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HOU@TOR: Morrow fans nine over six innings in victory

TORONTO -- Brandon Morrow showed just how good he can be by attacking early and often during an impressive start against the Astros.

Toronto's right-hander seemed to be a man on a mission throughout the early stages of Wednesday night's game. Morrow got ahead in a lot of counts and was blowing away opposing hitters with upper-90s velocity.

Morrow secured the Blue Jays' first series victory of the year by striking out nine and allowing three runs over six innings, while Brett Lawrie homered in a 7-3 win in front of 13,559 fans at Rogers Centre.

"I thought he was very aggressive tonight and he had that look about him, too," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He was confident and that's what he's capable of doing. Everybody has seen him around here, when he's out there, he's pretty [darn] good, so it's something to build off of."

Morrow started the game by striking out the side on just 14 pitches. He hit 98 mph on the radar gun three times with the rest of his pitches in the 96-97 range. It was an overpowering display, but most importantly, almost all of the pitches were attacking the zone and forcing a lot of bad swings by Houston's lineup.

There were two more strikeouts in the second and one more in the third. Morrow didn't allow anyone to reach base until a leadoff walk in the fourth that was shortly followed by a one-out single off the bat of catcher Jason Castro. That's when Morrow and starting catcher Dioner Navarro started to make a change in their strategy.

Morrow began to mix in some curveballs and split-finger fastballs to keep the opposing hitters off-balance. The velocity on his fastball dipped a little bit as the night progressed, but he was able to compensate for that by going to his full arsenal.

"I had a really good fastball and I had a really good slider tonight," said Morrow, who recorded his first quality start since May 5, 2013. "Second time through, they had seen the stuff so that's when we started flipping some curveballs up there, using the split a little bit more. Not throwing guys the same way each time through, mixing it up, going to my strengths when we were ahead and getting them off the fastball when we were behind."

Morrow did appear to hit a wall in the sixth. Houston's Dexter Fowler led off the sixth with a single and then came around to score one batter later when Alex Presley hit a first-pitch slider over the wall in right-center field for his second homer of the season. Morrow allowed another run later in the inning after Jose Altuve tripled and eventually scored on a grounder to third.

The 29-year-old Morrow got out of the sixth, but he did not come back for the seventh. He was charged with three runs on five hits, one walk and the nine strikeouts were the most Morrow's had in a game since he struck out 10 vs Oakland on May 9, 2012.

"When he throws mid-90s, sometimes he can speed you up at the plate and you may have to make quicker decisions, and sometimes you swing at something you don't want to swing at because of that," Presley said. "Just didn't want to give in to his secondary stuff and let him pump a fastball in there and get to that, it even just makes it tougher on yourself."

Toronto also made things relatively easy on Morrow by giving him some early run support. Izturis, who was promoted to the second spot in the lineup prior to Tuesday's game, got things started with a single up the middle. Jose Bautista then followed with an opposite-field RBI double and he later scored on an RBI single by Edwin Encarnacion.

The Blue Jays added three more in the sixth and once again it was Izturis who played a major role. Izturis singled home Melky Cabrera for his second hit of the game, which marked the fifth time in seven games this season he has recorded multiple hits. Houston third baseman Matt Dominguez then allowed the floodgates to open when he fielded a tailor-made double-play grounder off the bat of Navarro, but he threw the ball into right field as two more runs scored.

Right-hander Lucas Harrell allowed all five of those runs -- four earned -- on seven hits and three walks while striking out two. Lawrie later put the game out of reach when he sent a two-run shot into the left-field bullpen for his first home run of the year and just his fourth hit in 33 at-bats.

"Definitely good, more or less to get us a couple of more runs there because they stung us there, kind of battled back and got within reaching distance," Lawrie said. "So it was good to put us back on top and put it out of reach kind of later in the game."

The Blue Jays have won their first series and will look to complete the three-game sweep on Thursday night. A sweep would be exactly what the team needs before heading out on a nine-game road trip through Baltimore, Minnesota and Cleveland.

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