Rays-Blue Jays Preview
By JON PALMIERI
(AP) -- If his recent starts are any indication, Brandon Morrow could be on his way to making the jump to top-flight starting pitcher this season.
The Tampa Bay Rays didn't appear very impressed with the right-hander last month.
Morrow looks to win a career-high fifth consecutive start and exact a measure of revenge against the Rays in the opener of a two-game series Monday night at Rogers Centre.
Part of a very young Toronto rotation, Morrow (4-1, 2.27 ERA) has been the team's most reliable starter this season and has been downright dominant lately. He's 4-0 with a 0.65 ERA in his last four starts, striking out 30 and walking five.
After throwing a three-hitter with eight strikeouts in a 5-0 win over the Los Angeles Angels on May 3, Morrow fanned a season-high 10 in six innings and overcame four walks - half his previous season total - en route to a 5-2 victory at Oakland on Wednesday. He had gone 23 2-3 innings without allowing a run before giving up an RBI single in the fifth.
"I wasn't as sharp as I have been. I walked too many guys and it hurt me in the fifth," Morrow said. "I didn't have a good slider today and that probably affected things. My stuff was still good."
The righty did not have good stuff when he faced Tampa Bay (21-14) on April 18. He allowed season highs of six runs and eight hits over six innings and matched a career high by giving up three homers in a 12-2 loss at Rogers Centre.
That outcome was surprising because Morrow had been 4-2 with a 2.25 ERA in his previous six starts against the Rays.
Toronto (19-16) settled for a split of a 10-game trip following a 4-3 loss to Minnesota on Sunday, scoring three times in the eighth before Brett Lawrie grounded out with the tying run on third.
"We played pretty solid baseball all the way around," manager John Farrell said. "You'd like to come back 6-4, but I'm not going to take away anything from anybody. We're playing competitive baseball. We're bringing it every day and we got to go home and get things going."
The Blue Jays have won four of five at home and scored 33 runs in those victories.
Tampa Bay won Sunday for only the second time in eight games, holding on for a 9-8 victory at Baltimore to avoid a three-game sweep. Elliot Johnson and Ben Zobrist homered and Carlos Pena had two doubles and two RBIs to help the Rays improve to 2-4 on an eight-game trip.
"We never like getting swept," said James Shields, who improved to 6-1. "It's a big win."
Pena's contributions came after he went 3 for 37 with 14 strikeouts to begin May. He's 4 for 26 his last eight games versus Toronto and is hitless in nine career at-bats against Morrow.
Jeff Niemann (2-3, 3.48) looks to build on his best start of the season for Tampa Bay. After allowing three earned runs or fewer in each of his first five starts but never making it through six innings, the right-hander limited the Yankees to one run and six hits over seven with one walk and five strikeouts Wednesday.
Niemann wasn't sharp at Toronto on April 17, yielding five runs - two earned - and three hits over five innings in a 7-3 loss. He's 4-4 with a 5.11 ERA in 12 starts against the Blue Jays.
Adam Lind is 13 for 28 (.464) with three homers against Niemann but Edwin Encarnacion, Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson are a combined 3 for 32.
Updated May 13, 2012