ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) - Carlos Villanueva struggled at Tropicana Field again.
Villanueva allowed seven runs in just 2 1-3 innings of the Toronto Blue Jays' 12-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night.
"It was like, anything I threw up there they hit," Villanueva said. "I had nothing behind the ball. It's difficult. Feeling physically fine, but having nothing behind the ball is a horrible feeling. They were jumping all over me, and got me out there quick."
Villanueva (7-6) won his first six decisions this season, but he has won only once in 10 starts - a 2-0 victory over Tampa Bay at home on Aug. 30. He dropped to 0-3 at Tropicana Field, where he has yielded five homers, 18 earned runs and 24 hits in 12 innings.
"They swung the bat very well against him, that's obvious," Toronto manager John Farrell said. "When he's been good, he's had good teeth to the break of the slider, and that wasn't the case. He was a little flat."
Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar remained out of the starting lineup despite being eligible to return after serving a three-game suspension for wearing eye-black displaying an anti-gay slur written in Spanish during a game last weekend against Boston.
He entered Friday's game as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning and singled off Brandon Gomes.
"I think just most importantly to get back and see some live pitching," Farrell said. "It's been since Saturday since he's seen any live pitching. So with our thought that he would be ready to go (Saturday), a chance to get him an at-bat we thought was helpful."
Yan Gomes followed with a double that drove in Toronto's only run.
Escobar served the penalty this week during a trio of losses to the New York Yankees.
"When we met earlier today it became increasingly clear during that discussion that he needs another day to get back and be ready to play a major league game," Farrell said. "It's not so much staying in shape or baseball activity, it's just about how he's dealing with the fallout of what he did. He's remorseful for what took place, and as a result he needs another day to get things in line."
James Shields pitched seven shutout innings, and Tampa Bay's suddenly potent offense scored in bunches to help the Rays continue an uphill battle to remain in playoff contention.
Ben Zobrist and Jose Molina homered in support of Shields (15-9), who limited the Blue Jays to six singles and struck out nine to reach 200 for the second straight year. He fanned J.P. Arencibia leading off the second inning, giving the Rays the American League single-season record for strikeouts.
Luke Scott drove in four runs with a pair of doubles for the Rays, who are 4½ games behind Oakland in the race for the second AL wild card.
Zobrist hit a solo homer in the first, and Molina had a two-run shot in the second against Villanueva.
The Rays won for only the fourth time in 11 games, but the three-game winning streak that followed manager Joe Maddon's decision to shut down batting practice and allow players to arrive at the ballpark a little later has revived hope that the team can make the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
Maddon changed the pregame routine after his offense continued to sputter in losing Monday and Tuesday to begin a four-game series against Boston. After scoring 13 runs on Wednesday, the Rays used a six-run ninth to beat the Red Sox again Thursday. They had 16 hits on Friday.
Rays pitchers began the night with 1,264 strikeouts, two shy of the 2001 Yankees. Shields struck out Brett Lawrie and Edwin Encarnacion in the first, then got Arencibia swinging on a 2-2 pitch to begin the second.
The major league record is 1,404, set by the 2003 Chicago Cubs. The Rays have struck out 1,275 with 11 games remaining.
NOTES: Toronto has lost four in a row and eight of 10. ... The Blue Jays traded C Yorvit Torrealba to the Milwaukee Brewers for a player to be named or cash. ... Dating to 2007, Toronto has lost 16 consecutive road series to the Rays, who have won six of seven against the Blue Jays at Tropicana Field this year. ... Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher used a hockey stick to shoot the ceremonial first pitch from the mound across home plate.