TORONTO — When Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow is on his game, his stuff can be electric and will often leave opposing hitters handcuffed.
He displayed that dominant form in a solid six-inning performance Wednesday night as Toronto defeated the Houston Astros 7-3 at Rogers Centre.
Morrow struck out nine batters as the Blue Jays (5-4) locked up their first series win of the young season and moved over the .500 mark in the process. The veteran right-hander was hitting the high 90’s with his fastball and retired the first nine batters in order, fanning six along the way.
“He was throwing the crap out of the ball … he was using all of his pitches really (well) and he gave us a real shot to win the game,” said Toronto catcher Dioner Navarro.
The Blue Jays staked Morrow to an early two-run lead and gave him a 5-0 cushion after five innings. The Astros battled back with three runs in the sixth before Brett Lawrie of Langley, B.C., provided some insurance with a two-run shot an inning later for his first homer of the season.
“They stung us there and battled back and got within reaching distance there, so it was good to put us back on top and put it out of reach later in the game,” Lawrie said.
Melky Cabrera, Maicer Izturis and Navarro had two hits apiece as Toronto outhit the Astros 10-6.
Morrow (1-1) struck out the side in the first inning. The Astros didn’t put a man on base until the fourth, when leadoff man Dexter Fowler walked and moved to third on Jason Castro’s one-out single.
That didn’t faze Morrow — he struck out cleanup man Jose Altuve and fanned Chris Carter to get out of the jam.
“He was throwing a lot of split-fingers and sliders and we were kind of fishing at them,” said Astros outfielder Alex Presley.
Morrow allowed five hits and three earned runs in his first quality start since May 5th, 2013.
It was the first time he had struck out at least nine batters in a game since an 11-strikeout performance against the Minnesota Twins on Oct. 3, 2012.
“I thought he was very aggressive tonight and he had that look about him too,” said Toronto manager John Gibbons. “I mean he was confident, but that’s what he’s capable of doing … it’s something to build off of.”
Toronto’s timely hitting and some poor defensive play by the Astros helped the Blue Jays score three runs in the fifth. Cabrera singled, stole second and scored on a single by Izturis.
Jose Bautista walked and the runners advanced when Edwin Encarnacion grounded out weakly to the first-base side.
After Adam Lind was intentionally walked to load the bases, Navarro hit a tailor-made double play ball to Matt Dominguez but the third baseman made an errant throw that allowed two runs to score.
The Astros did all of their damage in the sixth inning. Fowler singled to centre and Presley followed with a two-run homer to deep right-centre field.
Altuve tripled and scored when Carter grounded out. Encarnacion made a nice play at first base by short-hopping a chopper from Marc Krauss and stepping on the bag for the third out.
In the bottom of the sixth, Ryan Goins reached on a walk but was later picked off by Williams. Gibbons came out to talk to the umpire but didn’t challenge the call as the replays the Blue Jays saw were inconclusive.
Triple-A callup Neil Wagner came on in the seventh inning and retired the Astros in order. Lawrie turned on a 2-1 pitch from Josh Zeid, who relieved Williams after he left the game due to a right groin strain.
Toronto reliever Steve Delabar recorded one out in the ninth before taking a liner off his lower right leg. He limped off the field and was replaced by Esmil Rogers, who got the final two outs.
Announced attendance was 13,569 and the game took three hours nine minutes to play. The Blue Jays will go for a sweep of the three-game series on Thursday night.