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Ray shines while Blue Jays hitters rally for win in Atlanta

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The strike zone is Robbie Ray’s friend once again, something that could be a season-long source of tremendous comfort for the Blue Jays rotation.

Ray was borderline brilliant once he settled into Tuesday’s game in Atlanta, striking out a season-high 10 Braves batters in a six-inning start in which his command was once again stellar.

The left-hander did surrender a pair of home runs — his only weakness so far in this season — but kept his team close until the offence checked in late to record a 5-3 win at Truist Park.

Ray’s night was done by the time the Jays put up three runs in the eighth to veer fortunes in their direction, but his presence was already heavy on the game.

“That’s the name of the game, keeping your team in it, keeping it close enough so that you know the bats are going to come through,” Ray said. “We’ve got some real heavy hitters on this team.”

The stingy outing was very much in character to what the team has seen from the southpaw through the majority of his six appearances thus far.

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In his past four starts, Ray has walked just one batter while striking out 33, a near-complete reversal from the form that had dogged him at times in each of the past two seasons. And that lone walk — a first-inning free pass to Freddie Freeman on Tuesday — was questionable as it looked to get a piece of the Braves first baseman.

The veteran starter’s teammates are certainly taking notice of Ray’s presence in the rotation, success that inspires confidence at the plate.

“We trust each other in this clubhouse,” said Vlad Guerrero Jr., who drove in three runs on Tuesday. “Robbie’s been doing great. He’s worked hard every day to be where he’s at and we’re all in this together.”

Ray gave up a run in the first and then found his rhythm, giving up just two more, each on solo home runs.

The first came from the bat of Atlanta star Ronald Acuna Jr., who has owned Ray in his brief career. When his sixth-inning shot left the park it was his fifth hit and third homer in just eight at-bats against Ray.

The Jays didn’t waste any time countering thanks to Guerrero’s two-run opposite field homer in the sixth to square the game at 2-2.

The effort by Ray continues to validate his work with Jays pitching coach Pete Walker. His 10-strikeout effort was the first double-digit showing by a Jays pitcher since Aaron Sanchez matched that effort on July 29, 2019.

“I feel like I’ve been in a groove,” Ray said. “I feel really good with all my pitches. I feel like for the most part everything worked for me.”

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And he had the strikeouts to prove it.

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RALLY TIME

Some good Jays hitting — and base running — combined with a couple of errors of the mental variety from the Braves defenders triggered the pivotal three-run eighth.

It all started with a leadoff double from Jonathan Davis, the first of nine Jays batters to get to the plate. Marcus Semien reached on a fielder’s choice, the first defensive blunder of the inning.

After a Bo Bichette single loaded the bases, Guerrero drove in a run with a 116-mile-per-hour groundball single. Next up, Teoscar Hernandez drove in a run with what was scored a single but was really just a ground ball to Freeman but caught the first baseman in a moment of indecision as Semien left on contact.

Add in a bases-loaded walk from Cavan Biggio and the Jays suddenly were up by two.

Blue Jays pitcher Robbie Ray works against the Atlanta Braves in the first inning. BEN MARGOT/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Blue Jays pitcher Robbie Ray works against the Atlanta Braves in the first inning. BEN MARGOT/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

PEARSON SENT DOWN

After struggling to find the strike zone in his 2021 debut, it is one and done for Jays pitcher Nate Pearson.

The team sent the promising right-hander back to triple A on Tuesday after he went just 2.1 innings while walking five in Sunday’s loss to the Astros in Houston.

The Jays are saying now that the short-lived promotion wasn’t intended to be long-term. While that may be true, had Pearson served up a strong outing he might have earned a longer stay.

“The main reason we sent him down is we want him to get more consistency coming off his injury,” manager Charlie Montoyo said on Tuesday. “He made some strides in his first triple-A start but he’s still got some work to do.”

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While the latest struggles and demotion have to be demoralizing, Montoyo isn’t worried about a shot to Pearson’s confidence.

“He’s a young guy,” Montoyo said. “If he’s going to be the one we think he is, he’s going to be all right. He’ll bounce back. He’s a young kid. A couple bad outings in the big leagues shouldn’t affect him that much.”

AROUND THE BASES

The Jays, who moved to a season-high two games above .500 (18-16) for the fifth time this season, have now won all four meetings against their National League counterpart this season … The Jays will stick with their plan not to rush George Springer back from his second injury list stint due to a strained quad. While the outfielder continues to crush balls in batting practice while remaining with the team, Montoyo said that Springer won’t start running the bases until Thursday … Righty Jeremy Beasley was recalled from the triple-A Buffalo/Trenton Bisons to take Pearson’s spot on the roster. Beasley will work out of a reliever role while Anthony Kay will tentatively take Pearson’s spot in the rotation.

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