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SEA@TOR: Morrow fans nine over six shutout innings

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays entered Saturday's contest against the Mariners riding a season-high four-game losing streak and turned to No. 2 starter Brandon Morrow in an attempt to end the funk.

After a dejecting extra-inning loss the night before, Morrow, who was facing his former team for the third time since being traded to the Blue Jays in 2009, delivered a stellar outing.

The right-hander experienced very little difficulty against Seattle, striking out a season-high nine batters, and Edwin Encarnacion provided the offense to help guide the Blue Jays to a 7-0 victory over the Mariners at Rogers Centre.

"He has this capability every time he steps to the mound," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said of Morrow, who improved to 2-1 and lowered his ERA to 3.03. "When you combine a well-above-average fastball with the command that he showed today in addition to three other off-speed pitches, he has the ability to not only take over the game, but dominate the opposition."

The flamethrower relied on his upper-90s fastball and slider to bury the Mariners' lineup and surrendered just five hits to improve to 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA lifetime against Seattle.

A high pitch count was the only thing that held Morrow back, as he lasted six innings after throwing 104 pitches -- 66 of those for strikes, but Farrell said he will gladly exchange the high number of pitches if his starter can continue to turn in dominating efforts like he did Saturday.

"When the strikeouts come, the pitch count might run up a little bit and that was the case today but we will take six shutout innings every time he takes the mound," Farrell said.

Not only did the nine strikeouts eclipse his previous season high of four, it was the first time in Morrow's career as a starter that he didn't walk a batter. The 27-year-old stuck to his normal game plan and said he didn't try to do anything extra just because he was facing his old team. Rather, he had extra motivation because he wanted to help dig Toronto out of its mini-slump.

"When you get in a rut like that, you need something to spark you," Morrow said. "Also, I hadn't pitched well at home this year and didn't pitch well at home last year. I needed to get it going here at the Rogers Centre, too."

Morrow's velocity was down his first few starts of the season, but he's routinely thrown 95-plus mph in his last two starts, and Saturday it helped him produce the high strikeout total. Morrow entered the game averaging just 4.05 strikeouts per nine innings after leading the American League with 10.19 last season.

"He has a good arm," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "When he's throwing that hard slider and mixing in his other secondary stuff the way he did today, as well as spotting up his fastball, you're going to have your work cut out."

Toronto's offense provided Morrow with an early cushion, as the club jumped on Mariners starter Kevin Millwood in a three-run third inning. After Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson started off the frame with back-to-back singles, Jose Bautista hit a hard grounder to third that Kyle Seager was unable to come up with, allowing Escobar to score the first run of the game.

Adam Lind followed Bautista with a ground-rule double to left, his second hit of the game, that scored Johnson, and Encarnacion capped off the inning with a sacrifice fly to left to put the Blue Jays ahead 3-0.

Encarnacion was not done there, as the designated hitter continued his hot start to 2012 by hitting a grand slam -- the fourth of his career -- off Mariners reliever Hisashi Iwakuma in the eighth inning to give the Blue Jays a 7-0 lead. The homer was his team-leading sixth of the year and increased his RBI total to 19, also tops among all Blue Jays.

Encarnacion has been the catalyst of an offense that has seen sporadic production from a number of its players, and his fast start is a stark contrast to the numbers he put up last April.

On April 28, 2011, Encarnacion was batting just .269 with zero homers and six RBIs. Farrell identified what has allowed the Dominican native to thrive early on.

"It's a two-handed swing. You don't see a top-hand release like you did a year ago, and it has enabled him to be that much more compact and keep his front shoulder on line," Farrell said. "It's a much shorter swing and he's seeing the ball well, swinging the bat with a lot of confidence."

Although the game got out of hand late, Millwood was effective other than the three-run third, as the righty lasted seven innings and walked two while striking out four. The seven innings were a season high for Millwood, but he has now dropped four straight games against the Blue Jays dating back to 2010.

Lind's pair of hits were the first he's gotten off Millwood in his career, snapping an 0-for-16 skid against the veteran.

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