TORONTO — John Schneider’s debut as interim Blue Jays manager was a comfortable rout. His followup game Thursday was a 3-1 loss to a last-place Kansas City team missing almost half of its regular lineup.
“This is way worse than last night,” the affable Schneider quipped as he sat down for a post-game media availability.
Bobby Witt Jr., and Nate Eaton homered as the Royals used a patchwork crew to win the opener of a four-game series at Rogers Centre.
With 10 roster players not allowed to travel to Canada because of their COVID-19 vaccination status, Kansas City called up eight players from their minor-league affiliates before the game.
“You don’t want to say this was a letdown game,” Schneider said. “I think it was a little bit of an unlucky game and that’s going to happen over the course of the year, and it sucks that it happened tonight.”
Double-A call-up Angel Zerpa (2-0) took advantage of his opportunity by allowing just one earned run, four hits and two walks over five innings. Relievers Jackson Kowar and Taylor Clarke kept Toronto off the scoreboard from there and Scott Barlow closed it out for his 16th save.
“One of the best wins of the year, all things considered,” said Royals manager Mike Matheny.
One positive for Toronto was that Kevin Gausman (6-7) threw six innings in his first appearance since taking a liner off his ankle in a game on July 2. He allowed seven hits, two earned runs and two walks while striking out six.
“Great to get him back out there before the (all-star) break,” Schneider said. “We liked what we saw obviously. Everything was there as it is usually is. Just a couple bad pitches – that’s it.”
Gausman said the ankle felt about 85 per cent, adding it was still a little swollen and bruised.
“It was just me knowing that this is going to be maybe painful but we need to get through it,” he said. “It has been 12 days and so I needed to get back out there.”
Matt Chapman hit a solo homer for the Blue Jays (47-43). Danny Jansen and Alejandro Kirk had two hits apiece.
Gausman gave up back-to-back singles in the second inning before spoiling the first big-league at-bats for Nick Pratto and Eaton with strikeouts. The veteran right-hander got Nicky Lopez on a groundout for the third out.
Kansas City (36-53) opened the scoring in the fifth after Lopez led off with a double and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt. He scored when Edward Olivares lined a ball to right field before being thrown out at second base.
Witt followed with his 13th homer of the season. Chapman answered in the bottom half with his 14th homer of the year.
With runners on the corners in the eighth inning, left-fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr., kept the deficit at a single run with a nice diving catch on a sinking liner from Ryan O’Hearn.
Bo Bichette reached on a two-out walk in the Toronto half of the frame before being called out on a stolen base attempt. The call was overturned on review but he was left stranded when Teoscar Hernandez grounded out.
Anthony Banda gave up a solo shot to Eaton – his first career big-league homer – in the ninth inning.
Kansas City outhit Toronto 12-7. Announced attendance was 24,426 and the game took three hours to play.
Blue Jays left-hander Yusei Kikuchi is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Friday. He’s working his way back from a neck strain that landed him on the injured list last week.
Schneider said it had yet to be determined whether Kikuchi would pitch as a starter or a reliever when he returns.
Right-handers will square off Friday night as Toronto’s Alek Manoah (9-4, 2.34 earned-run average) starts against Zack Greinke (3-5, 4.52).
The Blue Jays have yet to confirm Saturday’s starter. Right-hander Jose Berrios (7-4, 5.38) will get the nod on Sunday.
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press