TORONTO - The question was: Could he do it again?
For the second time out, the second time in the past five days, the Blue Jays Brett Cecil hooked up against the Texas Rangers.
Last Sunday in Texas, Cecil won that battle convincingly as he posted a four-hit, complete-game shutout in the Jays 3-0 victory.
Now came a bigger test, Round Two.
The winner turned out to be Cecil, who didn’t quite match his excellence of five days ago but was still plenty good enough in the Jays 3-2 victory.
Cecil, 4-4, gave up a solo shot to Nelson Cruz, one of seven hits he allowed in seven innings. Along the way he also showed an ability to pitch his way out of a couple of jams as well as his agility in making a fine fielding play in the sixth.
“It’s very satisfying,” Cecil said of the back-to-back wins that he’s fashioned using his new arms-over-his-head windup. “We didn’t change the game plan. It worked before, I don’t see why I’d change anything. I just kept the ball down for the majority of the game.”
He also received a big blast from his batterymate J.P. Arencibia in the fifth when he smote his 17th homer of the season, a three-run shot to left. It was his fifth homer in his past six games.
“Like I said, I was trying a little too hard earlier, I was trying to think of too many things at the plate and baseball’s hard enough,” Arencibia said of his new hitting philosophy. “All I’ve tried to do is clear my mind and it’s working out.
“It’s good to help the team win. Before I felt like I wasn’t contributing and that’s what hurt me the most.”
And it clearly has been working out for Cecil as well.
“He’s just keeping the ball down,” Arencibia said. “It’s unbelievable how bad the swings guys take when he’s down.”
The game grew tense in the ninth as Mike Napoli led off with a solo shot against closer Jon Rauch to cut the Jays lead in half. Rauch, though, held on as following a single he retired the next three hitters to earn his ninth save.
The win marked the eighth victory by the Jays over Texas in the past 10 games played at Rogers Centre.
Back in the spring of 2009 the Blue Jays were desperately trying to determine just who their fifth starter would be and for a time, lefty Brad Mills was the leading candidate. But a couple of poor starts near the end of camp plus a positive one from Ricky Romero cemented things for Romero who has since gone on become the Jays No. 1 starter in their rotation.
Mills, meanwhile, has been a work in progress ever since. He makes his first start for the Jays this season Saturday against the heavy-hitting Texas Rangers, filling the spot that once belonged to Jo-Jo Reyes, who has since been designated for assignment.
In 20 starts at triple-A Las Vegas, Mills was 9-7 with a 3.99 ERA. In 130 2/3 innings, he walked 35 and struck out 114.
The Jays said that the start for Mills, 26, is not a one-stop deal and that he will remain in the rotation as long as he contributes and shows he belongs. It’s up to him.
“When the question is asked (about how long Mills will stick) it’s like asking the house guest: ‘When are you leaving?’” Farrell said. “He’s going to pitch tomorrow and likely continue on from there. How his performance goes, every player is aware that you continue to earn opportunities as you go out and perform. With the work he’s done in Las Vegas, he’s earned the opportunity to come up and start.”
For his part, Mills, naturally, is just happy to get the opportunity.
“It’s the ultimate goal to be up here and stay up here, so I’m excited about the opportunity,” he said. “The biggest thing that’s different now (from 2009) is my health, not like I was injured, but just feeling fresh. My arm is feeling great, my legs are good. That’s the biggest thing. If you feel healthy and comfortable you can trust your abilities out there just to work and get outs.”
He’s also added a different pitch, a cut fastball that he’s scrapped in the past but stuck with this season to the point where it is now a weapon.
Mills added that he’s been given no guarantees. But given where he’s been, he’s more than happy with that.
Cecil blanked the Rangers for nine innings the last time out but that string was snapped Friday in the second inning when Nelson Cruz led off with a line shot to left that just cleared the top of the wall. It was a bullet and ended a string of 15 consecutive scoreless innings by Cecil spread over his past three starts ... The fourth inning was pivotal for Cecil as trailing 1-0, he got into a jam with one out and runners on the corners. Cecil came back to retire Mitch Moreland on a foul pop and then struck out Yorvit Torrealba on a check-swing, 2-2 pitch ... Newly acquired Colby Rasmus reached first for the first time as a Blue Jay when in the fourth he walked on a 3-2 pitch. He moved to second on a check-swing groundout by Jose Bautista but didn’t advance further. He is still looking for his first hit as he went 0-for-3, all outs being strikeouts.