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TOR@TEX: Cecil goes the distance for first shutout

ARLINGTON -- The emotion was clearly evident on Brett Cecil's face after he struck out Mike Napoli to record the first shutout of his career.

Cecil turned and let out a scream while punching the air in celebration. It was as though four months of frustration -- which included a long stint in the Minor Leagues -- were being released all at once.

The 25-year-old allowed just four hits in the best start of his career as Toronto defeated the Rangers, 3-0, on Sunday night at the Ballpark in Arlington.

"It's obviously a great accomplishment," said Cecil, who struck out a season-high seven and appeared to have little difficulty against the second-ranked offense in the American League. "I come back from where I was at the beginning of the season and kind of where I've been floating around the whole season.

"It has definitely been a big thing for me as far as getting back on the right path. I just hope it continues."

The Blue Jays lefty had previously thrown just one complete game in his career, which came on July 5, when he threw eight innings in a loss to the Red Sox. Cecil hadn't enjoyed a scoreless outing since a 7 1/3-innings performance on May 24, 2010, against the Angels.

That track record would have made Sunday's accomplishment special enough, but there was even more motivation for the native of Maryland. Cecil entered the game having allowed 15 earned runs in just seven innings during two previous career starts against Texas.

"They whipped my butt the last two times I faced them," Cecil said. "So I kind of felt like I owed them one.

"I almost pitched like I didn't care. You try to nitpick, nitpick, you end up missing over the plate or walking a lot of guys. It was just, outside fastball, OK, here you go. It worked out well for me."

Cecil didn't allow a runner to reach scoring position until the bottom of the eighth inning. Craig Gentry led off with a single just past the outstretched glove of shortstop Yunel Escobar.

Gentry moved up one batter later on a fly ball to left field. Cecil then retired the next two batters to escape the inning without any damage.

Cecil came back out to start the ninth and appeared to find another gear. Cecil, who was optioned to Triple-A in April after a mysterious loss in velocity, topped out at 94 mph in the final frame before eventually striking out Napoli to end the game.

The third-year pitcher is now 2-1 with a 2.40 ERA and three quality starts in his past four outings. That's a stark difference from the guy who was sent down to the Minors after going 1-2 with a 6.86 ERA in his first four starts.

Count catcher J.P. Arencibia among those who think the velocity problems from earlier in the year were overblown.

"I think the biggest thing is we got too caught up in his velocity drop and all that stuff," Arencibia said. "Sometimes that wears on you as a player, and I think he was trying to do too much.

"You see today, now he has his confidence back, he's throwing out there. He's at his best when he pitches 88-90 and he's down in the zone. There's a lot of guys that live and play for a long time doing that and are successful."

Cecil said one of the biggest differences for him on Sunday night was a change in his mechanics. He spent extra time working with pitching coach Bruce Walton in between starts and the two made an adjustment to his delivery.

When Cecil pitches in the windup he now brings his arms above his head, which allows him to keep his motion a little more compact and increases the ability to throw on a downward plane.

"I was going over my head and back down without a lot of movement with the hands," Cecil said. "Everything worked out good -- it made it a lot easier to repeat my delivery."

Rangers starter Alexi Ogando matched Cecil pitch for pitch through the first five innings. He allowed just three hits over that span while striking out six, but the 27-year-old began to experience some difficulty in the sixth.

Escobar led off with a single to right field. It was Escobar's third hit off Ogando, and he would end up reaching base four times.

The shortstop came around to score with the first run on an RBI double by Jose Bautista. Toronto's slugger now has three doubles and five RBIs in six games since returning from a twisted right ankle.

Edwin Encarnacion followed one batter later with an RBI double of his own to gap in left-center field. That snapped an 0-for-12 skid by the designated hitter and put the Blue Jays in front, 2-0.

Travis Snider followed with a double down the first-base line, which snapped an 0-for-16 skid and gave the native of Washington state his 10th double and 18th RBI since being called from Triple-A Las Vegas on July 4.

Ogando finished the inning but was pulled with two outs in the seventh. He allowed three runs on seven hits while striking out six. It was just his fourth loss of the season and first since June 25.

"Against a guy like Ogando, you know you're not going to have too many scoring opportunities, but we did a good job of bunching some hits together," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said.

With the victory, the Blue Jays avoided a three-game sweep and head back to Toronto to start a six-game homestand. All the talk after the game, though, was about Cecil's breakthrough performance.

"It was still Brett Cecil's night," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "You can get shut out by anybody if he's good and he's making pitches. If he's a Major League pitcher, there are going to be times when he pitches a heck of a game and tonight was his night." Comments