw two scoreless innings with two strikeouts. In the sixth inning, Jays designated hitter Justin Smoak ripped a solo homer to right-center field off Pirates reliever John Holdzkom.

"It felt pretty good. I'll take it," Vogelsong said. "It's a good way to start. Two clean innings, I'll definitely take it."

Up next for the Blue Jays: Lefty J.A. Happ will make his first appearance in a Blue Jays uniform since 2014 when he takes the ball on Friday at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium for a 1:07 p.m. ET start against the Orioles. Happ, who went 19-20 from 2012-14 for the Jays prior to being traded to the Mariners for Michael Saunders, went a combined 11-8 with a 3.61 ERA for Seattle and Pittsburgh last season. The O's will counter with right-hander Vance Worley.

Up next for the Pirates: Left-hander Francisco Liriano will start for the Bucs as they host the Twins at McKechnie Field on Friday. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET. Right-handers Mark Melancon, Neftali Feliz, Curtis Partch, Rob Scahill and Trey Haley are also expected to pitch for Pittsburgh. Left-hander Tommy Milone will get the start for the Twins, who may bring new first baseman Byung Ho Park -- Jung Ho Kang's former teammate in South Korea -- to McKechnie Field.

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.