TORONTO (AP) — Shutout losses are becoming a troubling trend for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Carlos Villanueva pitched six sharp innings and the Toronto Blue Jays beat slumping Tampa Bay 2-0 on Thursday night, snapping a five-game losing streak against the Rays.
Tampa Bay lost for the fifth time in six games and dropped 1½ games behind Baltimore for the second AL wild-card berth. The Rays have been blanked twice in the past three games, and six of their nine shutout losses this season have come in the past 25 games.
“We’ve played that story way too often and we’ve got to get by it somehow,” manager Joe Maddon said.
Tampa Bay, beaten 1-0 at Texas on Tuesday, has lost a major league-worst 10 times when allowing two runs or less.
“There’s not a whole lot to say about it,” outfielder Sam Fuld said. “You just try to bounce back.”
Kelly Johnson hit a two-run double in the first inning and Toronto won consecutive games for the first time since Aug. 12-13, improving to 3-9 against the Rays this season.
Pitching despite an illness, Villanueva (7-4) allowed five hits — all singles — to win for the first time since July 27 against Detroit. The right-hander had gone 0-4 in five starts since, despite never allowing more than four earned runs. He walked one and struck out seven, including six straight during one stretch to tie a club record.
“Carlos was fighting a low-grade fever all afternoon and through the six innings he pitched tonight,” Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. “But he was outstanding again.”
It was the first win in five career appearances against Tampa Bay for Villanueva, who entered 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA against the Rays. He said the illness forced him to work slowly and conserve as much energy as possible.
“It’s just satisfying to beat Tampa,” Villanueva said. “They’ve given me a lot of trouble since I came to the East last year.”
Fuld praised Villanueva’s command and his assortment of off-speed pitches.
“His changeup is really good and the slider I saw from him came out of his hand like a fastball,” Fuld said. “That’s the definition of good off-speed stuff, the stuff that looks like a fastball out of the hand, and that was certainly the case tonight.”
Darren Oliver and Brad Lincoln each worked one inning and Casey Janssen finished for his 18th save in 21 chances.
The hard-luck loser was Rays rookie left-hander Matt Moore, who allowed two runs and six hits in six innings. Moore walked three, two in the decisive first inning, and struck out seven. The loss was his first since July 22 against Seattle.
Moore (10-8) got two quick outs in the first but couldn’t wrap things up. Edwin Encarnacion walked, Adam Lind singled and Yunel Escobar walked to load the bases for Johnson, who doubled into the right-field corner.
“Moore has got a good fastball and I was just looking for the first one I could handle,” Johnson said.
One strike from retiring Encarnacion, Moore said he regretted not going after the Toronto slugger.
“I quit what I was doing the first two hitters,” Moore said. “I don’t know what it was, it just felt like I was getting a little giddy, kind of jumping at the glove a little bit.”
Maddon acknowledged that Moore “wasn’t really sharp” but refused to pin the blame on him.
“I can’t really get on a young pitcher who gives up two runs in six innings,” Maddon said. “When you don’t score any runs you can’t cover any mistakes.”
Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce opened the second with back-to-back singles and moved up on Jeff Keppinger’s sacrifice, but the Rays couldn’t score. Luke Scott fouled out and Jose Lobaton was caught looking to end the inning.
Lobaton’s strikeout was the first of six straight by Villanueva, the fourth Toronto pitcher to achieve the feat and second this month: J.A. Happ fanned six straight against Texas on Aug. 17.
The Rays put runners at first and second with one out in the fifth, but No. 9 hitter Sam Fuld flied out and left fielder Rajai Davis caught Desmond Jennings’ sinking liner to keep Tampa Bay scoreless.
“We should have been able to score more than two runs tonight,” Maddon said. “We just got shut down.”
Rays slugger Carlos Pena, 0 for 17 with 10 strikeouts since his last base hit, was held out of the starting lineup. Scott started at first base and Joyce was the designated hitter.
NOTES: Blue Jays OF Jose Bautista (left wrist) will undergo season-ending surgery Sept. 4. He’s expected to be ready in time for spring training 2013. … Scott went 0 for 3, ending his hitting streak at a season-high 10 games. … Maddon said Longoria will start at DH on Friday. … Rays LHP David Price was delayed arriving in Toronto because he left his passport at home in Tampa, Fla. Price arranged for a friend to fly the passport from Florida to Texas, then he and the friend flew to Canada. … Blue Jays RHP Jason Frasor (forearm) struck out two in a scoreless inning for Class-A Dunedin. He’s expected to rejoin the team Saturday when rosters expand. … Ted Lilly and Marc Rzepczynski are the other Blue Jays pitchers to record six straight strikeouts. … Former Blue Jays OF Frank Catalanotto threw out the first pitch.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.