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Nolan Jones has home run, RBI double to lead Rockies to 12-4 rout of Blue Jays

TORONTO — Kevin Gausman wishes he was about eight starts into his 2024 campaign but, thanks to shoulder soreness throughout spring training, he's only had four.

Nolan Jones had a home run and an RBI double to lead the Colorado Rockies to a 12-4 rout of Toronto on Friday. Gausman struggled in his third outing of the regular season — he had only one in spring training — coughing up six runs on 10 hits over 3 2/3 innings.

Gausman (0-2) saw his earned-run average balloon from 9.53 to 11.57, a concerning start to the season after he had a 3.16 ERA and finished third in American League Cy Young voting last year.

"It's frustrating, but I also have to give myself a little bit of grace when it comes to that," said Gausman. "But it is frustrating when all I want to do is go out there and pitch the way I know how and dominate.

"Obviously I wanted to pitch well in my first start at home this year, too, but it didn't happen, it wasn't good, so onto the next one."

There was some improvement from Gausman's last outing, however.

Cold weather in the Bronx seemed to affect the velocity of his four-seam fastball in a 9-8 loss to the New York Yankees on April 6 where he allowed six runs, five earned, in 1 1/3 innings. In the warm air under the Rogers Centre dome on Friday, his fastball was clocked above 96 m.p.h. twice, above his 94.7 average in 2023.

"Stuff wise, I feel really good," said Gausman, adding that he relied more on his slider after he gave up four hits on his fastball early in the game. "Threw my slider more because it was really good tonight, but the results are what they are."

Daulton Varsho and Isiah Kiner-Falefa both had home runs as Toronto (6-8) lost back-to-back games. Cavan Biggio's RBI single stretched his hit streak to seven games, matching the longest of his career. Davis Schneider scored from third on a throwing error in the ninth.

Paolo Espino, Genesis Cabrera and Mitch White allowed six more runs out of the Blue Jays bullpen.

Toronto manager John Schneider agreed with Gausman's assessment that he's not quite in regular-season form.

"Every time he goes out there, we expect him to be good, we expect him to do his thing," said Schneider. "You've got to give credit to (the Rockies) they had a good plan."

Bowden Francis (0-2) was originally scheduled to start for Toronto on Saturday afternoon in the second game of the three-game set. Schneider announced after the loss that Cuban free agent Yariel Rodriguez will make his Major League Baseball debut instead, with Francis available in relief.

The 26-year-old Rodriguez agreed to a US$32-million, five-year contract with the Blue Jays in the off-season. He has experience as a starter and reliever in top leagues in Cuba and Japan. Colorado will counter with Dakota Hudson (0-2).

Ezequiel Tovar also had a solo shot and drove in another run with a sacrifice fly as Colorado's (4-10) offence came alive.

Ryan McMahon, Elias Diaz and Jones drove in one run apiece as the visiting Rockies broke the game open in the third inning. McMahon would have another RBI double, Kris Bryant added a two-run double, while Brendan Rodgers and Brenton Doyle each had an RBI double. Pinch-hitter Jake Cave's sacrifice fly added another run in the ninth.

"When he’s hitting that bottom rail with those fastballs and throwing the splitter off them, he’s really tough," said McMahon of Gausman. "I thought we did a good job of not chasing it and shortening up and putting it in play when he gave us a pitch to hit."

Ryan Feltner (1-1) allowed two runs on eight hits, striking out four over five innings. Peter Lambert pitched three scoreless innings and Tyler Kinley gave up two runs, one earned, in the ninth.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 12, 2024.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press