ST. PETERSBURG -- Marcus Stroman came through with a quality start and Kendrys Morales gave him all the offense he needed in a 5-2 Blue Jays win over the Rays on Thursday night at Tropicana Field.
Stroman did not allow a run until his final inning, holding the Rays to one run on six hits and two walks while striking out five in 6 1/3 innings. All but two of Stroman's outs came via groundouts or strikeouts, and three double plays behind him allowed the 25-year-old to escape trouble whenever he encountered it. Most of the credit for that belongs to Stroman's two-seamer, which he went to early and often vs. Tampa Bay.
"It feels good right now," Stroman said of his sinker. "I feel like me and Russ [catcher Russell Martin] have a pretty good connection as far as exactly what we're trying to do with it in certain counts. Throwing it in, throwing it out, I feel like I have a pretty good feel for it wherever I want to throw in the zone. So once I have that pitch going, all of my other pitches kind of play off that."
Stroman drew praise from Rays manager Kevin Cash.
"He just kept the barrel off the ball," Cash said. "Made a lot of big pitches, controlled the zone really well and got some double plays. We didn't put a ton of pressure on him."
Facing Rays starter Blake Snell with two outs and the bases loaded in the the third, Morales fell behind 0-1 in the count before rerouting a 95-mph four-seam fastball into the left-field stands. According to Statcast™, Morales' barreled ball traveled 444 feet and had an exit velocity of 108.8 mph with a 26 degree launch angle.
Evan Longoria and Brad Miller cobbled together singles off Stroman to start the seventh, and one out later, Logan Morrison singled home Longoria to cut the lead to 5-1 and chase Stroman. Joe Biagini entered, and on his first pitch, the reliever got Tim Beckham to ground into an inning-ending double play -- the fourth time the Blue Jays turned two on the evening.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Grand salami: Morales became the ninth player in franchise history to hit a grand slam for his first home run in a Blue Jays uniform. The projected distance of 444 feet was tied for his seventh-longest home run in the Statcast™ era. His last grand slam happened to come against the Blue Jays as a member of the Royals, when he went deep off the since departed Brett Cecil on Aug. 17, 2016.
"To be honest, just try to react to any pitch that is coming," Morales said through an interpreter. "If you react well and you put good wood on it, a fastball is going to go far. I was happy that it happened today." More >
Walks like hits: Snell posted two scoreless innings before the Blue Jays loaded the bases in the third -- with a little bit of help. After Darwin Barney singled with one out, Snell struck out Steve Pearce before walking Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista to set up Morales' game-changing slam. Snell walked five during his 6 2/3 innings. More >
"That was just to appease all of our fans up north." -- Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, when asked about his decision to have Darwin Barney execute a safety squeeze in the top of the seventh
Rays outfielder Colby Rasmus appeared in a rehab game for Class A Charlotte on Thursday. He went 0-for-3 with an RBI and played left field.
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Morales' homer marked the third time in franchise history that Toronto's first home run of the season was a grand slam. It also happened in 1990 and '95. Morales is now a career .375 (27-for-72) hitter with the bases loaded.
For the second consecutive night, Steven Souza Jr. got called out trying to score from third on a ground ball. And for the second consecutive night, the Rays challenged the call and lost. Stroman fielded the ball hit by Mallex Smith and threw home to catcher Russell Martin, who applied the tag. The challenge addressed the out call, as well as the home-plate collision rule. After a review of one minute and 51 seconds, the call on the field was confirmed.
WHAT'S NEXT Blue Jays: Left-hander Francisco Liriano will make his first start of the season when this series continues Friday night at 7:10 ET. Liriano is coming off one of the best springs of his career, as he struck out 29 batters over 18 innings. From 2015-16, Statcast™ tracked only 32.5 percent of Liriano's pitches as being within the strike zone, the second-lowest rate among pitchers with at least 3,000 total pitches. However, Liriano did raise his zone rate to 37.0 percent after being traded from Pittsburgh to Toronto at last year's non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Rays: Matt Andriese (8-8, 4.37 in 2016) will make his first start of 2017 when the Rays host the Blue Jays on Friday night at Tropicana Field. The right-hander went 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in four official appearances during Spring Training. He is 0-1 with a 4.05 ERA in seven career appearances (three starts) against the Blue Jays.