Villanueva goes six scoreless in win over Royals

Villanueva goes six scoreless in win over Royals

Villanueva goes six scoreless in win over Royals
TORONTO -- Carlos Villanueva's transition into the starting rotation continued to move in a positive direction on Wednesday night.

Toronto's right-hander was efficient and effective during his second start, after spending the first half of the season working out of the bullpen.

Villanueva led the way with six scoreless innings, while the Blue Jays received at least one hit from each member of the starting nine for the second consecutive night in a 4-1 victory over the Royals at Rogers Centre.

"I felt good today, I felt like I really knew what I wanted to do from one through nine in the lineup," Villanueva said. "It's just one of those days, a good feeling. I know I'm not going to feel like that every time. You get maybe 20 starts and you feel like that five times, so you try to take advantage it."

Villanueva has been down this road before. It was just last season that he was pressed into starting duties midway through the year. At the time, the move seemed long overdue, as he managed to post a 4-1 record and 3.67 ERA in his first nine starts.

But the heavy workload as a starter, compared to that of a reliever, eventually took its toll. Villanueva battled severe pain in his elbow and by late July things began to go south. He posted a 9.31 ERA over his final four starts, before being placed on the disabled list with a right forearm injury.

Villanueva knew if a similar starting role presented itself in 2012, he would need to be better prepared. That led to a grueling offseason workout program that saw him drop more than 30 pounds and add more strength to his throwing arm in an effort to better combat fatigue.

The 28-year-old is now just two starts in to his latest audition, so it's too early to tell whether the results will hold up. But for now, he's feeling confident about being able to carry a heavy burden.

"We talked about that and I think that might have been one of the reasons why it took a little longer for me to be in the rotation," said Villanueva, who didn't walk a batter on Wednesday. "I know they were concerned about that -- and with reason -- but I told them in Spring Training the first day I got there, I prepared this year to start.

"The fact that I prepared my body and my mind for the long haul this year definitely makes a difference. I know it has only been two starts but I felt magnificent today."

It's anyone's guess whether Villanueva will be able to remain healthy as the innings begin to pile up. But once again the early returns are impressive. Against the Royals on Wednesday, Villanueva allowed just four hits while matching a career high with seven strikeouts.

The only real danger for Villanueva occurred in the top of the third inning, when catcher Salvador Perez led off with a single. Colby Rasmus had the ball bounce off his glove, which enabled Perez to move into scoring position. But Villanueva battled back by retiring the next three batters to escape without any damage.

Villanueva opened the game by establishing his high-80s, low-90s fastball, but as the innings unfolded he began to rely more heavily on his offspeed pitches to keep hitters off-balance.

The impressive mix of curveballs, sliders and changeups allowed Villanueva to go through the order twice without much difficulty, and at no point did he have more than one runner on base.

Villanueva also managed to improve his efficiency on the mound by requiring just 85 pitches to get through six innings of work, compared to 92 pitches in five frames on June 29 against the Angels.

The club plans to monitor his number of pitches each time out. The Blue Jays admit they were reluctant to name Villanueva a starter because of the injury woes he went through last season.

"That's exactly it," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "That's not to say he can't start, he's obviously proving that right now. But from a durability and long-term view of Carlos, when we can control the length of his outings with proper rest coming out of the bullpen, he has been effective in that role as well."

The Blue Jays did most of their damage early off right-hander Luis Mendoza. Rajai Davis led off the second with a triple to the gap in right-center and would come around to score on a sacrifice fly by Kelly Johnson.

The production continued in the third as Adam Lind doubled to put runners on second and third with nobody out. Yunel Escobar and Davis followed with a pair of sacrifice flies to increase Toronto's lead to 3-0.

Mendoza settled down and got through the rest of his outing unscathed. He was charged with three runs on nine hits while striking out nine and walking one.

"What's most important is in given at-bats, when guys have not gotten their pitch, they've not been afraid to pass the baton to the next guy behind them," Farrell said. "I think tonight was one of our most efficient offensive nights, given the way we did score runs."

With the victory, Toronto at least guaranteed itself a series split against the Royals, but will look for the win when the four-game set comes to an end on Thursday night.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.