DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Jerry Sands hit a solo home run in the top of the ninth inning off right-hander Chad Jenkins to lead the Rays to a 5-4 victory over the Blue Jays on Wednesday afternoon at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
The Rays opened the scoring in the third inning with a pair of runs off right-hander Marcus Stroman. Jayson Nix started the rally with a double to left field before Stroman allowed a single and a walk to load the bases with nobody out. Desmond Jennings then followed with an RBI bloop single to right and later another run scored on a double play.
Tampa Bay added to its total in the fourth when Jeremy Moore crushed a ball to straightaway center field. The ball went so far that it cleared the batter's eye in center, which is 36 feet high. It was Moore's third homer of the spring and gave the Rays an early 3-0 lead.
Stroman was charged with all three of those runs over the course of four innings. He allowed five hits and one walk while striking out three in his first start of the spring. Stroman previously made his outings out of the bullpen but has since entered the mix for one of the final two spots in Toronto's rotation.
Left-hander Ricky Romero then entered the game for Toronto and had his second consecutive positive outing. He was charged with just one run over four innings and could be joining Stroman, Esmil Rogers, J.A. Happ and Todd Redmond as a potential candidate for a starting spot.
Romero's outing certainly wasn't perfect as he walked two and hit one batter, but it was another step in the right direction. He has battled control issues in the past and still needs to prove the lack of command isn't a major concern in order to secure a spot on the team. Romero also was aided by a nifty double play by shortstop Jonathan Diaz and an impressive putout from right fielder Jose Bautista.
"I felt good. It was a little bit of a battle in that second and third inning, but I got out of it," Romero said. "The first and fourth innings were tremendous, I felt the ball exploding out of my hand, and sometimes you're going to go through that in games where you're going to have to battle through some innings. I felt like I did a pretty good job in staying calm and just making pitches when I had to."
The Blue Jays did their damage in the sixth inning off right-hander Josh Lueke. Edwin Encarnacion put Toronto on the scoreboard with a two-run homer to left field for his second home run of the spring. Colby Rasmus later followed with an RBI double, while catcher Erik Kratz tied the game with a weak RBI grounder.
Right-hander Nathan Karns had an impressive start for the Rays. Karns, who is competing for the final spot in the rotation, allowed just three hits and one walk while striking out one over 3 1/3 innings.
"It was nice to be out there getting a feel for everything again, getting stretched out," Karns said. "I'm pretty pleased with everything and just looking forward to getting back out there."
Up next: Right-hander Esmil Rogers will take the mound when the Blue Jays host the Astros on Thursday at 1:05 p.m. ET at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium (listen on Gameday Audio). The outing is particularly important considering Rogers still has an outside chance to claim the final spot in Toronto's rotation. Rogers is in the mix alongside rookie Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ and Todd Redmond. Kyle Drabek, Jeremy Jeffress and Dustin McGowan also are scheduled to pitch against Houston.