Cecil sizzles, helps Jays avoid sweep
Rolen homers to back rookie's seven frames of one-run ball
TORONTO -- Before Sunday's game, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston sat at his desk and mused on the events of the past few days. The Jays were wrapping up a homestand that wasn't a disaster, but wasn't what it should have been, as defensive miscues and bullpen letdowns squandered leads, and quiet bats laid lights-out pitching to waste.
"It wasn't so much as the hitters [Saturday], it was the pitchers," Gaston said. "We haven't been able to put them together yet."
Toronto was finally able to get all parts of the team working together on Sunday, as another impressive outing by rookie left-hander Brett Cecil and a well-timed stroke of power by Scott Rolen sent the Jays to a 5-1 victory over the Rays at Rogers Centre.
The win avoided a sweep at the hands of Tampa Bay and snapped a three-game losing skid for Toronto (48-51) that began with a two-error night in which three unearned runs sealed the loss, saw a two-run, nine-inning effort by ace Roy Halladay spoiled by a lack of offense that led to a 10-inning defeat, and ended with a game in which the Jays blew a 9-1 lead before taking a disheartening loss in extra frames on Saturday.
After taking the tough loss, Gaston was impressed with the way his players -- and especially the 23-year-old Cecil -- conducted themselves on Sunday.
"He set the tone today," Gaston said of the rookie. "I'm proud of these guys and the way they came back and played today, because yesterday was a tough day for all of us, the way we lost. It's hard to come back and get yourself up to play like they played today, but I think Cecil set the tone for us in the way he pitched."
Cecil entered the game having posted six- and seven-inning shutouts in his previous two starts, and although he couldn't keep the Rays off the board, he pitched more than well enough to give Toronto the win. The rookie allowed one run on four hits, walking three and striking out seven in seven innings.
"[Cecil was] throwing a lot of offspeed stuff -- mixing his fastball in, hitting his spots," Rays center fielder B.J. Upton said. "Obviously we'd never seen him before. I think it's just something we have to keep in the memory bank for next time."
After allowing two hits in the first inning, Cecil (4-1) allowed only one baserunner through the fifth. In the sixth, Carl Crawford took an 0-1 offering from Cecil to right field for a solo home run, snapping a streak of 18 consecutive scoreless innings for the lefty.
"I'd like to say he pitched ahead -- he kind of got behind in the last two innings," Gaston said. "But the thing about him is that he never stopped battling. He might've gotten behind, had trouble, but he worked his way out of it, and that's what you've got to look at."
Cecil, who has spent less time poring over video before his past few starts, gives credit to catcher Rod Barajas for helping the young pitcher handle one of the American League's most potent lineups.
"[I was] just following right along with Barajas -- he knows these guys better than I do," Cecil said. "He and [pitching coach Brad Arnsberg] sit down before every game and go over the hitters and kind of leave me out of it."
With Cecil holding Tampa Bay's bats at bay, Rolen dealt the decisive blow in the fourth inning. Second baseman Aaron Hill led off the inning with a single to right field, and designated hitter Adam Lind followed suit before Rolen fired a 1-2 pitch from Rays right-hander Jeff Niemann (9-5) over the wall in left-center field to open a 3-0 lead for the Jays.
"When you talk about Rolen, you talk about [shortstop Marco] Scutaro and Aaron, Lind, all those guys -- when you start talking about those guys, you're talking about the most valuable player on this team," Gaston said.
"All of those guys certainly have played in that way, and Rolen's really been -- ever since I put him in that fourth spot -- he's just responded great. He's been a leader out there and one of our leading players."
The Jays added another pair of runs in the sixth and seventh innings when Lind and first baseman Lyle Overbay both hit leadoff doubles and came around to score to widen Toronto's lead to 5-1.
With the Jays holding a four-run advantage over the Rays (54-45), Gaston turned to the bullpen in the eighth. While the club's relief corps has struggled over the course of the homestand -- three of the team's past four losses have been charged to the 'pen -- the last couple of innings on Sunday were refreshingly uneventful. Brandon League allowed a leadoff double before striking out the side in the eighth, and Jason Frasor pitched a perfect ninth to keep the lead intact.
The win brought to an end a 4-5 homestand for the Jays in which all but one of the losses had been either by one run or in extra innings.
"It's not just yesterday, it seems like it's been a trend," Barajas said. "Every single game we lose, it seems like it's one or two runs."
For the catcher, Sunday's win was an ideal way to bounce back from Saturday's debacle and head out on a West Coast road trip on a positive note.
"Just to be able to get out in front of them early and being able to keep them down, the bullpen coming in and doing what they're capable of doing ... it's just nice to see a game played like we were playing the games early on, and we'd like to keep that consistency and have everybody contribute like we did today," Barajas said.
Erika Gilbert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.