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For Rios, that's more like it


For Rios, that's more like it
Baseball REPORTER

In Cito Gaston's perfect world, his starting pitchers would all pitch into the seventh inning and Alex Rios would emerge from his season-long hitting funk.

The Toronto Blue Jays manager was granted his first wish when Scott Richmond went seven strong innings and improved his record to 4-0 as the Blue Jays nipped the Baltimore Orioles 4-3 before 20,418 at the Rogers Centre yesterday afternoon.

Gaston's second wish was also forthcoming as Rios, Toronto's perplexing right fielder whose lack of punch this season has been pronounced, broke loose with a home run and a double in four at-bats.

The timely pitching and hitting helped the American League East division leaders complete their first sweep of a regular-season series and improve to 18-9 on the year.

The Jays have now won all five of their series at home this year.

"Pleasantly surprised is a great way to put it," Richmond, 29, said of his perfect start.

The earnest North Vancouver, B.C., native, who was toiling in independent ball as recently as two years ago, nearly did not make the Jays roster this season after a mostly crummy spring training.

"From a rough spring to a young rotation ... I'm happy to be contributing," Richmond said. "I'm happy I'm pitching well, I'm so focused out there."

Richmond, whose curve ball was giving the Orioles plenty to think about most of the afternoon, praised the work of catcher Rod Barajas, his battery mate, for helping his development.

Barajas, whose double in the fourth inning provided Toronto with a brief 3-2 advantage, said most of the credit should go to Richmond.

"He's made such great strides from spring training," Barajas said. "His location, his ability to make some pitches behind in the count. The mistakes, they're way down. He's just pitching like a major leaguer.

"I think he got a late start in this game and now he's catching up and he's doing it quickly. He's turned into one of our horses out there."

Rios, who struck 24 home runs for the Blue Jays as recently as two years ago, has been utilized in the No. 3 spot in the batting order all year by Gaston and it has not been kind to him.

His two-out home run to the second deck in left field provided Toronto with its winning margin in the fifth inning. It was just his second of the year, and his first since April 23 against the Texas Rangers.

Since then, heading into the Baltimore game, Rios had connected for just three extra base hits in 37 at-bats, his average dipping to .255.

Gaston stressed before the game he has no plans on dropping Rios in his batting order, believing it is too early in the season to be messing with his right fielder's psyche.

"When things are going bad you look around, it seems like everybody is looking at you, everybody's thinking poorly of you," Gaston said. "And I don't want him to ever think that we've given up on him or I think poorly of him."

After the game, Gaston resisted the urge to say, "I told you so," and hopes Rios will be able to build on the momentum.

Vernon Wells, whose home run with Rios aboard in the first inning provided Toronto with an early 2-0 lead, said he does not believe his free-spirited teammate has been bothered by his slumping power numbers.

"I don't think he hears much," Wells said. "He's a strange individual. He's a bit crazy at times. I think he knows it's just a matter of time."

The game motored along at a quick pace, with both Richmond and Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie controlling the tempo.

There were just 11 hits in the game - six by the Blue Jays - and Guthrie walked away the loser despite pitching a complete game five-hitter.

The contest clocked in at 2 hours 15 minutes, the quickest of the season for Toronto.

Richmond struck out six along the way and gave up all three Baltimore runs (two earned) before he turned matters over to the bullpen.

Scott Downs, who pitched a perfect 1-2-3 ninth inning, recorded his third save of the season.

Baltimore manager Dave Trembley was ejected in the fifth inning after he got into a heated discussion with home plate umpire Chris Tiller.

Moments before, Tiller had raised the ire of Baltimore first baseman Aubrey Huff, who was called out on strikes.

Melvin Mora suffered a brain cramp for Baltimore after leading off the sixth with a single.

Mora was then thrown out strolling to second base when he mistakenly thought Luke Scott, the next batter, had drawn a walk instead of getting rung up on a called third strike.

****

ON DECK

NOTES With their 5-4 extra-inning victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday, the Toronto Blue Jays ensured themselves of winning their first four series at home (three games or more) to begin the regular season, the first time they have done so since 2002. ... A home run by centre fielder Vernon Wells in the first inning of yesterday's game was his 472nd extra base hit for Toronto, moving him past George Bell into second place on the team's career list. ... A double by Rod Barajas in the seventh inning was the Toronto catcher's 10th run batted in during his past 10 games.

NEXT Tonight, against the Cleveland Indians, at Rogers Centre, 7:07 p.m. EDT.

PROBABLE PITCHERS Jays LHP Brian Tallet (1-1, 6.45) v. Indians RHP Fausto Carmona (1-3, 6.28).

TV Rogers Sportsnet.

Robert MacLeod


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: May 4, 2009

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