Rios shows potential in win over Rays

Jays wake up from slumber

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Blue Jays have been waiting all year for Alex Rios to start swinging his bat with the type of power that convinced the club to hand him a lucrative contract extension at the season's onset.

Rios has shown flashes of being the budding star Toronto believes he can be, but only in spurts. On Sunday afternoon, Rios once again provided a glimpse of his potential, belting one of the Jays' two homers to help fuel a 9-4 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field.

Throughout the win, which avoided a disheartening sweep at the hands of Tampa Bay, Rios was in the thick of things. There was that critical second-inning homer that broke a 1-1 tie, as well as a spectacular throw that nabbed a runner at the plate to halt a potential Rays rally in the fourth.

Rios also contributed two doubles -- one during a three-run Toronto outburst in the seventh -- and stole third base along the way. It was the type of performance from Rios that has been missing for much of this season, and one that manager Cito Gaston hopes is the start of a trend.

"I hope I see that for the next -- however long I'm here," Gaston said. "I hope I see it all the time, because he's capable of doing that. He's a big part of this team. If we're ever going to win, that's the kind of guy you've got to see at least two or three times a week."

Gaston has done his part to try to revive Rios' swing, which has been the source of one of the major letdowns this season for the struggling Blue Jays (48-50). Since taking over as Toronto manager on June 20, Gaston has left Rios in the lineup's third slot for each of the outfielder's starts.

In those 21 games, Rios has responded by hitting at a .333 clip with two homers and 15 RBIs. One day before Gaston's arrival, former Jays manager John Gibbons had dropped a slumping Rios to the No. 6 spot. Rios admitted that lately, it's helped knowing where he'll be in the order each day.

"I don't mind where I hit in the lineup," Rios said. "But if I stay in one spot, you come to the field and you know what you're doing. It's a little better."

Rios, who has labored to clear the fence this year, has been the poster boy for Toronto's power woes. When Rios belted a 2-2 pitch from Rays starter Edwin Jackson (5-7) into the left-field stands to give the Jays a 3-1 lead, it marked the outfielder's first homer since June 24.

"It's great," said Rios, who snapped a span of 67 at-bats without a long ball. "Everyone likes home runs. I don't have a bunch, but whenever I get one, it's good."

On the season, Rios has hit .285 with five homers, 42 RBIs and a .411 slugging percentage in 92 games. Over the same time period a year ago, Rios batted .297 with 19 homers, 56 RBIs and a .532 slugging percentage.

Rios -- signed to a six-year, $64 million extension in April -- said he had no theories to account for his lack of power. Gaston, on the other hand, noted a flaw in Rios' mechanics that may be a factor.

"He's falling back a little bit when he's swinging," Gaston said. "He's kind of swinging uphill, and we're trying to get him off that back leg a little bit. That could have something to do with it."

Fortunately for Toronto, that didn't seem to much of a problem against Tampa Bay (57-40). Rios' timely blast, combined with a three-run shot by Marco Scutaro in the fifth inning, helped chase Jackson from the contest after just 4 1/3 innings. The offensive outburst overcame a rough outing by John Parrish.

Parrish, taking the mound for the first time since July 10, lasted just three innings after allowing four runs on four hits, including consecutive homers by Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena in the third. From there on out, the Jays' bullpen blanked the Rays to seal the win.

Filling in as the center fielder for the injured Vernon Wells, Rios also showed off his powerful arm against the Rays.

Following a routine catch for the second out in the fourth, Rios threw a rocket to the plate to retire Jonny Gomes, bringing an abrupt end to the inning. That represented Rios' ninth outfield assist of the season -- tied for the second most in baseball.

It wasn't the prettiest victory for the Jays, who committed three errors threw three wild pitches. But that hardly mattered, thanks to an 11-hit attack that was powered by Rios, who tallied three extra-base hits in a game for the first time since 2005.

"That was nice to see, I'll tell you that," Gaston said of the offense. "It's one of those days you could relax a little bit, anyway. To me, once again, it was a team effort. We had a couple guys get some big hits today and that's what we have to do to continue to win."

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