Villanueva crashes and burns in Tampa

Blue Jays starter Carlos Villanueva pitches against the Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla., Aug. 3, 2011....

Blue Jays starter Carlos Villanueva pitches against the Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla., Aug. 3, 2011. (STEVE NESIUS/Reuters)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:49 PM ET

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. - That noisy crash heard all around Tampa Bay just past 8 o’clock Wednesday night has been identified. It was Carlos Villanueva hitting the wall. Full force.

The Toronto Blue Jay brass has been casting a wary eye on Villanueva’s innings buildup in this season of transition for him from the bullpen to the starting rotation. Now they have some hard evidence to discuss.

The Tampa Bay Rays jumped all over Villanueva’s assortment of pitches, tattooing him for nine hits and eight runs in less than three innings on their way to an 9-1 drubbing of the Jays at Tropicana Field.

When Villanueva came out of the bullpen to join the rotation on May 23 to replace Jesse Litsch who was disabled by a shoulder impingement, he was immediately effective. In his first nine starts leading up to the All-Star break, Villanueva was 4-1 with a 3.67 ERA. In his most recent four starts, all since the break, he is now 1-2 with a 9.31 ERA.

“I don’t feel tired,” said Villanueva. “I know it’s something that will come up. I haven’t thrown as much as this the last couple of years. I feel fine out there. It’s just that today I didn’t have a lot of life on the ball but you go through those days and you have to find a different way to get it done.”

Villanueva has pitched 97 2/3 innings this season, more than all of 2010 and nearly twice as many as 2009. Jays manager John Farrell has talked about Villanueva’s workload and how there may need to be adjustments.

That situation may need to be addressed sooner rather than later, because Villanueva looked like a guy who was out of gas.

“He’s been primarily a reliever the last couple of years,” said Farrell. “He’s at the point now where he’s up around 100 innings and we’re seeing some physical toll. Healthwise he’s fine, but it becomes a matter of maintaining strength over a longer period of time.

“It’s showing us that we have to take a closer look and decide what our next steps are. That’s not to say that he’s coming out of the rotation by any means. But we’re well aware of the lack of late action through the zone and that’s a sign of fatigue.”

A night after they struggled against Jays starter Ricky Romero, the Rays made a lot of hard contact in a short period against Villanueva. The nine hits he surrendered included three home runs and a triple.

“Obviously it wasn’t pretty,” said Villanueva. “I had nothing on the ball today. Every ball I left close to the zone, they just hit on the barrel.”

Meanwhile, Tampa starter James Shields, who was humiliated for 10 runs and 12 hits in four innings by the Oakland A’s in his last outing, rebounded to spin a three-hitter into the eighth against the Jays.

The only real damage the Jays inflicted on Shields was by J.P. Arencibia, who belted his 18th homer to lead off the third inning.

After a routine first inning, in the second, everything that could go wrong for Villanueva did go wrong.

For starters, Ben Zobrist jumped all over a full-count fastball for his 15th home run. After Eric Thames made a fine diving catch of Casey Kotchman’s liner to right, the roof caved in. B.J. Upton singled into left and then Matt Joyce’s hot grounder ticked off the end of Aaron Hill’s glove after he dove for it, leaving runners at first and third.

At that point, the Rays started bunting and the Jays couldn’t make a play to save their lives.

Sean Rodriguez bunted in front of the plate and Villanueva tried to come home with the flip but the ball sailed over Arencibia’s head to make it 2-0.

“That’s a play -- first and third, safety squeeze -- where, really your only play is to get the out at first base,” said Farrell. “That’s what we preach but he reacted, thought he had a chance to cut down the run at home plate and the next thing you know, they’ve got multiple situations emerging.”

Then Robinson Chirinos bunted down the first base line and Adam Lind couldn’t make the play. Next up, Desmond Jennings bunted down the third base line and reached base without a play, loading the bases. Johnny Damon delivered the fourth run of the inning with a sacrifice fly to centre.

Arencibia’s homer third cut the lead to 4-1 but that didn’t slow down the Rays one bit.

Villanueva was sent packing in the third. Kotchman hit a one-out homer to right. Matt Joyce doubled and then Rodriguez was hit by a pitch. Rookie Chirinos then ripped the first pitch he saw into the left field seats to make it 8-1 and the rout was on.


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