Short-handed Blue Jays offence does Yariel Rodriguez no favours on Canada Day

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Yariel Rodriguez deserved better from his teammates on Canada Day.

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So did the 39,265 fans who turned out for the annual Canada Day festiivities.

While the pre-game ceremony was celebrated loudly, once the game began, there was very little to get many of them excited.

For those that like this sort of thing, there was a real pitchers’ duel on the menu, but if the Toronto fans came looking for offence, particularly by their own club, they left a disappointed lot.

Rodriguez, the Cuban-born righty, pitched the game of his young major-league career but is still looking for his first career win at the big-league level because his offence couldn’t push across a single run for him while he was in the game.

“I just went out there with no pressure,” Rodriguez said of his approach. “I understand it’s a huge day for the fans, it being Canada Day, and I just wanted to go out there and do the best I could.”

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Of course it didn’t help his case that two of the hottest hitters normally in the Jays lineup weren’t part of the proceedings in what became a 3-1 Houston Astros win.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. woke up feeling the effects of that Gerrit Cole fastball that caught him flush on the two smaller fingers on his right hand on Sunday and was held out of the lineup. Some early hitting in the cage before the game revealed an inability to handle the bat much at all and made the decision for him.

The Jays are hopeful he can rebound for Game 2 of the series.

But the more unexpected absence was that of Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who was a late scratch from the lineup with a left knee injury that seemed to come out of nowhere.

According to manager John Schneider the ultra-versatile infielder felt something in his knee during pre-game stretching. Schneider though wasn’t made aware until the team was already in the dugout for the pre-game ceremony that his choice for second base that day would not be available.

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A quick switch brought Kevin Kiermeirer off the bench to play centre field, moving Daulton Varsho to right, and sending Davis Schneider, originally slated to play in left field, in to man second base.

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Defensively the changes had little impact, but offensively it took the hot-hitting Kiner-Falefa’s bat out of the mix and that would prove costly.

Twice the Jays loaded the bases, once in the second against Astros starting pitcher Hunter Brown, and again in the eighth against reliever Bryan Abreu, but both times failed to bring in a run.

Rodriguez, meanwhile, took a bid for a perfect game into the fifth inning until with one out he made his only big mistake of the day, serving up a first-pitch homer to Jeremy Pena.

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Rodriguez, who was making his second start since a stint on the injured list and just the sixth big-league start of his career, wound up getting through 6 2/3 innings with that Pena homer the lone lasting blemish on his afternoon.

“He was locating all of his pitches really really well, and then just kind of a first pitch, get me over to Pena for the homer,” manager Schneider said of his starter. “If he could take anything back, that would be it. Other than that, he was fantastic. Took advantage of how aggressive they are and really his best outing of the year. Slider was good, heater was good, so basically everything we could have asked of him today.”

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Rodriguez only allowed one other hit — a double to Alex Bregman in the sixth inning — and walked two in the seventh when he was pulled and clearly out of gas.

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Brown looked vulnerable early, particularly in that second inning when he loaded the bases, but settled down to shut out the Jays through six.

The Astros bullpen did the rest, though closer Josh Hader did give up a two-out, solo homer to Ernie Clement in the ninth.

Houston, though, had just tacked on two insurance runs in the top of the ninth off Zach Pop that turned out to be very big when Clement homered. Designated hitter Yordan Alvarez followed a Bregman single with his 17th homer of the year for what turned out to be the game’s deciding runs.

The teams are back at it on Tuesday when Jose Berrios goes looking for his eighth win of the year against Houston righty Spencer Arrighetti. First pitch is scheduled for 7:07 p.m.

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