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Jays to begin 3-game set with red-hot Orioles

After going from arguably his best start of the season to arguably his worst, Ricky Romero says he’s run out of answers.

Five days ago in New York, the Blue Jays left-hander pitched seven innings of two-run ball on five hits against the Yankees.

The outing — which Blue Jays manager John Farrell referred to Sunday as possibly Romero’s finest of the season — had left both he and his struggling starter with hope of building some positive momentum heading into the off-season.

But after getting shelled for seven runs in the shortest start of his career in Sunday’s 9-4 loss to Tampa Bay at Rogers Centre, Romero again found himself at a loss to explain what went wrong.

“Everything went their way today,” said Romero. “We had the same game plan (as New York). It just didn’t work. I was ahead of some guys. Just didn’t put them away.”

The loss dropped Romero’s record to 8-13 on the season and extended his personal losing streak to 12 games, the longest such streak in the majors this year.

After giving up a run in the first inning, Romero opened the second by giving up a leadoff home run to former Blue Jay Ben Francisco. A walk and six consecutive Tampa Bay base hits later — highlighted by Ben Zobrist’s two-run double — the Rays were up 6-0 and Farrell had seen enough. Romero’s day was done and as he walked off the field many of the 18,568 on hand gave him a rude sendoff.

“It’s tough to hear boos from your own fans,” said Romero. “It’s tough to see your teammates, they’re going out there battling every day. It’s been tough, it’s been stressful, but at the same time, you just have to come ready to work.”

The dramatic reversal in fortune from start-to-start also left Blue Jays manager John Farrell scratching his head.

“The wide swings, that’s a little puzzling,” he said. “You go from a seven-inning outing in New York where all his stuff is working and then to have an outing like today, they happen. We all share, we all have lived the challenges and the frustration that he’s going through. But this is a unique situation.”

Farrell added the team currently has no plans to shut Romero down for the season.

As bad as 2012 has been for Romero, and as much of a toll he acknowledges it has taken on him, he maintains he’s not going to run from it.

“I’m not going to shy away from you guys,” he said in reference to the media. “I’ve just been getting beat. You’re going to see me with my head held high and there’s nothing I should be ashamed of.”

Given how well he pitched in New York, and how poorly he did on Sunday, Romero was asked if he’s run out of answers.

“Yeah, what else can I say?” he replied. “It’s worn on me. I was born a winner and going through something like this…I never wish upon anyone. It’s tough.”

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay starter David Price, a contender for the AL Cy Young award, continued his mastery of the Blue Jays, holding them to two runs on six hits over seven innings to become the American League’s first 17-game winner (17-5). His 2.53 ERA entering the game was second best in the league to Seattle’s Felix Hernandez (2.51).

Price entered the game with an 11-2 lifetime record against Toronto with a 2.26 ERA. He is now a perfect 6-0 at Rogers Centre.

THE BIG PICTURE: With the win, the Rays improved to 73-61 and moved to within a game of the AL Wild Card lead. With the loss, the Blue Jays fell to 60-73, splitting their four-game weekend series with the Rays. The Blue Jays will now host the AL Wild Card-leading Baltimore Orioles for three games beginning Monday with a 1:07 p.m. ET Labour Day start.

THE BATS: Price has historically owned the Blue Jays and Sunday was no different. Toronto also ran into him during one of the best runs of his young career. Entering the game Sunday, Price was 8-1 with a 2.09 ERA over his past 13 starts with 91 strikeouts and just 20 walks.

The Blue Jays put 10 runners on during Price’s seven innings of work, but couldn’t find the big hit when they needed one, going 2 for 8 with runners in scoring position, leaving nine men on base for the afternoon. Edwin Encarnacion, who hit his 37th home run of the season in the ninth innings. drove in three runs for Toronto, while Adam Lind (32) knocked in the other one.

THE ARMS: Romero’s short outing meant an extended one for rookie right-hander Chad Jenkins. The 24-year-old former first-round pick (2009), gave the team a much-needed five quality innings of mop-up duty, surrendering two runs on seven hits with three strikeouts. Aaron Laffey came on in relief of Jenkins in the seventh and pitched three shutout innings.

Farrell continues to be impressed with the work of the rookie right-hander.

“He’s done a very good job coming out of the bullpen whether it’s been middle innings or late in a couple of occasions,” he said. “He throws strikes, he’s got some late action. We feel like he’s getting good exposure here and this has been a good learning experience for him.”

MATHIS STILL SORE, BUT OK:

Blue Jays catcher Jeff Mathis is still a little sore after Friday night’s game-ending, home plate collision with Elliot Johnson of the Rays, but Farrell said that had nothing to do with Yorvit Torrealba starting behind the plate for the second straight game Sunday.

“He’s sore from the other night, but he’s available (Sunday),” said Farrell, adding the back-to-back off days for Mathis were planned to allow Torrealba to catch Henderson Alvarez on Saturday and Ricky Romero on Sunday.

FRASOR BACK WITH THE JAYS:

Reliever Jason Frasor is scheduled to rejoin the team Sunday and will be available to pitch out of the bullpen Monday when the Blue Jays open a three-game series against the Orioles.

The 34-year-old Frasor has been sidelined with a strained right forearm since July 17. At the time of the injury, there were fears he might require his third Tommy John operation, but rest and rehabilitation appear to have worked.

In 42 games this year prior to the injury, Frasor pitched 36 innings, posting a 4.00 ERA, 1.417 WHIP and 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings.

Following the game, the Blue Jays announced that left-hander Brett Cecil would also be rejoining the club in time for Monday’s game.

ARENCIBIA ALMOST READY TOO:

Catcher J.P. Arencibia, out since July 25, with a broken right hand, remains on track to return to the big club Sept. 10.

“That’s a target date,” said Farrell. “It could possibly be before then. He’s been catching bullpens, gradually building into BP, long-toss, throwing to the bases, all of the baseball activities are there. It’s just a matter of really, not waiting, but progressively building the tolerance to hit.

On Sunday, Arencibia suited up in his first rehab game with the Dunedin Blue Jays. He played DH and batted third.

LAWRIE STILL NOT CLOSE:

Third baseman Brett Lawrie has begun some light hitting drills but Farrell said the 22-year-old still isn’t ready to return to game action and there is no target date for his return.