- Associated Press - Thursday, April 10, 2014

TORONTO (AP) - R.A. Dickey felt good about his knuckleball Thursday night.

Unfortunately for Dickey, so did the Houston Astros.

Robbie Grossman and Jonathan Villar homered off Dickey and the Astros avoided a three-game sweep, beating Dickey and the Toronto Blue Jays 6-4.

“It’s a real surprise when I have a knuckleball like that and we have the outcome that we had,” Dickey said. “I had really good command of it early on. It was moving so much, it felt great out of my hand.”

It felt good to Houston, too. Villar hit a three-run homer, Grossman had a two-run shot and Jason Castro added a solo shot as the Astros won for just the second time in eight games.

Dickey (1-2) was moved up a day to face Houston on regular rest, with right-hander and fifth starter Dustin McGowan pushed back to start Friday’s game at Baltimore.

Dickey allowed five runs and six hits in seven innings. He walked three and struck out four. “Some of the ones they hit were pretty good knuckleballs,” Dickey said. “They did a good job.”

Dickey allowed a career-worst 35 home runs in 34 starts last season, the second-highest total in the majors behind Oakland’s A.J. Griffin (36). Dickey had not allowed a homer in his first two starts this season.

The Astros prepared to face Dickey by taking swings in an indoor cage before the game against former major league knuckleballer Steve Sparks, now a Houston radio announcer.

It’s the same strategy manager Bo Porter employed before his team faced Dickey in Toronto last July 27. In that game, Houston had five runs and seven hits off Dickey in six innings, but couldn’t hold a lead and lost 12-6.

“I think it always helps,” Porter said. “It’s not every day that you face knuckleball pitchers. We are fortunate to have Steve come out and be willing to get in the cage. I think it paid dividends today.”

Grossman, who was hitless in 25 at-bats before taking Dickey deep, took 15 to 20 swings against Sparks and said the session was helpful.

“I have to give credit to Sparksie on that,” Grossman said. “Just seeing it, because you never see it.”

Dickey walked two batters but didn’t allow a hit through the first three innings, a streak that ended when Castro singled to begin the fourth.

Marc Krauss doubled to begin the fifth and, one out later, Grossman homered.

Story Continues →