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Makeshift Blue Jays lineup falls to Yankees

Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays dives at home plate during Wednesday’s game against the New York Yankees.

Nick Turchiaro/USA Today Sports

As he took the mound to begin his warmup tosses in advance of his first start for the Toronto Blue Jays, you got the sense that Nick Tepesch was just a tad uncomfortable in his new surroundings.

The first pitch he threw was adrift and eluded Raffy Lopez, the Blue Jays' starting catcher on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre, and the ball sailed to the backstop.

It begged the question: How is Tepesch going to handle the pressure when an actual New York Yankees player is standing in the batter's box?

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"I don't know, to be honest with you," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons admitted before the game, when that question was asked.

Gibbons, after all, had never seen Tepesch start before. The 28-year-old came to the organization from the Minnesota Twins last month in exchange for cash considerations and was then sent to Triple-A Buffalo.

The Yankees were able to provide a more informed response, with Gary Sanchez and Todd Frazier clouting back-to-back solo home runs off Tepesch in the second inning.

Didi Gregorius followed suit in the third inning and the Yankees (60-52) were able to ride the power play to an often jittery 11-5 victory over Toronto (53-60) to knot the three-game series at 1-1.

The starting-pitching cupboard is bare these days for the Blue Jays.

Tepesch was called up from Triple-A and thrown right into the fray, the Blue Jays being thin on starters with injuries to Cesar Valdez and Aaron Sanchez.

And with former reliever/starter/reliever Joe Biagini in the process of stretching himself out again in the minors, the Blue Jays are not even certain who will take the mound on Saturday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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These are strange optics for a team that still considers itself armed and ready to mount a challenge for a wildcard playoff berth in the American League.

Tepesch was the 11th starting pitcher to take the mound for the Blue Jays this season. The team only used seven starters over the entire 2016 season.

Tepesch was not totally out of his element against the Yankees. Over 4.1 innings of work, he was charged with five of the Yankees runs off eight hits – five that went for extra bases.

Afterward, Gibbons was charitable in his comments on Tepesch, saying what he saw warranted another start.

"I don't see why not," he said. "I thought he did a solid job. He gave up a few solo home runs. But I though he was aggressive, he attacked. And as he settled in and as his game worn on he stared getting his breaking ball over a little bit better."

Masahiro Tanaka was not stellar himself on the mound for New York, lasting just four-plus innings, allowing three Toronto runs off three hits. Tanaka would walk five, a career high.

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New York would surge ahead 6-2 with a three-run top of the fifth before Toronto responded in the bottom half with a solo home run by Jose Bautista, his 18th of the season.

Toronto would tag on two more runs in the sixth to cut the Yankees' lead to 6-5.

But a single by Ronald Torreyes off Toronto reliever Taylor Cole, who was making his MLB debut, brought in two more New York runs in the top of the eighth to ice the victory.

Over all, it was a rather makeshift lineup that Gibbons presented Wednesday night.

Lopez was making his first start behind the plate for Toronto after getting called up from Buffalo on Friday to fill in for the injured Miguel Montero.

And Nori Aoki got his second start since joining Toronto at the trade deadline in left field, with Steve Pearce handling the designated hitter duties.

Before the game, the Blue Jays announced they were shifting oft-injured shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to the 60-day disabled list, essentially signalling they don't expect the 32-year-old to return to the lineup this season.

That is good news for Ryan Goins, who should get the majority of starts at shortstop from here on in – and he turned in a couple of defensive gems in the losing cause against New York.

Still, given the turmoil the Blue Jays have endured this season, the team was only four games off the pace for the second A.L. wildcard playoff berth at the game's first pitch – albeit with six other teams above them.

Gibbons said it was surprising to him that his team remains within sniffing distance of the wildcard despite starting the day six games under .500.

Still, if Toronto has any magic up its sleeve, August would be the month to use it.

The Blue Jays went 17-11 last year in August to snag a wildcard berth, and 21-6 in 2015 when they won the A.L. East outright.

"You don't give up," Gibbons said. "Stranger things have happened in this game."

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