Nelson Cruz returned with a bang Thursday night and, for two tours through the Toronto lineup, Mariners rookie Chase De Jong held his former club in check.
The third time was no charm.
The Blue Jays rocked De Jong for five two-out runs in the fifth inning and rolled to a 7-2 victory in the opener to a four-game weekend series at the Rogers Centre.
"It escalated pretty quickly," De Jong said. "You get two outs relatively quick. Then it kind of got away from us pretty quickly there."
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The loss halted the Mariners’ four-game winning streak and dropped them back below .500 at 17-18. And, yes, their rotation remains an injury-depleted mess.
Ex-Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak supplied much of the damage against De Jong (0-3) with an RBI single in the first and a two-run single in the fifth before Steve Pearce unloaded a three-run homer.
Smoak also had a two-out homer in the seventh inning against Sam Gaviglio, who made his big-league debut in a mop-up role.
All this after the Mariners scratched Robinson Cano because of a sore right quadriceps muscle and played shorthanded because Guillermo Heredia and Ariel Miranda arrived late due to paperwork issues at the Canadian border.
Not a good night.
De Jong, 23, should probably be pitching at Triple-A Tacoma, as the Mariners intended after acquiring him in a March 1 trade from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
That's the logical progression after De Jong put together a strong season last year in Double-A. But the Mariners have four starters on the disabled list and, so, here he is.
After a rocky first inning, De Jong settled into an uneasy but effective groove in protecting a 2-1 lead. He fell behind a number of hitters but avoided problems until the fifth.
De Jong issued a two-out walk to Blue Jays leadoff hitter Kevin Pillar after jumping ahead 1-2 in the count by throwing two well-placed fastballs before missing on three straight off-speed pitches.
"It was 1-2 and I kind of picked and picked," De Jong said. "My defense was making plays for me. I really should have been pitching to contact."
After the walk, everything fell apart in a hurry.
A single by Ezequiel Carrera and a four-pitch walk to Jose Bautista loaded the bases for Smoak, who lined a first-pitch curve into center for a two-run single.
Pearce followed with a three-run homer.
"I shook to go fastball up," De Jong said. "(I thought) he’s either going to pop it up or swing under it. I just got on top of it a little too much. I missed probably by three inches.
"If it’s three inches higher, that’s the pitch we want to execute. That’s on me. I didn’t hit the glove."
It was a cookie. Pearce’s eyes widened on the swing.
Toronto led 6-2.
"It was growing pains tonight," manager Scott Servais said. "He had two outs and nobody on in the fifth, a 1-2 count, and the walk to Pillar. It’s a hard lesson to learn.
Servais called on lefty Zac Curtis, a fresh arm promoted earlier in the day from Double-A Arkansas, when the game went to the sixth inning. An inning later, the Mariners called on Gaviglio, promoted Wednesday from Tacoma.
Keep in mind, this wasn’t Toronto’s A-list lineup, either.
The Blue Jays played without Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin and Troy Tulowitzki, who are on the disabled list. Kendrys Morales didn’t play because of a strained left hamstring.
The Mariners aren’t the only team with injury problems.
The difference was Toronto starter Marco Estrada (2-2) steadied after serving up a two-homer to Cruz in the first inning. Aaron Loup, Jason Grilli and Leonel Campos closed out Toronto’s victory.
Cruz returned to the lineup after spending two games on pinch-hitting duty while the Mariners played with no designated hitter in Philadelphia. He gave the Mariners a 2-0 lead with a booming homer in the first inning.
De Jong gave one run back later in the inning and was lucky to limit it to that. Three of the first four Jays had singles, including Smoak’s RBI drive to center.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Right fielder Ben Gamel made a nice catch on Pillar’s foul fly for the first out of the third inning. Gamel held the ball after slamming into the wall in foul territory.
PLUS: Jean Segura had two doubles and a walk in five plate appearances and boosted his average to .369…Cruz had a double in addition to his homer in four at-bats. His average is up to .331…Curtis worked a scoreless sixth inning after replacing De Jong.
MINUS: Cano indicated he’s iffy for Friday’s game, although he’ll be examined again prior to the game…Mike Freeman, Tuffy Gosewisch and Jarrod Dyson were a combined 0-for-12 at the bottom of the lineup. Freeman is batting .074 (2-for-27) and Gosewisch is batting .077 (1-for-13) Dyson’s average is plunging toward the Mendoza Line at .202.
STAT PACK: Segura has a 10-game hitting streak and is batting .447 (21-for-47) in that span. He entered the day leading the American League in batting at .364 and raised his average to .369.
QUOTABLE: Cruz lined a ball off the right-field wall in the eighth inning and had to push on his sore left hamstring to reach second ahead of Carrera’s throw.
Servais admitted he was concerned: "I kept saying, `Easy. Easy. Easy.’"
Cruz argued he was only going "60 percent" and insisted he was fine. He said: "I don’t feel it at all. I don’t push it hard, but I don’t feel it."
SHORT HOPS: The Mariners have allowed at least six runs in three straight games…Smoak has six homers, which matches Kendrys Morales for the Blue Jays’ club lead. (Yes, both are ex-Mariners).
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners