Villanueva's solid start spoiled by bullpen

Villanueva's solid start spoiled by bullpen

Villanueva's solid start spoiled by bullpen
TORONTO -- Carlos Villanueva has become the model of consistency in the Blue Jays' starting rotation.

The veteran right-hander has made a habit of throwing at least six innings with three runs or less almost every time he takes the mound. It's a feat he has managed to accomplish in all but three of his 14 starts this season.

It was more of the same from Villanueva on Saturday afternoon against the Red Sox, but the performance still wasn't enough, as a lack of run support led to the Blue Jays' 3-2 loss in front of 26,239 fans at Rogers Centre.

"I'm glad I was able to keep the team in it," said Villanueva, who surrendered just two runs in seven-plus innings of work. "Go deep into the game. It was nice being out there for the first time this year in the eighth inning. It's tough. Two tough losses in a row, and the bottom line is if we don't win the game, then I'm not happy."

Villanueva, who is eligible for free agency at the end of the season, has become one of the biggest storylines around the Blue Jays in recent weeks. His numbers as a starter have been impressive as evidenced by a 3.49 ERA, but the lack of a track record in the rotation has prompted some questions about his future role.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos appeared to show at least some level of skepticism earlier this week when he told a group of reporters that "I don't want to doubt him, but I also have to be objective and realistic, too." That's not exactly the ringing endorsement a player wants to hear before hitting the open market, but Villanueva said it hasn't affected his approach on the mound.

Even though Villanueva has started only 54 times out of 299 career games he feels that he has shown enough to justify a multiyear contract with a guarantee to at least compete for a regular spot in the rotation.

"I feel like I have nothing to prove," Villanueva said. "Like I said before, if I am auditioning, I really don't care, because I think I've proven, in my mind, I've proven what I can do. I'm sure somebody else out there will take a chance on me. For me, I've pitched like this my whole career ever since I was in rookie ball. I've always had to prove myself."

Villanueva's outing against Boston was about the same as the Blue Jays have grown accustomed to. It was his ninth quality start, and he continues to limit the opposition's production by pitching effectively with runners in scoring position and averaging 8.4 strikeouts per game.

The only real difference for Villanueva was that he pitched into the eighth inning for the first time this season. His lone blemishes occurred in the second on a solo homer by Cody Ross and an RBI single by Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the fourth.

That was it until Villanueva departed following a leadoff walk in the eighth inning. For a few seconds, it appeared as though manager John Farrell would give him a chance to continue, but after a discussion on the mound, a call to the bullpen was eventually made.

"I basically told him that he did a hell of a job," Farrell said. "He was efficient today. He deserved the right to start that inning, with where we were with [Pedro] Ciriaco leading off the inning. But the base-on-balls, we were working hitter to hitter right there. He was well in control in terms of number of pitches thrown. He did a very good job for us."

Villanueva's strong outing was somewhat overshadowed in the ninth when the Blue Jays' bullpen lost control of the game. Right-hander Steve Delabar surrendered a two-out double to Ciriaco as Boston took the lead in the ninth for the second consecutive day.

That sent Delabar to his first loss since being acquired by Toronto in late July. It also marked just the second run he has surrendered over his past 10 2/3 innings after establishing himself as one of the club's most reliable setup men.

"His at-bats are as good as anyone on the team," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said of Ciriaco. "Everyone knows he can hit a fastball, and he hits a 2-1 breaking ball. ... He's a good player."

Toronto's offense was held in check for most of the game despite a relatively strong start against right-hander Clay Buchholz. Adam Lind doubled in the first to put runners on second and third with two outs, and Yunel Escobar followed with an RBI single to right field.

The Blue Jays added another run off Buchholz in the fifth. Anthony Gose walked to lead off the frame and eventually came around to score on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Lind. Toronto's offense then went cold against Buchholz, who allowed just the two runs on four hits despite walking five.

The overall lack of run support meant Villanueva was forced to take another no-decision. He remained at 5-5 and has posted a 3.49 ERA and with 79 strikeouts in 85 innings as a starter. Even with the impressive numbers, Villanueva has won just once since the start of August.

Villanueva left in the eighth to a standing ovation in what could prove to be one of his final lasting memories in a Blue Jays' uniform.

"The people here have been great -- last year, this year," Villanueva said. "With everything that has gone on this season, we see the faithful out there. It's tough and I feel for the fans. Being a fan of baseball myself, it's tough, but you want to root for your home team.

"We've gotten good support this year. ... It's great and it does help us out. It helps me out, having people behind you."

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.