DUNEDIN, Fla. - The education of Jays pitching prospect Marcus Stroman continued Wednesday in a 5-4 exhibition loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The 22-year-old right-hander was cruising until the third inning when he loaded the bases with no outs on two singles and a walk.
A Desmond Jennings bloop single knocked in one run and the Rays scored another through Ali Solis when Matt Joyce hit into a spectacular Jose Reyes-Ryan Goins double play.
"An unbelievable play," said Stroman, who then took matters into his own hands.
The five-foot-nine 185-pounder stabbed a hot shot on the mound to escape the inning trailing 2-0.
Jeremy Moore, a 26-year-old minor leaguer, homered off Stroman to make it 3-0 in the fourth with a shot that cleared the 36-foot-high batter's eye looming behind the centre-field fence 400 feet away. Tampa added another run in the sixth.
Toronto rallied for four runs in the sixth, powered by Edwin Encarnacion's two-run homer.
Tampa's Jerry Sands ended the deadlock with a solo homer to left field off Chad Jenkins with two outs in the top of the ninth.
Stroman left after four innings having given up three runs on five hits with one walk and three strikeouts. In two previous spring relief outings, he had given up five earned runs in five innings.
"I thought it was better," Stroman said of his outing Wednesday. "Not exactly where I wanted to be but I definitely made some better pitches than I made in my last outing. My stuff felt better for the most part."
He was happy with his cutter other than the delivery to Moore, which stayed over the middle of the plate.
"A really bad pitch," he said.
"He did what he should have done. Hit a long ways," he added.
Stroman is likely destined to the minors, to gather more seasoning.
"I'm trying to get ready for the season, doing everything I can to get my pitches exactly where they need to be so when Opening Day comes, I'm ready to pitch. Wherever I may be," he said. "That's all I'm concerned about."
Ricky Romero, who went from Opening Day starter to pitching limbo, threw four good innings for the Jays. He needed just 10 pitches to remove the Rays on two strikeouts and a ground ball in the fifth but yielded a run in the sixth.
Romero, who threw three scoreless innings in his two previous spring outings, shut out the Rays in his two remaining innings. He struck out three, walked two and gave up two hits.
C.J. Riefenhauser closed out the game for the Rays.
The Jays showed off some excellent defence with outfielder Melky Cabrera turning heads in the first inning with an over-the-shoulder catch in left field. Substitute shortstop Jonathan Diaz helped trigger another slick double play in the sixth.
Toronto DH Adam Lind carved out his own storyline in the fifth when he crushed a ball into right centre that stuck in between the top of the wall and an Expedia.ca ad hoarding just above. It was ruled a double.
Nathan Karns, looking to nail down a spot as the Rays' fifth starter, had a solid, scoreless outing.
He gave up leadoff singles in the first three innings but managed to keep the Jays off the board. He left with one out in the fourth, having given up three hits with one strikeout and one walk.
Karns was acquired in a February trade with the Nationals that sent catcher Jose Lobaton, outfielder Drew Vettleson and left-hander Felipe Rivero to Washington.
After a grey morning with intermittent rain, the game opened under overcast skies with 23-degree conditions that felt like 30 with the humidity. A sellout crowd of 5,520 took in the game.