ARLINGTON - Brett Cecil has come all the way back and maybe a few steps beyond.
Sunday night, the embattled lefthander who was banished to the minors early this year to get his act together after a slow start, spun a four-hit masterpiece for his first complete-game shutout, a 3-0 decision over the Texas Rangers.
“Coming from where I was at the beginning of the season and where I’ve been floating around the whole season, it’s a huge thing as far as getting back on the right path,” said Cecil. “I just hope it continues.”
This was Cecil’s fifth start since returning from the minors on June 30 and it turned out to be one of his best performances ever. Perhaps even his best, when you consider the potent lineup he was facing.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to what he’s done, the work he’s accomplished to get to this point tonight against this club in this ballpark,” said manager John Farrell.
The Rangers have one of the most prolific offences in baseball and they’ve scored 17 runs against the jays in the first two games of this series.
“They’ve whipped my butt the last two times I faced them,” said Cecil. “I think the line was seven innings, 17 earned runs, so I felt like I owed them one.”
He got some outstanding defensive plays from his teammates, most notably a diving catch by third baseman Jose Bautista on a ball hit by Mitch Moreland in the sixth. Bautista was shifted across the diamond into short right field and stole a certain base hit away.
The Blue Jays broke this pitchers’ duel wide open in the sixth inning when they got to Texas starter Alexi Ogando for four hits and three runs.
Escobar started the rally with his third single of the game.
An out later, Bautista ripped a loud double into the left-centre gap and Escobar scored from first.
Another out later, Encarnacion doubled into the same area, sending Bautista home. Encarnacion then scored when Travis Snider doubled down the line in right.
For Encarnacion, the double snapped an 0-for-14 drought, while Snider broke off an 0-for-16 streak.
Meanwhile, Cecil was dealing like it was 2010.
He gave up a single to Michael Young leading off the second, a bunt single by Craig Gentry leading off the third and then another single to Gentry in the eighth.
He walked a batter in the sixth and another in the seventh.
Not one Ranger baserunner advanced beyond first base until Gentry tagged and went to second on a long fly ball in the eighth, where he was stranded.
Cecil went into the ninth having thrown only 97 pitches but both Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli, the final out, battled him hard.
“I almost pitched like I didn’t care,” said Cecil. “Sometimes you nit-pick and nit-pick and keep missing just over the plate, walking a lot of guys. I just let it go tonight.”
Cruz used up 10 pitches before reaching base on an infield single. Cecil then needed five pitches to strike out Mike Napoli to end the game.
“In the ninth, you could tell he was smelling it,” said Farrell. “His velocity started to creep up to 94 mph."
For Cecil, those last two batters seemed to take forever.
“It’s just the adrenalin pumping and wanting to get it done so bad,” he said. “Those were the most tiring last two hitters I’ve ever faced, mostly Cruz.
“I said to J.P. ‘Can’t I get just one 94 by him or have him put it in play?’ ”
Arencibia can see that Cecil is in a different head space than he was earlier in the season.
“Now he’s got his confidence back,” said Arencibia. “He’s at his best when he pitches at 88-90 and down in the zone. There are a lot of guys who play a long time doing that.
“I think maybe too much was made of his drop in velocity. Sometimes stuff like that can wear on a guy.”
The victory wasn’t just a milestone for Cecil. It also averted a sweep in this three-game series by the Rangers who won 12-2 Friday, then overcame a 4-3 ninth-inning Toronto lead on Saturday for a 5-4 win.
Now they come back home Tuesday for a three-game set against the Orioles before facing this same Texas team next weekend at home.
Farrell said last night that Carlos Villanueva will pitch on Thursday in the spot vacated by the departure of Jo-Jo Reyes. The team’s brain trust will decide in the next few days who will move into the rotation for the next time they need a fifth starter on Saturday.