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HOU@TOR: Villar hits a three-run blast to center

TORONTO -- If the Astros' first 10 games are any indication of what's to come in 2014, one thing the club won't be short on is power.

Houston has been hitting the ball out of the park with great frequency so far this season and Thursday's series finale against the Blue Jays was no different.

Home runs from Robbie Grossman, Jonathan Villar and Jason Castro, and a strong performance by starter Dallas Keuchel helped the Astros drop the Blue Jays, 6-4, in front of a crowd of 15,778 at Rogers Centre.

"It's always nice," Keuchel said of the run support. "I have full confidence in everybody. You are starting to see Grossman and Castro swing the bat like they can. It's fun right now, and nice to get out of here with this one win."

Houston avoided getting swept and snapped a three-game losing skid with the victory, while upping its home run total to 14 on the year, which ranks second in the American League. The last time the Astros hit at least 14 homers through their first 10 games was during a 92-win 2004 season.

Grossman was the first of the three to go yard and busted out of an 0-for-25 skid at the plate by launching a two-run homer, his first of the season, off knuckleballer R.A. Dickey to give the Astros a 2-0 lead.

Prior to the game, Houston players took cuts in the batting cages against Astros radio color analyst Steve Sparks, a former big-league knuckleballer, to help prepare for Dickey. The club believes the session with Sparks helped play a role in Thursday's win.

"[We're] thankful that Sparks could come down and throw to get the look of the knuckleball because you never see it," said Grossman, who went 1-for-2 with two walks and two runs scored.

Villar added a three-run shot, his second homer of the year, off Dickey in the seventh inning to give Houston a 5-1 lead, while Castro added a solo blast off Esmil Rogers to lead off the eighth.

The three-run blast by Villar proved to be crucial, as the Blue Jays rallied in the ninth inning and put three runs on the board against reliever Josh Fields before Anthony Bass notched his first save of the season by getting Maicer Izturis to ground out to end the contest.

While Houston's power display was impressive, so, too, was Keuchel.

Keuchel did what he usually does and that's record outs on the ground. The lefty entered the start with the third highest groundball rate in the AL since the start of last season, and got eight outs on the ground Thursday. Keuchel, who bounced back strong from a mediocre outing during his first start of the season, said his two-seam fastball was a major weapon for him against Toronto.

"Dallas Keuchel was outstanding," manager Bo Porter said. "Plus and minus with his fastball, pitching to both sides of the plate, threw some really good breaking balls, and threw his changeup behind in the count. Just pitchability and he really showed it tonight against a really good hitting lineup."

The 26-year-old Keuchel lasted seven innings and allowed one run on five hits while punching out six. Keuchel's lone blemish was a solo homer to Colby Rasmus in the fifth, but he got out of the inning and stranded one runner on base after Melky Cabrera grounded out to end the frame.

Cabrera hit a ball at third baseman Matt Dominguez, who did not field it cleanly but was able to recover and fire it to first to narrowly beat the Blue Jays left fielder at the bag. Toronto challenged the play but lost after the call was confirmed following a review of one minute and 21 seconds.

Keuchel has gone at least seven innings in all three of his career starts vs. the Blue Jays.

Dickey, meanwhile, lasted seven frames, allowing five runs on six hits while walking three and striking out four. After cruising through the first four innings, the long ball ended up plaguing Dickey and cost him the ball game.

"It was a real surprise when I have a knuckleball like that and have the outcome that we had," Dickey said. "I had really good command of it early on ... I literally felt I was going to throw a complete game."

Dexter Fowler has hit safely in all five games he has started this season after recording a fifth-inning single off Dickey.

The Astros will continue their six-game road trip with three games against the Rangers starting Friday.

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