Outstanding pitching has been the theme of the second half for the Tampa Bay Rays , but it was the offense that helped them avoid a season-high fifth straight loss.
Matt Moore has generally received a nice boost from the Rays' bats - even though he's rarely needed it of late.
Moore has allowed seven runs in his last six starts, and he'll try to win a fifth straight decision Thursday night when visiting Tampa Bay opens this four-game set looking to continue its recent dominance of the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Rays (71-59) posted a 1.70 ERA from July 28-Aug. 23, sparking a 19-6 run that catapulted them from 3 1/2 games out of the AL's second wild-card position to a 2 1/2-game edge for the top spot.
Tampa Bay totaled 11 runs and fell back out of playoff position during a four-game skid, but the offense got going again Wednesday. Evan Longoria hit a two-run homer in the first inning - one of his two blasts - and B.J. Upton added a three-run shot in the second en route to an 8-4 win that pulled the Rays within one-half game of Baltimore for the second wild-card spot."We knew we had to jump out fast," Upton said. "We did that and kind of kept our foot down after that."
The Rays improved to 58-10 when they score at least four runs, and they've given Moore (10-7, 2.89 ERA) a team-high 5.58 runs of support per nine innings.
Moore gave up three runs in 6 1-3 innings Friday against Oakland, leaving without a decision in a 5-4 loss. The rookie left-hander was 4-0 with a 1.16 ERA in his previous five starts."I didn't use my changeup as much as I had been," Moore said. "It was more breaking ball and fastball. ... It was a little bit tougher to keep them off balance."
Tampa Bay has certainly kept Toronto (58-71) guessing at the plate in 2012. The Rays have won five straight and nine of the last 10 in the season series, posting a 2.05 ERA in that stretch.
Moore held the Blue Jays to one run and two hits over six innings in a 7-1 home win Aug. 9 after lasting only four innings in his first career outing at Toronto in May. This will be his first start at Rogers Centre.
The Jays are 14-22 against left-handed starters - only Cleveland is worse among AL clubs - but didn't have much trouble against one of the game's best Wednesday. Yunel Escobar went 4 for 5 with a homer and five RBIs as Toronto scored five runs off the Yankees' CC Sabathia in an 8-5 win.
By taking two of three, the Blue Jays won their first series since going 2-1 against Detroit from July 27-29.
"Anything positive that happens to the club is going to be welcomed right now," Escobar told the team's official website through interpreter Jose Bautista . "Winning a series on the road against the Yankees is something that's definitely positive, and I hope it can bring up the team morale a little bit."
Carlos Villanueva (6-4, 3.30) will try to end August on a positive note after going 0-4 with a 4.06 ERA in five starts this month. His worst outing came Friday at Baltimore, where he allowed four runs over 5 2-3 innings in a 6-4 loss.
Villanueva gave up three runs in six innings in St. Petersburg earlier this month to lower his ERA to 11.93 in seven games - two starts - versus Tampa Bay.
Ben Zobrist has three hits in six at-bats against Villanueva - all homers.
|Tampa Bay Rays|
|August 28, 2012||Matt Joyce||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left forearm|
|August 05, 2012||Ben Zobrist||Day-to-Day||Left game - upper back spasms|
|July 21, 2012||Luke Scott||15-Day DL||Right oblique strain|
|July 21, 2012||Alex Cobb||Day-to-Day||Left game - right knee contusion|
|July 21, 2012||Luke Scott||15-Day DL||Right oblique strain|
|July 02, 2012||Hideki Matsui||Day-to-Day||Left game - left hamstring tightness|
|Toronto Blue Jays|
|August 27, 2012||Henderson Alvarez||Day-to-Day||Left game - left shin contusion|
|August 27, 2012||Aaron Laffey||Day-to-Day||Left game - left calf contusion|
|August 26, 2012||Jose Bautista||15-Day DL||Left wrist inflammation|
|August 23, 2012||David Cooper||15-Day DL||Upper back soreness|
|August 22, 2012||David Cooper||Day-to-Day||Left game - jammed neck|
|August 19, 2012||David Cooper||Day-to-Day||Lower back tightness|
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 1 1/2 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.