Sanchez hitting his stride with no-walk start

Rookie righty goes career-high eight-plus innings in Blue Jays' win vs. Astros

Sanchez hitting his stride with no-walk start

TORONTO -- Blue Jays rookie Aaron Sanchez is showing more and more confidence with every pitch he throws. And through eight innings against the Astros, he didn't need many.

Sanchez pitched into unchartered territory Friday, navigating his way into the ninth for the first time as a starter with a dominant eight-plus-inning effort in Toronto's 6-2 series-opening win over Houston. The right-hander was perfect through three, didn't walk a batter in a start for the first time in his career and denied a runner to reach second base until the Astros' two-run rally in the ninth chased him from the game and spoiled his shutout bid.

After a sensational debut out of the Blue Jays' bullpen last season, Sanchez appears to be finding his stride just 11 starts into his Major League career.

"He looks just like he did last September in the closer role," manager John Gibbons said after the Blue Jays' third win in a row. "He keeps getting better and better every time he goes out there."

Gibbons on Blue Jays' 6-2 win

Sanchez, who pitched to weak contact and showed exceptional command and efficiency, never threw more than 16 pitches in an inning through his first eight frames. He needed just 91 pitches to get 24 outs before running his total up to 103 on the night -- 66 of which were strikes. Perhaps most impressively, Sanchez didn't issue a free pass after entering the start with 39 strikeouts to 37 walks on the season.

"Our game plan was to go in and attack these guys. I figured if I can attack these guys with my heater and keep the ball down in the zone they're going to hit a ton of ground balls, and that's what happened," said Sanchez, who recorded 14 of his 24 outs on the ground. "My focus early on was they gave me a big lead and just go in and get some shutdown innings, really, and I felt like I did a good job of that and next thing I know I'm in the ninth."

Sanchez was in complete control from the first pitch -- a 96-mph strike to George Springer to lead off the game. He continued to pound the zone with his tailing two-seam fastball and a knee-buckling curve that nearly knocked Springer to his knees during an at-bat in the ninth.

"Good movement, he was locating his pitches really well. He did a tremendous job," Astros second baseman Jose Altuve said. "I was looking for balls right in the middle. That's what he did and I still couldn't hit it."

Sanchez scattered six hits -- two of which were infield singles -- and struck out three to lower his ERA to 3.55 with his fourth straight quality start.

"From the time the season started, the more and more I'm out there, the more reps I get, the better off I'm going to be," he said.

Dan Toman is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.