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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Michael Saunders is seeing a lot of good left-handed pitching, and it is paying off for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Saunders hit two home runs off lefties Friday night and Aaron Sanchez pitched seven shutout innings in Toronto's 6-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Blue Jays' left-handed hitting left fielder is hitting .368 (14 for 38) in nine games since moving into the leadoff spot.
"Baseball is all about repetition and the more consistent at bats you get, the easier it is to hit," Saunders said. "You see (Chris) Sale, one of the best, and (Jose) Quintana did a great job the other night, and then you see (Drew) Smyly . . . I guess maybe you can start feeling a little more comfortable."
Saunders homered off Smyly (1-3) in the third inning and added his fourth home run of the season off Dana Eveland in the eighth.
Sanchez (2-1) gave up six hits and two walks while striking out six to help the Blue Jays win after losing three straight to the Chicago White Sox.
"Their guy was pretty tough for four or five innings, too, but this was one of those games where we needed it, coming off a sweep at home," Sanchez said. "It starts the road trip with a big win."
Josh Donaldson hit his eighth homer off the c-ring catwalk at Tropicana Field in the sixth, giving the Blue Jays a 2-0 lead. Ryan Goins drove in the final run with his first homer in the ninth off Jhan Marinez, who was making his major league debut.
The first two home runs were the only hits given up by Smyly, who struck out eight in six innings.
Rays manager Kevin Cash was ejected by home plate umpire Mark Ripperger in the fifth inning for arguing balls and strikes. It was the first ejection of the year for Cash and the fourth of his career.
"I just didn't agree with the strike zone too much. That's going to happen," Cash said. "Those guys out there are busting to try and get it right. We want it right. Sometimes we're not always going to agree."
The Blue Jays were striking out 9.4 times per game going into the weekend, enough for Donaldson to declare in a television interview that "some people need to evaluate their approach" to hitting. "There's no doubt we're striking out way too much," said manager John Gibbons.
The Blue Jays struck out eight times Friday night, bringing their season total to 225 in 24 games. ... Troy Tulowitzki is hitless in his last 18 at-bats against left-handers. ... Logan Morrison went 0 for 4 for the Rays, dropping his batting average to .100 (6 for 60). ... The Rays are 2 for 26 (.077) with runners in scoring position on their current homestand.
Blue Jays: C Russell Martin got a sore neck in the cold weather up north. "Doesn't feel great, but it's playable," Gibbons said ... RHP Bo Schultz (offseason hip surgery) threw a shutout inning in his first rehab start for Class A Dunedin.
LHP J.A. Happ (3-0) will oppose Rays RHP Chris Archer (1-4), who lost to the Blue Jays on opening day despite striking out 12. It will be Archer's 17th start against Toronto. "The common denominator in every start is if I fill up the strike zone, I'm pretty successful," he said.
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