ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — After the frustration of two low-scoring losses to open the season at Baltimore, the Toronto Blue Jays needed only one big hit — Kendrys Morales’ third-inning grand slam — to get their first win out of the way with a 5-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday.
“Thank God that happened today and went out, but I’ve been feeling pretty good,” Morales said. “It was really good for me today.”
The Blue Jays (1-2) scored more runs on that one swing than they did in their first two games combined, so the weight was lifted.
The four-game series at Tropicana Field continues Friday night.
“(The slam) feels really satisfying, knowing we had two defeats already,” Morales said. “It’s something that’s hard to do, so I’m just happy it happened in a win.”
The Jays and Rays will see each other 10 times in the first 33 games of the season, so this series will set the tone. Last year, the Rays were the only American League East team with a winning record against Toronto.
Even down 5-1 in the ninth on Thursday, the Rays had some fight in them, scoring a run and getting the tying run to the plate before Jason Grilli got two strikeouts to end the rally and record the save.
“I’m proud of our guys,” said Tampa Bay right fielder Steven Souza Jr., who had three hits in the loss. “It’s never easy to come back, but we showed we’re not going to quit. We’re going to have to win a lot of those ballgames to be where we want to be at the end of the year. We’ve just got to follow through.”
The Rays followed through on a plan to make their Friday starter, Matt Andriese, a member of the rotation. They thought highly enough of the right-hander — and their farm system — that they were comfortable trading starting pitchers Matt Moore and Drew Smyly last year, even though Andriese split time between the rotation and bullpen in 2016.
He opened last season with a 6-0 record as a starter but finished 8-8 with a 4.37 ERA after work in both roles later in the year. He is 0-1 against Toronto with a 4.05 ERA, with all seven appearances coming in 2015, including his first career start at Rogers Centre. He did not last longer than 5 1/3 innings in any of his three previous starts against the Blue Jays.
Jays left-hander Francisco Liriano, acquired from the Pirates at the trade deadline last season, went 2-2 with a 2.92 ERA in 10 games with Toronto. That included a stellar outing against the Rays in which he threw 6 1/3 innings while holding Tampa Bay to two runs on three hits, with six strikeouts.
Tampa Bay struggled in its first game against a lefty this season, getting shut out for five innings by the New York Yankees’ CC Sabathia on Tuesday. The Rays were held to five singles, only one of which left the infield. Souza, who has hit well this season, batted leadoff against Sabathia and had two infield hits in the Rays’ 5-0 loss.