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Late comeback not enough for Jays

Late comeback not enough for Jays

TORONTO -- Blue Jays manager John Gibbons steers clear of the term "short leash" when discussing Josh Towers. Yes, the starter struggled through persistent woes last season, but Gibbons doesn't want Towers to pitch like a man whose job is on the line.

"Nobody can play this game looking over their shoulder," said Gibbons, sitting inside Toronto's dugout prior to Tuesday night's game against the Royals. "It's unfair to put that kind of pressure on anybody, but he knows the reality of the business. He's got to pitch good."

A few hours after Gibbons spoke those words, Towers wrapped up his first start of the season -- an outing that turned out better than the box score will indicate. The right-hander allowed six runs -- three earned -- over 5 2/3 innings of a 6-3 loss at the hands of Kansas City.

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Towers (0-1) not only had to battle the ill effects of nine days between outings, he also had to limit the damage done by the Royals (3-5), who took advantage of some sloppy defense by Toronto. With those factors in mind, Gibbons offered nothing but praise when he pulled the starter from the game with two outs in the sixth inning.

"Gibby took the positive out of what happened," Towers said. "To be honest with you, I don't know if I find anything positive out of today. There were a lot of things that went wrong. We didn't play the best baseball game and it's kind of frustrating. It really was an ugly day."

The fans inside Rogers Centre weren't as forgiving with Towers as the Blue Jays (4-3) have been. The pitcher won the fifth spot in the rotation with an impressive spring, posting a 2.45 ERA over six starts, but those in attendance Tuesday night were quick to recall his woes last season.

In 15 appearances a year ago, Towers went 2-10 with an 8.42 ERA for the Jays. So, the crowd was quick to unleash a wave of boos when the righty gave up his 10th hit -- a run-scoring triple by Tony Pena Jr. in the sixth that gave the Royals a 6-1 advantage.

"He's never been one of those guys where anything has been handed to him," Gibbons said. "So you root for the underdog. I expect him to have a good year for us. He's that kind of individual that you naturally pull for.

"What hurt him last year was he basically was off of his location. He's a guy who lives and dies with picking the plate apart -- living on the edges. Last year, that didn't happen for him."

Towers cited similar issues this time around. For the most part, he said he was pleased with his command on his slider. It was Towers' other pitches that provided the most frustration.

"I had some balls continue to leak over the plate the whole time," said Towers, who threw 63 of his 83 pitches for strikes. "That's where the 10 hits come into play. They got a couple broken-bat hits and off-the-end-of-the-bat hits, but the bottom line is those balls aren't located. Otherwise, they don't fall in."

Towers finished with six strikeouts and was effective through the first five innings, yielding two runs on seven hits over that span. In the sixth, though, he gave up four runs -- one earned -- and was chased from the contest.

Kansas City designated hitter Mike Sweeney opened the frame by pulling a sharp ground ball toward Jays third baseman Troy Glaus, who back-handed the ball and fired it to first. The throw pulled first baseman Lyle Overbay off the bag and Glaus was charged with an error -- one of four on the night by the Jays.

Alex Gordon followed with a two-run homer -- his first blast in the Majors -- and Pena drove in Jason LaRue four batters later. That's when Gibbons called left-hander Scott Downs in from the bullpen. Downs promptly allowed an RBI single to David DeJesus, putting the finishing touches on Towers' night.

"It's one start. I wouldn't dissect it too much," Gibbons said. "I don't think Josh pitched that bad, especially after not being out there for a while."

The last time Towers -- a 13-game winner with the Jays in '05 -- took the mound was March 31, when the Blue Jays hosted the Reds in their final Spring Training contest. Prior to that outing, the starter was informed he'd won a starting job. Poor weather in Detroit last week forced the Jays to postpone a game on April 5, pushing Towers' first appearance back until Tuesday.

"Since the season started until now seemed like an eternity," Towers said. "Not facing a hitter in 10 days, that's a lot. The last time I faced hitters was also Spring Training, so it's a completely different situation. That's where the inconsistencies with the control come into play."

A lack of offense didn't help, either.

Toronto managed just one run in six innings against Royals starter Zack Greinke (1-1), who struck out five en route to his first win of the year. Alex Rios came through with an RBI double to put Toronto on the board in the fifth, and catcher Gregg Zaun, who pinch-hit for Jason Phillips in the seventh, added a two-run homer off Royals reliever Joel Peralta.

"We just couldn't solve Greinke all night. He carved us up pretty good," Gibbons said. "I hope [Towers isn't] too discouraged, because I thought he battled well."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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