Romero aces Cards

The Toronto Blue Jays expected Ricky Romero to go deep into the game. Getting a major contribution from his bat was a huge bonus.

Ricky Romero

Ricky Romero

Blue Jays 5 Cardinals 0

ST. LOUIS — The Toronto Blue Jays expected Ricky Romero to go deep into the game. Getting a major contribution from his bat was a huge bonus.

Romero threw a four-hitter for his second career shutout and helped break it open with his first career hit as the Blue Jays whipped the St. Louis Cardinals 5-0 Sunday for a three-game sweep.

“I’m not a good hitter,” Romero said. “So it definitely feels good to help myself out in that situation.”

J.P. Arencibia homered and Yunel Escobar had two hits and an RBI for the Blue Jays, who had lost four in a row before arriving at Busch Stadium. All three starters worked at least six innings for Toronto, which climbed back to .500 and earned its first series sweep since May 13-15 at Minnesota.

Manager John Farrell said he anticipated in spring training that Romero would assume a leadership role in the rotation, and hasn’t been disappointed.

“He’s the lead guy and guys follow his example,” Farrell said. “He’s on a very good run in terms of total innings pitched but yet you look at total number of pitches thrown he’s been very efficient for the better part of two months.”

The Cardinals wound up a 3-6 homestand and have lost 12-of-15 overall. They are 1-5 since Albert Pujols was sidelined for an anticipated six weeks with a broken left wrist, and have scored three or fewer runs in four of those games.

“We’ve just got to play better, hit better, manage better, all that stuff,” manager Tony La Russa said. “When you only have one opportunity or two, you’re not doing enough offensively.”

Reinforcements are expected soon. Third baseman David Freese and utilityman Nick Punto are likely to come off the 15-day disabled list during the upcoming six-game trip starting Tuesday.

“I think any of our guys on the DL, if we can get them back it’s going to be huge,” pitcher Kyle McClellan said. “We’ve got a pretty good team on the DL.”

McClellan (6-4) gave up five runs in 5 1-3 innings. Romero got the big hit against him, a two-run single the other way, just inside the first-base line in a four-run sixth.

“It was up,” McClellan said.

“It wasn’t a good pitch. I ended up throwing it thigh high.”

Romero had been 0-for-14 with nine strikeouts for his career and 0-for-4 this year before the hit that made it 4-0.

Romero (7-7) threw his first shutout since May 15, 2010, against Texas. He struck out five, walked two and kept going after taking a liner off the top of his left foot on Lance Berkman’s infield hit with one out in the ninth, throwing one warmup pitch before resuming his attack against the Cardinals.

“It was just a little stinger at the time, but now it feels as if it didn’t get hit,” Romero said. “It feels fine.”

The left-hander retired the first 10 in order before Skip Schumaker singled with one out in the fourth. The Cardinals’ lone baserunner to make it into scoring position was Andrew Brown after getting a gift double in the fifth when both centre-fielder Corey Patterson and left fielder Juan Rivera pulled up on a catchable ball near the warning track.

In two career starts against the Cardinals, Romero hasn’t allowed a run in 17 innings. He worked eight scoreless innings in a 1-0 loss at Toronto June 23, 2010.

“Good sinker and he keeps you off-balance with the changeup to righties and the little cutter and curveball to lefties,” said Daniel Descalso, who was 0-for-2.

“When you run into him on a good day, he’s got shutdown stuff.”