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Rookie right-hander Marcus Stroman strong as Blue Jays defeat Texas Rangers

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TORONTO - Rookie right-hander Marcus Stroman continues to sparkle for the Blue Jays.

The 23-year-old blanked Texas for seven innings and Dan Johnson drove home two runs as Toronto held on to defeat the lowly Rangers 4-1 Saturday afternoon.

Stroman has held opposing teams to three earned runs or less in eight of his nine career starts. And he bounced back from that lone subpar outing — when he gave up six runs in 3 2/3 innings last time out — with a gritty outing that got better as the day wore on.

The five-foot-nine 185-pounder has blanked two of his last three opponents.

"Since he's been here, he's been really good — especially for a young kid," said Toronto manager John Gibbons. "You guys all know the arm's there. But he's a lot more polished than I thought he was going to be. And he has a way of dialling it up at crunch time.

"He got into a little jam there (in the fourth inning), got a couple of big punchouts after it was first and second no outs. That's what he's capable of. ... He's just a great competitor with a great arm. He pitches to win. He's not worried about anything else but winning a game and it shows."

After spending time in the bullpen, Stroman has gone 4-2 as a starter with a 2.50 ERA.

The 2010 first-round pick kept the Rangers to four hits during his stint, striking out five with no walks while throwing 107 pitches including 70 strikes.

After giving up back-to-back singles to open the fourth inning, he retired 12 straight with four strikeouts.

"That definitely pumped me up going into the next inning ... That was huge," Stroman said of the fourth-inning escape. "Definitely a momentum shift."

Stroman said it was all about raising one's intensity.

"I feel like I'm really able to get in the zone when I need to, and really focus and make big pitches on crucial counts. That was one of those moments and it was big. It was big for the team, it was big for us to kind of get us going."

Toronto, which outhit Texas 12-6, survived the bases loaded with two outs in the eighth inning thanks to a Dustin McGowan strikeout — his third of the inning — of Jake Smolinski.

"It got a little hairy there at the end," Gibbons acknowledged.

Left-hander Aaron Loup, rather than right-handed closer Casey Janssen who was laid low by either food poisoning or a bug, pitched the ninth for his third save. An opening walk was negated by J.P. Arencibia hitting into a double play before Rougned Odor flied out.

After dropping the series opener 5-1, Toronto (50-48) came into the game having lost three straight and nine of its last 11.

"We desperately needed that today," Gibbons said of the win.

Despite snapping an eight-game losing streak with Friday's win, the numbers were still ugly for injury-plagued Texas. The Rangers (39-58) came into Saturday's contest 2-12 in July and had lost 14 of 16 and 22 of 26.

Texas' winning percentage of .406 was worst in the majors.

Misfiring at the plate in recent days, the Jays looked to find runs any way they could before a sellout crowd of 45,802 under the roof at Rogers Centre thanks to rain. Centre-fielder Colby Rasmus showed that in the fifth when, facing a shift, he bunted down the empty third-base line to get on base.

That led to some jawing with Texas starter Colby Lewis.

"Everybody saw it," Lewis said. "You're up by two runs with two outs and lay down a bunt. I don't think that's the way the game should be played. I let him know and that was about it.

"I just told him I didn't appreciate it," he added, accusing Rasmus of "looking out for batting average."

The Jays saw it more as scratching out offence.

"Sometimes you've got to force some things," said Gibbons.

Toronto, outscored 18-4 in their three previous losses, looked to steal bases, sacrifice and take advantage of any fielding hesitation by the Rangers to get on base and advance runners. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't but the home side scratched out enough offence to win.

Stroman and Lewis were both coming off rough starts, coincidentally on consecutive days against the Angels. Lewis coughed up 13 runs in 2 1/3 innings, raising his ERA to 6.54 from 5.51.

Lewis (6-7) pitched five innings, giving up two runs on eight hits. He struck out five and walked three.

Both teams feature patchwork rosters due to the injury bug, with seven active catchers between them.

The Rangers' injury woes grew Saturday when right-fielder Alex Rios sprained his right ankle in his first trip to the plate. Rios, a former Jay, was unable to continue his at-bat and left the game. He was replaced by Daniel Robertson. X-rays were negative and Rios was listed as day-to-day.

It was also a painful first inning for Jays catcher Dioner Navarro, who fouled a ball off the top of his shin but was able to continue.

The Jays opened the scoring in their half of the fourth with Johnson doubling home Rasmus, who had singled to lead off the inning and advanced to third on a wild pitch. One out later, Johnson went to third on a successful Anthony Gose bunt. Munenori Kawaski's infield single made it 2-0, with Toronto leaving two on the bases.

Toronto added to its lead in the seventh on consecutive singles by Cabrera, Bautista and Navarro. After Rasmus reached first on a fielder's choice, Johnson brought Bautista home on a sacrifice fly to make it 4-0.

Brett Cecil and McGowan followed Stroman in the eighth, when the Rangers finally got on the board via an Elvis Andrus RBI single. Cecil had opened the inning by yielding a walk and a single.

McGowan seemed to have the situation in control when he struck out the ever-dangerous Adrian Beltre with two outs. But Beltre made it to first base to load the bases thanks to a Navarro passed ball and McGowan found himself needing another out.

The Jays have won six of their last seven series against the Rangers in Toronto. Saturday's win gave them a chance to make it seven of eight.

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