DETROIT — The Toronto Blue Jays can win an occasional pitching duel, too — or at least hold their own until Brett Lawrie and the rest of their sluggers finally break through.
In a game that was scoreless until the ninth inning, Lawrie’s three-run homer highlighted a big burst for the Blue Jays, who then held on for a 5-3 win over the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday night.
Drew Hutchison pitched seven scoreless innings for Toronto, which now has the second-best record in the American League but still faces questions about the sturdiness of its starting rotation.
“He looks like a veteran out there,” Lawrie said. “He’s throwing the ball very well for us. He’s keeping us in ballgames.”
The Blue Jays have a team ERA of 4.07, and aside from Mark Buehrle, their pitching has been shaky. But Hutchison was sharp against Detroit, allowing three hits without a walk and striking out seven.
If Toronto can pitch like that, Lawrie, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and the rest of the lineup should be able to provide enough offence.
“I didn’t really get going and get into a good rhythm until probably about the fourth or the fifth,” Hutchison said. “Obviously, I believe I’m a good pitcher, and I’m capable of doing that every night, and that’s what I expect out of myself.”
Anibal Sanchez matched Hutchison with seven scoreless innings, but both bullpens came unglued in the ninth. The Blue Jays broke loose against Joe Nathan (2-2) to win this matchup of the AL East and AL Central leaders.
In his first season with the Tigers, Nathan’s ERA is now an unsightly 6.86 after he was charged with four runs Tuesday.
“I’m at a loss for words. I thought I threw pretty well,” Nathan said. “I’ve got to be better. A lot of bad luck out there, too. But the biggest thing is another loss for the team.”
The 39-year-old right-hander walked Anthony Gose to start the ninth — Toronto’s first baserunner since the fourth inning. Gose stole second and went to third on a single by Jose Reyes. After a popup by Melky Cabrera gave the Tigers hope of escaping the jam, Bautista put the Blue Jays ahead with an RBI single up the middle.
Bautista’s grounder slipped between shortstop Andrew Romine and second baseman Ian Kinsler.
Romine appeared to shy away at the last second, as if Kinsler’s presence distracted him, but it wasn’t clear if the ball was hit hard enough for an inning-ending double play anyway.
“I’m not sure if Romine thought Ian was going to get to the ball or Ian thought Romine would get the ball,” Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said. “I thought it was going to be a double play ball at the time, but it was more in the middle than I could tell from my angle.”
Nathan nearly picked Reyes off third, but the safe call was upheld after a replay review. After Encarnacion walked to load the bases, pinch-hitter Kevin Pillar hit a sacrifice fly off Ian Krol for the game’s second run.
Lawrie then went deep off Al Alburquerque for his ninth homer of the year.
J.D. Martinez hit a three-run homer with two outs in the ninth for the Tigers. Casey Janssen came on and struck out Don Kelly for his ninth save in 10 chances.
Dustin McGowan (3-2) worked the eighth for the win.
The Tigers avoided a second straight shutout, but Detroit has lost three straight.
Sanchez allowed two hits with five strikeouts and no walks.