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SEA@TOR: Encarnacion homers to give Blue Jays lead

TORONTO -- Henderson Alvarez finally has something to show for a strong opening month to his sophomore season.

Toronto's No. 3 starter has been pitching well this year, but often has been a victim of a lack of run support. Sunday afternoon's game against Seattle appeared to be following a similar storyline, but the way Alvarez was throwing it almost didn't matter.

Alvarez threw six strong innings while the Blue Jays' offense erupted for five runs in the bottom of the eighth inning for a 7-2 victory over the Mariners at Rogers Centre.

"Just a well-pitched game today," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "Henderson continues to give us a quality start more times than not and that was the case again today. Even though he might not have had his best secondary pitches, still he was able to work through some traffic early in the ballgame."

Alvarez entered Sunday's outing having won just one game in 14 career starts. He was winless on the season despite having allowed three runs or less in all but one of his outings.

The main reason for the lack of wins was that Alvarez received an average of just 2.75 runs in four games. Every outing, he put Toronto in a position to win, but each time the Blue Jays came out on the losing end.

That changed against Seattle as Alvarez allowed just one run on six hits and three walks while throwing 52 of his 90 pitches for strikes. He now has 10 quality starts in 15 career outings and continues to be a solidifying force in the middle of the Blue Jays' rotation.

"My job is to just go out, pitch well and keep my club in the game," Alvarez said when asked if it felt good to get his first win out of the way. "If we score runs, that's a plus and good for the club, but if we don't, I still have to continue to pitch well."

For the second consecutive start, Alvarez encountered some problems in the first inning, but quickly settled into a groove and managed to finish strong. He walked more than two batters for the first time in his brief career, but even the occasional loss of command wasn't enough to cause major complications.

Alvarez's only real mistake of the game occurred in the opening frame against the first batter he faced. Seattle's Chone Figgins sent a 1-2 changeup over the wall in right field for a leadoff homer. It was Figgins' second home run of the season and marked his fourth career homer leading off a game.

Toronto's No. 3 starter surrendered a double to the next batter he faced, but then found his bearings. Alvarez used mostly his fastball-changeup combination to keep Seattle's hitters off balance en route his first win at Rogers Centre.

"Henderson doesn't fear contact," Farrell said. "Even when Figgins leads off the game with a home run, he doesn't change his game plan, he doesn't go away from hitters. He's going to pitch to contact and that was the case.

"He kept his composure and didn't build an inning by pitching out of the strike zone or issuing a walk in combination with a base hit. He has been very consistent for us."

The Blue Jays fell behind early, but evened the score at 1 in the fifth inning on an RBI single by Kelly Johnson. Edwin Encarnacion's chance to shine came an inning later when he homered on a 1-1 offering from Mariners starter Jason Vargas.

The solo shot was Encarnacion's seventh home run of the season and third in as many days. Encarnacion's hot start to the year continues as he currently leads the club with eight doubles and is ranked second in the American League with 15 extra-base hits.

Vargas was removed after the sixth inning. He was charged with both runs on four hits and three walks while throwing 60 of his 111 pitches for strikes. The Seattle left-hander recorded his third consecutive quality start, but has received two runs or fewer of support in 12 of his last 21 games.

"He's just seeing the ball well, obviously," Vargas said of Encarnacion. "We made some pitches in some situations that he could handle. Unfortunately, probably one of the only bad changeups I threw all night was to him and it was the difference in the game. Other than that, I felt like I executed."

Encarnacion was once again front and center when the Blue Jays broke the game open in the eighth inning. With one on, Encarnacion was hit on the upper arm by a 94-mph fastball from Mariners reliever Steve Delabar.

Toronto's designated hitter dropped his bat and stared out at the mound before eventually making a slow walk to first base. Both dugouts received warnings from home-plate umpire Vic Carapazza and while the rest of the game was played without incident, that moment seemed to spark the Blue Jays.

Brett Lawrie followed later in the inning with a two-run double, while catcher Jeff Mathis added a two-run shot for his second home run of the season to put the game out of reach.

"Yeah it did," Lawrie said when asked if Encarnacion getting hit ticked off his team. "We've gotten hit a number of times in the past two games. We've gotten hit three times, so you know, especially the way [Encarnacion's] been going, he's been swinging the bat.

"Then for a guy to kind of miss like that with 95 [mph], up and in toward his head, kind of misses up like that, it kind of raised a bit of a red flag, especially because we're going to back up our teammates. That's what we're here to do and we got one another's back."

The win secured a 2-1 series victory for the Blue Jays and improved their overall record to two games above .500. A three-game set against the reigning American League champion Texas Rangers now looms before the club embarks on a road trip to the West Coast.

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