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NYY@TOR: Jones launches his second homer of the game

TORONTO -- The second half of the Yankees' season has begun, and two important questions have been raised:

• Can Bartolo Colon continue to be effective?

• Will the Yankees stay in prime position for a playoff spot with Eduardo Nunez manning third base?

Those issues came to the forefront during a long, adventurous and frustrating first inning that essentially decided Thursday's game against the Blue Jays; one that saw the Yankees lose, 16-7, at Rogers Centre.

The Yankees allowed eight runs in the first inning -- the most in the opening frame since 2000 -- and dropped their first game following the All-Star break for the first time since 2001.

"You don't make too much of one game," manager Joe Girardi said, "but it was not a good game on our part."

Colon threw 42 pitches, was tagged for eight runs and was pulled before even recording the game's third out.

Five of those runs, however, were unearned, because they came after Nunez made a bad read on a would-be inning-ending chopper that went for an error. And according to Yankees catcher Russell Martin, some of those runs scored because the Blue Jays were stealing signs from second base until he changed them in the fourth.

But there's no denying that Colon has been hit pretty hard in his last two starts. He said that the left hamstring strain that forced him to go on the disabled list isn't bothering him, but he admitted to being tentative both on and off the mound because he's worried about tweaking it again.

That could result in him almost being late covering first base on a grounder, or not jumping off the mound quickly on slow rollers or not getting enough on the ball because he's not landing hard enough -- all of which occurred during that first inning.

"I feel good," Colon said about his left leg, "but sometimes I just feel a little bit scared [to land hard on it]. ... I'm not landing like I normally land."

The Yankees were able to make a game of it thanks in large part to Andruw Jones, who notched his second two-homer game of the season while starting as the designated hitter.

But the Blue Jays pulled away, and the first-inning deficit became too big a hole to crawl out of.

In that fateful frame, the Blue Jays notched eight hits -- six off Colon -- and sent 12 hitters to the plate. But two of their hits came on swinging bunts that rolled perfectly between the pitcher's mound and third base, one double came off a ball Girardi felt Brett Gardner lost in the lights and the frame was prolonged because of Nunez's error -- one of two misplays for him on the night.

"I really don't know what to make of this start, because [Colon] could have been out of the first inning without giving up a run and only facing four hitters," Girardi said. "Does he roll after that? Maybe."

Girardi will ask Colon how his leg is feeling on Friday, but he expects the same answer he always gets from the 38-year-old right-hander: "I'm fine."

Colon echoed as much postgame, saying that his leg is healthy, that the defense isn't at fault for his rough outing and that he just needs to pitch better -- something he can do by not thinking about the recent hamstring injury so much.

"I have to fight harder in my bullpens and just see what happens," he said.

Colon hurled six shutout innings against the Mets on July 2 in his first start since being activated from the DL, but he surrendered five runs on 10 hits and four walks in 5 2/3 innings last Thursday and has seen his ERA jump from 2.88 to 3.47 in his last two starts.

"[The] last couple of starts haven't been as good as he was earlier on," Martin said. "But everybody has their ups and downs during the season. It's tough to tell if he's favoring his leg or not. I don't really know. Today he had decent stuff. It's just one tough inning."

As for Nunez -- who has said that he feels more comfortable at shortstop than third base -- he committed his 11th error of the season in his 52nd game, and he could have been charged with No. 12 after getting confused on a second-inning popup by Adam Lind that was ruled a double.

With Alex Rodriguez out for four to six weeks following arthroscopic knee surgery, the Yankees are relying on Nunez to get the bulk of the playing time at third base.

"Let's not make too much of his starts," Girardi said. "He played great at third base the other day. That goes unnoticed when you do it the right way. He made an error today, and it's a little bit different for all of us playing on this Astroturf."

Nunez downplayed feeling extra pressure while filling in for A-Rod.

"No, no, no," Nunez said. "I feel like it's another opportunity for me, to show I can play third base, too, not just short. And I'll be fine. I'm OK. [I'll] just keep working."

Jones hit a solo homer in the third -- an inning that saw New York score four runs thanks to a two-run triple by Curtis Granderson and an RBI groundout by Mark Teixeira -- then made it a 9-7 game on a three-run homer in the sixth.

But Toronto pulled away late with seven runs between the sixth and eighth innings.

"[It was] just an outstanding effort by our lineup, top to bottom," Blue Jays skipper John Farrell said. "[There were a] number of key two-out hits to extend a couple of innings. I thought we took advantage of some extra baserunners early on."

Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista, who leads the Majors in homers and received the most All-Star Game fan votes ever, twisted his right ankle while sliding into third base in the fourth inning and was listed as day to day.

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