TORONTO -- Henderson Alvarez has established himself as one of the Blue Jays most consistent pitchers during his brief tenure in the Major Leagues, but there's at least one team that appears to have his number.
Toronto's right-hander struggled for the second time in as many starts against Tampa Bay. The end result is that the Rays have now scored almost as many runs against Alvarez as the rest of the American League East combined, despite less than a third of the opportunities.
Alvarez surrendered a career-high six runs to offset a strong night at the plate by J.P. Arencibia en route to a 9-4 loss to the Rays on Thursday night at Rogers Centre.
"Henderson kept us in the ball game until the three runs they scored in the fifth inning," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "In the course of the series, it seems like every pitch that we made up on the plate, they didn't miss."
Alvarez entered the game having enjoyed a lot of success against American League East rivals Boston, New York and Baltimore. He is 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA in 40 career innings against those three clubs while striking out 18 and walking just five.
The numbers against Tampa Bay aren't nearly as kind. Following Thursday's rough outing, Alvarez is now 0-2 with a 7.44 ERA while surrendering three homers and walking four in 12 1/3 innings.
But it's still a very small sample size and Alvarez believes his struggles against Tampa Bay have more to do with his own performance versus what the Rays might be doing to him.
"Nothing that I feel like against this team," Alvarez said of his struggles against the Rays through interpreter Luis Rivera. "I just happened to have two bad games and both games have been against Tampa."
Alvarez, who was making his 13th career start and third of the season, pitched his way into trouble in the first inning. With on and one out, Evan Longoria hit an RBI single to right field to easily score Carlos Pena.
The problems continued in the following frame as Alvarez hit the first batter he faced and then surrendered a two-out single to right field off the bat of Sean Rodriguez. Jose Bautista's throw bounced a few feet in front of home plate and Arencibia was unable to come up with the catch, which allowed Matt Joyce to score without a tag.
At first glance the play appeared to be a makeable catch for Arencibia but upon further review it was revealed that the ball actually took a bad bounce off the Rogers Centre AstroTurf.
"That's exactly it," Arencibia said. "I went in (the clubhouse) right after and I watched the film 20 times. I positioned myself perfectly for the throw. I'd do it 100 times the same way."
Alvarez had difficulty keeping the ball in the park during his first career start against Tampa Bay and that became a storyline again on Thursday.
Rays left fielder Desmond Jennings recorded his first home run of the year in the fifth with a solo shot to left field. Three batters later, Longoria sent a 3-2 pitch off the facing of the second deck just below Windows Restaurant in straight-away center field for a two-run shot.
It was the most home runs Alvarez surrendered in a start since August 26, 2011, against Tampa Bay. Alvarez was eventually removed after 6 1/3 innings having surrendered those six runs on six hits while walking two and striking out four.
"I don't think he has any shortage of confidence, his stuff is very good," said Longoria, who finished 3-for-4 with four RBIs. "It's just a matter of really figuring out how to pitch at the big league level."
Toronto's offense was kept mostly in check by right-hander Jeremy Hellickson. One of the only bright spots was Arencibia, who doubled his hit total on the season by going 2-for-4 with an RBI double. Arencibia also just missed his second homer of the season in the sixth as he was robbed at the wall on a nice leaping catch by Joyce.
The Blue Jays did have their chances -- including a bases loaded situation for Adam Lind in the sixth -- but failed to capitalize on them. In the final two games against Tampa Bay, the Blue Jays were outscored 21-6 in large part because they stranded 24 runners over the span.
"Guys are getting their hits," Farrell said. "It's not uncommon to go through cycles [offensively], but we're starting to get going. J.P., over the last two ball games played, is starting to square the ball with more frequency. Colby Rasmus continues to swing the bat well. We're creating opportunities."
The Blue Jays first homestand of the season has now reached its conclusion. Toronto went a somewhat disappointing 4-5 against Boston, Baltimore and Tampa Bay after nearly sweeping the Indians on the road for the first game of the series. They now head out on the road for a seven-game series that starts in Kansas City and ends in Baltimore.