Blue Jays-Rays Preview

The Toronto Blue Jays don't top the list of preferred teams against which many pitchers would elect to make a spot start.

Given his start against them 10 days ago, Erasmo Ramirez would probably agree.

Nevertheless, he'll be called upon Saturday night as the Tampa Bay Rays try to continue what's outside of that one game been early season dominance against the typically high-scoring Blue Jays.

The Rays (9-8) have 10 players on the disabled list, including four starting pitchers. Ramirez is one of seven starters they've used, and after Matt Andriese earned a three-inning save in Friday's 12-3 win in the opener of a three-game home set, Ramirez (0-1, 21.32 ERA) will get the ball with hopes of improving on considerable early struggles.

In his only start, the right-hander allowed eight earned runs and nine hits with three walks in 3 1-3 innings of a 12-7 loss in Toronto (9-8) on April 15. He made it through a clean relief inning four days later, but he's walked six in 6 1-3 innings and is serving up a .455 opponent batting average.

In four career games against the Blue Jays, Ramirez is 1-1 with an 8.31 ERA.

The Rays took three of four in that series from April 13-16 and have won six of eight between the AL East clubs since being swept at home from Sept. 2-4. In those eight games, the Blue Jays are batting .195, despite a 14-hit showing in Ramirez's start.

Friday's win welcomed back James Loney after missing 15 games with a strained right oblique, and the first baseman was 2 for 5 with a two-run homer.

"It's fun being back out there again," Loney said. "I'm just glad it's over."

Rene Rivera and Tim Beckham also connected on two-run shots, and Rivera has driven in runs in consecutive games but is still hitting .143.

"We were hoping that (Thursday) was something to get started a little bit and Rene proved that it was," manager Kevin Cash told MLB's official website. "He's feeling better. He had very aggressive swings the entire night so that was very good to see."

The Rays have won three straight and will have right fielder Steven Souza Jr. back in the lineup Saturday after being rested Friday.

Toronto, which leads the majors with 97 runs, saw a three-game winning streak come to an end in its third straight game without Jose Bautista because of a sore shoulder.

Manager John Gibbons said Bautista, who is 2 for 3 with a home run against Ramirez, won't go on the disabled list and is likely to DH this weekend before returning to the outfield. Additionally, outfielder Michael Saunders is scheduled to make his season debut after missing the start of the season because of knee surgery.

Starter Daniel Norris is also seeking improvement. Norris (1-1, 6.08) is still trying to make it through six innings in a big league start, and he wasn't even close his last time out. The left-hander allowed five runs and six hits in 2 2-3 innings of Sunday's 5-2 loss to Atlanta.

"I'm going through a little bit of a dead-arm phase, so it's really tough for me to feel that late life on everything that I was used to in spring training," Norris said. "… I can definitely get through it, dead arm is just something where you feel 100 percent fine, it just doesn't come out like it usually does. Even if I throw one that says 93 or 94 mph, it just doesn't have the same life on it. I can't really command it the way I'm used to."

Probably his best start came April 14 at home against the Rays as Norris surrendered two runs and two hits with three walks in five innings.

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