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.
Colby Rasmus cut the lead in half in the bottom of the inning with a solo homer, his first, but Houston chased Dickey with a three-run seventh. Matt Dominguez hit a one-out double, Grossman walked and Villar followed with a drive to center.
Villar connected on the first pitch he saw from Dickey in the seventh inning for his second of the season.
Castro connected off reliever Esmil Rogers to begin the eighth for his second of the season.
Dallas Keuchel pitched seven strong innings for the Astros. Keuchel (1-1) allowed one run and five hits, walked two and struck out six.
“We couldn’t get anything going against Keuchel,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said.
After Chad Qualls worked a scoreless eighth, the Astros struggled to close it out in the ninth.
Josh Fields got two outs, but left after pinch hitter Adam Lind’s two-run double. Anthony Bass came on and got Melky Cabrera to hit a grounder, but Bass’ high throw to first allowed Lind to score. Maicer Izturis ended it by grounding to the mound, giving Bass his first save.
NOTES: Cabrera doubled twice, extending his hitting streak to 10 games. … Blue Jays LH J.A. Happ (back) allowed one run and four hits in 4 2-3 innings in a rehab start at Triple-A Buffalo. Happ walked two and struck out six. … Toronto RH Steve Delabar, who left Wednesday’s game after being struck on the right calf by a line drive, was not available. X-rays on Delabar’s leg were negative, manager John Gibbons said. … Toronto begins a three-game series at Baltimore Friday, with McGowan (0-1) facing Orioles RH Chris Tillman (1-0).
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