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Romero's string of strong starts ends

Romero's string of strong starts ends

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays were hoping to emerge from the All-Star break refreshed and ready to put their recent skid firmly in the past. The four days off came at an opportune time, giving the struggling ballclub a chance to take a deep breath and regroup.

"It [would] be great to get off to a start like we started the season," said Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston, sitting in the home dugout prior to Friday's second-half opener against the rival Red Sox. "Just play some decent baseball."

Instead, it was more of the same for Toronto, which was dealt a 4-1 loss by Boston in the opener of a three-game weekend set. Rookie Ricky Romero's recent string of strong outings came to an abrupt halt, and the defeat continued a handful of unfortunate trends for a Blue Jays squad that has tumbled down the American League East standings over the past two months.

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The start that Gaston referred to was powered by a potent offense, pushing Toronto to a 24-17 record that had it positioned in first place in the AL East by 3 1/2 games on May 18. Since then, the lineup has labored, the rotation has been riddled with issues and the fourth-place Jays have posted a dismal 17-33 record to drop them 12 games behind the division-leading Red Sox.

"We're just trying to go out there and play hard every day," said Romero, who lost for the first time since June 11. "We're keeping our eyes off that whole how many games we're back. We're just trying to win one game at a time and, unfortunately, I was bad today and wasn't able to help the team."

Lately, Romero had been one of the only starters able to help the Blue Jays (44-47).

Over Toronto's past 18 games, the club has managed just four victories -- three courtesy of solid starts from Romero. Prior to his abbreviated performance against the Red Sox, who chased the young lefty with one out in the fifth inning, Romero (7-4) had posted a 2.38 ERA over his previous eight trips to the mound.

Boston (55-34) has given Romero fits in two starts this season, though. In his 12 starts against teams other than the Red Sox, the left-hander is 7-2 with a 2.60 ERA. In two outings against Boston, Romero has a pair of losses with a bloated 9.72 ERA. The Sox have drawn 10 walks, including five on Friday, and forced Romero to use 186 pitches over just 8 1/3 innings.

"If you look at both starts, it's come down to walks," Romero said. "I've had a lot of walks against them. You can't give these teams second chances or be behind in the count. They'll make you pay."

Gaston agreed with that assessment.

"There are some veteran players on that team," said Gaston, referring to the Red Sox. "You talk about working the count, they work the count and, then, if you get in the area that they like to swing at, they will certainly hit you hard."

The Red Sox wasted little time in breaking through against Romero in his latest effort.

In the first inning, Boston first baseman Kevin Youkilis drilled a 1-0 fastball deep to left field for a two-run home run to put Toronto behind early, 2-0. As far as Romero was concerned, that blast didn't mean much if he could find a way avoid further damage.

"It was just a fastball that stayed up," Romero said. "I was trying to sink one down and away and it stayed up. At that point, you're down, 2-0, and you're still thinking, 'I'm still giving my team a shot to win if I go five, six, seven from here on out.' Unfortunately, I was unable to do that."

Romero put the leadoff man aboard in each of the next three frames, but managed to sidestep additional harm. That tight-rope act ended in the fifth, when Romero issued consecutive one-out walks and then watched Sox slugger David Ortiz send a pitch bouncing off the wall in left field for a two-run double.

"Youk got a fastball early and gave us the lead, which is a good way to play," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said, "because Romero has one of the best left-handed changeups in the game. I know it's early, and then David takes a real good swing and it gave us enough offense."

That small outburst was ample for the Red Sox in light of the way right-hander Clay Buchholz (1-0) was holding the Blue Jays in check. Buchholz, who was making a spot start and was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket after picking up the win, limited Toronto to one run over 5 2/3 innings. In the fourth inning, the Jays received an RBI sacrifice fly off the bat of Alex Rios.

The small sampling of support gave the Blue Jays their fifth game in a row with three runs scored or fewer. Over the past 14 losses, Toronto has suffered 13 losses by three runs or fewer and 10 by just one or two runs. In the process, the Jays have slipped to a 9-20 record against its AL East rivals, including a 2-5 mark against the Red Sox.

It's latest setback aside, Toronto hopes to reverse some of those trends in the second half.

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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