July 4, 2012
Villanueva hits the spot for Jays
By BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Toronto Blue Jays reliever Carlos Villanueva makes spot-starting look easy.
Fact is, it isn’t easy increasing the workload from a season-high 66 pitches in his longest relief outing, to 92 his first start last Friday and 85 after going six scoreless in a 4-1 win over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night.
How tough is it going from working relief to making a spot start?
“Like curling five-pound weights, then being asked to do 40-pound weights and do the same number of reps. It’s a shock to the body,” said Casey Janssen, who worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his 11th consecutive save, this one before 17,831 fans at the Rogers Centre.
In allowing four hits and fanning seven, Villanueva resembles the success a young David Wells had bouncing back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation. Or Kelvim Escobar, Al Leiter, John Cerutti, Pete Walker or Frank Wills.
“Like running sprints and the coach saying: ‘This week you’re running the mile,’” said Darren Oliver who worked a 1-2-3-4 eighth, lowering his earned-run average to 1.48.
Villanueva’s start was the 42nd of his career — he’s never made more than the 13 he made for Jays last year — in his seven years in the majors.
He is 12-15 with a 4.80 career ERA as a starter, striking out 154 in 234 innings. Out of the bullpen he is 17-13 with a 3.76 ERA, with 344 strikeouts in 342 innings.
“Pete told us from his experience, the first one is easy because of the adrenalin. The second one is the toughest,” said pitching coach Bruce Walton of a conversation with bullpen coach Walker. “We were going to back him off some ... and he went longer on fewer pitches.”
Rajai Davis lined a ball past the outstretched glove of diving second baseman Yuniesky Betancourt. The ball rolled all the way to the wall and Davis slid into third with a triple. A fly ball by Kelly Johnson brought home Davis with the game’s first run ... Davis’ speed was of zero help when he tried to make a shoestring grab of a Jeff Francoeur drive in the seventh. This one rolled all the way to the fence with Colby Rasmus tracking down the ball as Moustakas scored from first and Francoeur wound up with a triple ... Jason Frasor who should have had runners at first and second, escaped by striking out Salvador Perez, the potential tying run.
First baseman Edwin Encarnacion had back-to-back strange plays. First, he was late getting to the base and was nearly stepped on by Alcides Escobar. He made the catch for the final out of the top of the third. Leading off — How often does a first baseman late to the bag lead off the next inning? — he bounced to second baseman Betancourt. Luis Mendoza covered first like he should but he took the throw cutting in front of first baseman Eric Hosmer. Encarnacion came around to score the game’s second run after Adam Lind doubled ... Encarnacion stole a double from Moustakas for the first out of the fifth.
Yunel Escobar singled in Rasmus in the seventh, his second RBI of the game for a 4-1 lead ... Brett Lawrie was 2-for-5 with three strikeouts, but made a nifty play to retire speedy Jarrod Dyson in the eighth ... Ahead on Rasmus 1-2 in the second, Mendoza threw a change-up which was fouled off and then three straight sliders for a walk, loading the bases. Then Mendoza fell behind slugger Josa Bautista 2-0 and battled back to strike him out ... J.P. Arencibia blocked a Villanueva slider in the dirt for the final out of the second with Moustakas on third.
John Farrell was asked who was the most successful right-hander under six-feet tall he had ever seen. Farrell thought for a few moments before answering: “Roy Oswalt was pretty good.” A three-time all-star and 20-game winner with the 2004-05 Houston Astros, Oswalt has won 161 games and is still counting now in his 12th season, pitching this year for the Texas Rangers. He is listed at six feet ... Duke right-hander Marcus Stroman, all 5-foot-9 of him, was the Jays’ second over-all pick and given a signing bonus of $1.8 million US. Stroman hopes to rise quickly through the ranks and make the majors before the end of the season. “In talking with our scouts, they had him as a polished college pitcher with major-league stuff. The comparison was to Tom Gordon,” Farrell said. “Once he gets into his routine, he’ll tell us when he’s ready.”