TORONTO — Aaron Sanchez was very impressive during his stint as a closer last year.
He’s starting to show the same form in his first season as a starter.
Sanchez pitched into the ninth inning and did not walk a batter as the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Houston Astros 6-2 on Friday night at Rogers Centre.
The 22-year-old right-hander allowed one earned run and six hits while striking out three. He retired the first nine batters in order and looked dominant over eight innings before giving up a solo homer to Jason Castro in the ninth.
It was his fourth straight quality start and he trimmed his earned-run average to 3.55 from 3.88.
"Now he’s just doing it but he’s having to do it for more innings," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. "He keeps getting better and better every time he goes out there."
Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes hit two-run homers to power the Blue Jays to their third straight victory. Chris Colabello had three hits for his 10th multi-hit game of the season.
Sanchez (5-4) was pulled after giving up back-to-back singles in the ninth and left to a standing ovation. Reliever Roberto Osuna struck out the side to help Toronto (26-30) take the opener in the three-game series.
The Blue Jays did most of their damage in a five-run third inning against Houston starter Roberto Hernandez (2-5). That was more than enough support for Sanchez, who threw 66 of his 103 pitches for strikes.
"Really it was easy to watch," Gibbons said. "A lot of ground balls, strike after strike."
Sanchez, who was 2-2 with a 1.09 ERA in 24 relief appearances last season, said his goal was to get some shutdown innings after he was given the big lead.
"I felt like I did a good job of that and the next thing I know I’m in the ninth," he said.
Houston (34-22) entered play with the best record in the American League and had won its last seven meetings against Toronto.
Kevin Pillar reached on an infield single in the third inning and scored when Reyes hit his first homer of the season. Josh Donaldson followed with a single and came around on Bautista’s rainbow blast that landed in the second deck just inside the left-field pole.
It was Bautista’s ninth homer of the year. The Blue Jays tacked on another run in the frame when Edwin Encarnacion doubled and scored on a Colabello single.
"This is a dangerous lineup that feasts on hittable pitches," said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. "They strung together five or six in a row and got balls on the barrel."
Sanchez gave up an infield single to leadoff man George Springer in the fourth inning but got Jose Altuve to hit into a double play on the next pitch and then got Preston Tucker on a groundout.
In the fifth, Sanchez gave up a one-out single to former Blue Jays outfielder Colby Rasmus before Luis Valbuena hit into a double play. Toronto outhit Houston 9-6.
Hernandez was pulled after giving up a run with two outs in the sixth inning. He allowed nine hits, five earned runs and two walks while striking out one.
Announced attendance was 22,971 and the game took two hours 35 minutes to play.
Notes: It was Castro’s sixth home run of the season. … Colabello’s 15-game hitting streak is the longest active streak in the major leagues. … Toronto right-hander Drew Hutchison (4-1, 5.26 earned-run average) is scheduled to start on Saturday against left-hander Brett Oberholtzer (0-0, 3.24). … Before the game, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said trade talks have picked up of late and he expects discussions to ramp up even more after next week’s draft. He also confirmed the team is interested in veteran free-agent reliever Rafael Soriano. … Heavy rain fell outside the stadium in the late afternoon but the sun came out in the early evening. The retractable roof was opened shortly before the 7:07 p.m. ET first pitch.