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Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Carlos Villanueva throws to first base trying to pick-off Tampa Bay Rays base runner Ben Zobrist during the first inning of their American League baseball game in Toronto August 30, 2012. (MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS)
Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Carlos Villanueva throws to first base trying to pick-off Tampa Bay Rays base runner Ben Zobrist during the first inning of their American League baseball game in Toronto August 30, 2012. (MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS)

Villanueva making his case for Jays rotation in 2013 Add to ...

Maybe it was a matchup with the Tampa Bay Rays that did it. Maybe it was just another episode in the long litany of ills that have ailed the Toronto Blue Jays this season.

Either way, Carlos Villanueva woke up Thursday morning under the weather with the low-grade fever.

It mattered little.

The Dominican right-hander dominated the high-flying Rays in six shutout innings Thursday night, giving up just five hits and a walk and setting the stage for a 2-0 Blue Jays win.

Though Toronto manager John Farrell removed Villanueva after just 94 pitches, saying "he’d pretty much hit the wall at that point," he’d done more than enough, finally getting a small measure of revenge against a team that had given him problems in his short time in the American League East.

"It’s satisfying to beat Tampa," Villanueva said afterwards of a team against which he had a 9.00 earned-run average in four career appearances. "They’ve given me a lot of trouble since I came to the East last year so for me to come up there and throw, it doesn’t has to be such a good game but for me to be able to maintain two low-scoring games and give us a chance to win then it’s satisfying."

What made it doubly satisfying is that he continues to give the Toronto braintrust some food for thought when it comes to contemplating next year’s rotation. The converted reliever is eligible to be a free agent after this season, and while general manager Alex Anthopoulos has stated that the only certainties for next year are those with guaranteed contracts – Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow – Villanueva is certainly stating his case for one of the other three spots.

"If the Blue Jays want me, they’ll have the first option," Villanueva said. "I know after the season’s over they have a window, and even after that. If they want to talk to me, to my agent. Like I said before it’s taken me a while, a lot of sleepless nights to get to the time that I can actually at least have two teams to choose from."

Farrell was certainly happy to tip the cap in his right-hander’s direction, allowing Kelly Johnson’s two-run double in the first inning to stand up as the winning runs. The skipper pointed to an increased use of his fastball as key to his successful transition to the rotation.

"The one thing we made a point of when he came over to us at the start of last year was to use his fastball more," Farrell said. "I think the previous year he’d used his fastball only 38 per cent of the time, and even though it’s an average fastball in terms of velocity, it’s still what sets the tone and allows his secondary pitches to [be effective]. I think he’s firmed up his changeup a little bit this year, I think its more deceptive because of the added velocity to it – it looks like a fastball out of his hand."

And while Farrell wouldn’t comment on whether Villanueva will still be calling Toronto home next season – "That question will be answered in due time." – he’s certainly well aware of his importance to the team right now.

"He’s not only been effective but extremely valuable,’ Farrell said. "It’s not often you get a guy who’s pitched out of the bullpen the first two months of the season all of a sudden he’s pressed into the rotation and without extended innings at the minor-league level to stretch him out – he’s able to do it at this level here.

"So his versatility aside from the performance, it’s certainly a bonus, but you can’t take away from the fact he’s 7-4 with a low-three ERA and he’s done it against the best lineups the American League has to offer."

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