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Frustrated Jays quieted again by Rays

Frustrated Jays quieted again by Rays

TORONTO -- Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston does not enjoy altering his starting lineup. The only problem is that his offense is forcing his hand. Gaston has reached the point where he realizes something has to change, and it has to change soon if Toronto wants to keep its season alive.

On Tuesday, Gaston watched the Blue Jays' bats go quiet for the second night in a row against the Rays, resulting in a 4-1 loss at Rogers Centre. The lineup was once again handcuffed by Tampa Bay's Matt Garza, wasting a respectable performance from Toronto rookie Scott Richmond.

In the wake of the latest loss -- Toronto's fourth in a row and fifth in the past six games -- Gaston sat in his office mulling over what can be done to inject some life into the batting order. Come Wednesday, when the Jays wrap up this three-game set against the Rays, Gaston promised that the lineup would look different.

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How different? Gaston wasn't immediately certain.

"We're going to have to try something," Gaston said. "I'll sleep on it and see what I can do tomorrow. We've got to do something different to try to get some offense going. We just can't continue to go like this and not get hits when we really need them. So, we've just got to move people around."

The timing of Gaston's decision to shake things up is key. The fourth-place Blue Jays (41-38), who dropped to 6-11 against the American League East with the loss, are in the midst of a 16-game stretch against teams within their division. Following this series, Toronto will embark on a 10-game road trip with stops at New York, Tampa Bay and Baltimore.

With the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays now above the Blue Jays in the standings in the race for the division crown, this is a critical stretch for Toronto. The high-octane offense that carried the Blue Jays to the top of the East for much of the first two months has disappeared and the club is in a tailspin that it needs to correct as soon as possible.

"What's the most frustrating for me is to see us night in and night out not drive in runs," Gaston said. "I don't like switching guys around. I like for them to know they're going to hit in a certain spot, but we're just not doing it. So, we've got to do something different."

In the past two losses against Tampa Bay (44-35), Toronto has managed only one hit in 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position, stranding 14 baserunners in the process. Over the past four games, the Blue Jays have hit just .195 as a team with only six runs scored. Rays rookie Jeff Niemann limited Toronto to one run on Monday night and Garza followed suit on Tuesday.

The recent dry spell is a continuation of an unfortunate offensive trend that dates back to the Blue Jays' nine-game losing streak from May 19-27. Prior to that skid, Toronto went 27-14 with a .289 average, 51 homers and 5.7 runs per game on 10.3 hits per contest. Since then, the Jays have hit .256 with 38 homers, averaging 4.1 runs on nine hits per game with a 14-24 record.

Gaston has tried mixing up his lineup before. The manager has moved right fielder Alex Rios out of the third spot and down to the seventh hole. Center fielder Vernon Wells was shifted from the cleanup position to third in the order. Hot-hitting third baseman Scott Rolen was pulled up to the No. 4 hole. As a whole, the adjustments to this point have not worked.

"We're just not hitting right now," Gaston said. "Some of the guys are hitting, but the guys that we need to drive in runs are not swinging the bats at all."

Gaston was pleased with the latest effort from Richmond (6-5), even though the rookie right-hander allowed six hits and set dubious career highs with five walks and three home runs allowed. Richmond found a way to limit the damage, allowing only three runs on the trio of solo home runs, and lasted seven innnings for Toronto.

It was an admirable performance, but Richmond was left lamenting his mistakes.

"It's frustrating giving up home runs, it is," Richmond said. "It's flat-out frustrating. I'd rather have them earn their way on with a hit and then earn their way with a couple hits to get the run. But, these guys are a good-hitting club. If you make a mistake, that's what they can do. I'm just glad they were solo home runs."

Richmond's first pitch of the evening was sent over the left-field wall for a solo homer from B.J. Upton in the first inning. Carl Crawford and Will Aybar added solo blasts in the third and sixth innings, respectively, but that was the extent of Tampa Bay's scoring against Richmond. That had Gaston impressed, and wishing his offense had provided a little more support.

"He pitched a good game," Gaston said. "He kept us in the game. Even after the first pitch of the ballgame, he still came back and battled his butt off and kept us right in the ballgame. That's all you can ask him to do."

Garza (6-5) simply dominated Toronto's lineup for seven innings. Over the past two seasons, the right-hander has posted a 0.40 ERA in six starts against the Jays, allowing just a pair of earned runs over 45 innings. On Tuesday, Garza scattered six hits and walked three, allowing only one run -- courtesy of a run-scoring double-play groundout off the bat of Lyle Overbay in the second.

Even knowing Garza's history against the Blue Jays, Gaston was disappointed in the performance from his offense. So much so, the manager is willing to go against his usual practice by changing the order of the starting lineup.

"[We'll] try to see if we can get some guys in the right spots," Gaston said. "You know what's funny about baseball? No matter where you move guys, they seem to come up in that situation all the time. We'll see what we can do."

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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