The right-hander pitched six shut out innings as the Blue Jays defeated the Kansas City Royals 4-1 on Wednesday.
“I felt good today,” Villanueva said. “I felt like I really knew what I wanted to do one through nine.”
Villanueva (3-0) held the Royals to four hits and no walks while striking out seven in his second start since coming out of the bullpen to bolster an injury-depleted starting rotation.
“He pitched very well to his scouting report,” manager John Farrell said. “His ability to execute four different pitches for strikes disrupted a lot of hitters timing.”
The Blue Jays were able to score just enough runs with Yunel Escobar driving in two with a single and a sacrifice fly.
Rajai Davis had a triple and a sacrifice fly, while Kelly Johnson also had sacrifice fly as the Blue Jays won their second straight over the Royals.
Casey Janssen pitched the ninth inning for his 11th save and second in the past two games for Toronto (42-40).
Luis Mendoza (3-5) allowed nine hits, one walk and three runs while setting a career high of nine strikeouts over six innings for the Royals (36-44).
Villanueva shared the credit with catcher J.P. Arencibia.
“He did the home work and we talked a little bit before the game and exactly what we wrote down today in the report is what we took out there," Villanueva said. “We knew exactly what we wanted to do. The two times I did shake him the ball was hit hard.”
Villanueva, who is a long reliever, also made 13 starts for Toronto last season.
“Every time we’ve asked him to go into this role he has stabilized a game right from the start and has just done an outstanding job for us,” Farrell said.
“He's a kid that really pitches,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He's got an above average curveball, he's got an above average changeup that he can command, he spots his fastball really well.”
The Jays opened the scoring in the second with Davis' triple and a sac fly by Johnson. Singles by J.P. Arencibia and Brett Lawrie and a walk to Colby Rasmus loaded the bases with two out for Jose Bautista who struck out.
Escobar and Davis hit sacrifice flies in the third to put the Blue Jays into a 3-0 lead. Edwin Encarnacion led off with an infield hit on a slow grounder to second and both Mendoza and first baseman Eric Hosmer wound up covering first.
Mendoza took the throw but he left the bag to get out Hosmer's way.
“I called it and then he called it,” Mendoza said. “For me it was hard to stop. I should have let Hos make that play. I was just a little confused.”
Adam Lind sliced a double to left to set up the sacrifice flies.
Jason Frasor took over from Villanueva in the seventh. He allowed a leadoff walk to Billy Butler but Yuniesky Betancourt rapped into a double play.
But Mike Moustakas singled and Jeff Francoeur hit a liner to left that Davis played into a run-scoring triple as the ball skipped past him to the fence.
The Blue Jays scored a run against Kelvin Herrera in the seventh on a single by Rasmus, a two-out walk to Lind and a single by Escobar.
Notes: Attendance at Rogers Centre was 17,831. ... After the game right-hander Scott Richmond of North Vancouver, B.C., was returned to triple-A Las Vegas on option with a reliever likely to be called up. ....Left-hander Jamie Moyer, who is on a minor-league contract, allowed seven earned runs in six innings for triple-A Las Vegas in an 11-6 loss to Reno on Tuesday. Moyer is 1-1 with an earned-run average of 8.18 in two starts for the 51s. ..Lind who has three home runs since his return from Las Vegas batted fifth and was designated hitter in Wednesday's game with Johnson dropped to eighth. In Lind's seven previous starts since his return, he batted eighth. ...Encarnacion extended his hit streak to 10 games with his first-inning single . ....Henderson Alvarez (5-6, 4.33 ERA) will start the series finale on Thursday for Toronto against Luke Hochevar (5-8, 5.23 ERA).