Published July 15, 2012
TORONTO – Carlos Villanueva doesn't have an overpowering fastball or a knee-buckling curve. But when the Blue Jays pitcher needs a strikeout, he knows how to get one.
Villanueva (4-0) fanned a career-best eight in six scoreless innings, Jose Bautista had two hits and Toronto beat the Cleveland Indians 3-0 Sunday afternoon.
The right-hander threw just 55 of his 102 pitches for strikes but was at his best when it counted, ending four of his six innings with strikeouts.
"He doesn't give in," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "He's got those three or four pitches that he can go to. He reads swings very well and he's extremely intelligent."
When Villanueva struck out Jack Hannahan for the final out of the second, it was his 500th career K.
"I'm glad I came out on top today," Villanueva said, "and keep us at least close to that second wild card. We want every single game we play to matter."
Making his third start of the season after working in relief for much of the year, Villanueva allowed just three hits and walked five as the Blue Jays won their first series since taking two of three at Miami from June 22-24.
Villanueva issued back-to-back walks to Santana and Michael Brantley in the sixth, then ended his outing by striking out Casey Kotchman.
"We just couldn't do anything against Villanueva," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "He pitched well."
Second baseman Jason Kipnis said the Indians weren't patient enough against Villanueva, who kept Cleveland off balance with a strong changeup.
"He loves his changeup," Kipnis said. "If he thinks you're aggressive or trying to jump on a ball, you're going to get a changeup or a back-foot curveball."
Jason Frasor worked the seventh and Darren Oliver pitched the final two innings for his first save as the Blue Jays wrapped up their seventh shutout of the season.
Cleveland right-hander Derek Lowe came in 0-4 with an 8.88 ERA in his past five road starts and, despite pitching better, was unable to snap his losing streak. Lowe allowed three runs and three hits in six innings, walked four and struck out five.
Struggling with his delivery, Lowe acknowledged that he "invented a lot of stuff" over his final three innings.
"I asked guys on the bench for advice," he said. "I changed mechanically probably 50 times, just trying to find anything. The ball wasn't coming out too good so it was just try to invent stuff to keep yourself in the game."
The struggling Lowe (8-7) dropped to 2-6 in his past 10 outings overall and has not won consecutive starts since May 10 and 15, when he picked up back-to-back road wins at Boston and Minnesota.
"(Lowe) pitched well, there's nothing to complain about," Acta said. "He gave us six solid innings, we just couldn't do anything offensively."
Lowe retired the first six Blue Jays batters in order but came unglued as Toronto batted around in a three-run third.
Kelly Johnson led off with a walk, stole second and went to third on a throwing error by catcher Carlos Santana before scoring on J.P. Arencibia's one-out single. Arencibia advanced on Brett Lawrie's groundout and scored on a base hit by Colby Rasmus. Jose Bautista singled Rasmus to third and stole second before Edwin Encarnacion walked to load the bases. Adam Lind capped the rally with a walk, scoring Rasmus.
"It could have been worse," Lowe said. "I ain't kidding. I left the bases loaded."
Lowe recovered to retire the next six batters and used a double play to erase a leadoff walk in the sixth before being replaced by Joe Smith.
The loss dropped the Indians below .500 on the road at 21-22. Cleveland has lost 16 of its past 24 road games.
NOTES: Blue Jays RHP Sergio Santos has been shut down for the season and will undergo shoulder surgery after experiencing pain during a throwing session on Saturday. ... Indians LHP Rafael Perez (strained back muscle) pitched one scoreless inning for Double-A Akron on Saturday, followed by a brief bullpen session. He's scheduled to throw again Monday, Acta said. ... Brantley extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a leadoff double in the second. He went 2 for 3 with a second double in the ninth, raising his average to .302. ... Oliver's save was just the sixth of his career. His last came April 27, 2011, against Toronto, when he was pitching for Texas. ... The Indians drop to 1-14 when they have five hits or fewer. ... Asdrubal Cabrera snapped an 0 for 16 slump with a single in the first.