Jays look ahead after loss to Red Sox

Jays look ahead after loss to Red Sox

TORONTO -- The expiration date on the Blue Jays' season arrived on Sunday afternoon. It was simply a matter of time, considering the course that Toronto took this season, but the club has now officially been declined an invitation to this year's playoffs.

The Blue Jays can begin peering toward 2009, though manager Cito Gaston hopes his players can maintain motivation over the final six games remaining on their current slate. That shouldn't be a problem for pitcher Scott Richmond -- suddenly thrust into contention for a starting role with Toronto next year.

In a 3-0 loss to the Red Sox at Rogers Centre, Richmond turned in a decent performance in his late-season audition. The right-hander just happened to be burned by Toronto's bats, which went quiet against Daisuke Matsuzaka. Still, Richmond provided a respectable five-inning effort, and one that impressed Gaston.

"He pitched well," Gaston said. "If he can continue to pitch like that, he certainly is a guy that we should take a good look at next spring. He'll get another time out there before this season is over with."

The next outing for Richmond will fall on either Friday or Saturday, when the Blue Jays will be in Baltimore for its final series of the season. It will be a nice change of pace for the 29-year-old rookie, who took the mound against Boston after not having pitched since an appearance with Triple-A Syracuse on Aug. 29.

In light of recent rotation developments, Toronto (83-73) now wants to get a good look at Richmond.

Blue Jays starter Shaun Marcum is due to go under knife on Sept. 30 for reconstructive surgery on his right elbow, taking him out of the 2009 picture. Dustin McGowan could be out until May after having a season-ending operation on his right shoulder in July. Toronto could also lose A.J. Burnett, who can opt out of his contract and become a free agent this offseason.

"This team's been built off pitching," Richmond said. "They've got great guys here and a couple go down, it opens up doors for us to show the organization what we have and that we can contribute and help this team win. That what I plan on doing, coming into Spring Training strong and finishing up this season strong.

After this season, Richmond plans on heading home to the Vancouver area to train over the winter before being an early arrival to Spring Training in Florida. Along with a handful of other pitchers -- a group that includes David Purcey, Casey Janssen, Brett Cecil and Ricky Romero -- Richmond will be in the mix for one of the rotation's openings.

Before that time comes, Richmond would love to notch his first big league win. The right-hander has given up three runs in each of his starts for Toronto this season, but a lack of run support has netted him an 0-3 ledger. Against Boston (91-64), that unfortunate trend persisted.

Even with three losses, Richmond believes he's shown the Blue Jays that he can keep his team in the game. That's what he wants to continue to show Toronto, which has only a small sample size to get a read on Richmond.

"I'm a competitor out there," said Richmond, who allowed five hits and added four strikeouts and one walk. "These guys don't know me and I don't know them all that well. It's just about consistently throwing strikes and trying to work ahead."

The Red Sox put Richmond and the Jays behind early.

In the first inning, Richmond allowed a leadoff triple to Jacoby Ellsbury, who then scored on a sacrifice fly by Dustin Pedroia to put the Red Sox ahead, 1-0. In the third inning, Boston slugger David Ortiz offered at 3-2 changeup that was well off the plate, slicing the pitch deep to left field, where it ducked just over the wall for a two-run home run.

"That's one of the best hitters in the game right there," Richmond said. "I just threw him a 3-1 changeup well located there, and then I threw it 3-2 and it was off the plate about six inches, and he still got it.

"I didn't think it was going to leave, to be honest with you."

The ball did leave, though, giving Matsuzaka an ample 3-0 cushion to use to his advantage. The right-hander spun seven shutout innings, scattering two hits and finishing with six strikeouts and a pair of walks. Jonathan Papelbon's 40th save of the season sealed the win for Matsuzaka, who improved to 18-2.

The win for Boston put the Sox in a position to clinch a postseason berth, depending on the outcome of the Yankees' game against the Orioles on Sunday night. The Blue Jays had hoped they'd be in a similar position at this point in the season, but now the club is hoping to leapfrog New York for third place in the American League East.

At the least, Gaston wants his team to use its strong September as motivation heading into 2009.

"Hopefully, they can take this run home with themselves this year," Gaston said, "and know that they have a chance to perhaps be a Wild Card team and bring it back next year. If we get off to a good start next year, who knows what might happen?"

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