TORONTO -- Brandon Morrow has battled inconsistency since returning from an oblique strain that forced him to miss over two months of the season.
In two of his previous three starts, he had failed to make it out of the fifth inning and here he was tasked with facing a Yankees team that can clinch a playoff berth on Toronto's home turf this weekend. But on Thursday, Morrow looked like his former self.
Morrow turned in his best outing since coming off the disabled list just over a month ago, and his offense came up with some timely hits to lead the Blue Jays to a 6-0 win over the Yankees to kick off a four-game set in front of 23,060 at Rogers Centre.
"It takes a little while to get back in the groove, but I have felt good since I've come back," said Morrow, who allowed just four hits, walked three and struck out three. "The inconsistent starts can be attributed to whatever, who knows? Tonight I got back a little bit better into kind of the rhythm I was earlier [in the season] with all four pitches.
"Mixing those, using the curveball and the chanegup quite a bit more."
Part of what made Morrow so successful early on was his use of all four pitches -- his devastating fastball-slider combination in addition to his curveball and changeup. He is throwing his changeup five percent more than he did last season and not always relying on his mid-to-upper-90s fastball to bury hitters.
Before the oblique injury forced Morrow to the shelf in June, he was enjoying his finest season in the big leagues and was throwing like an All-Star-caliber pitcher. He recorded three shutouts while going 7-4 with a 3.01 ERA over 13 starts. Opponents were hitting a measly .194 against him with a .590 OPS.
Not surprisingly, though, Morrow had some rust when he returned. In six starts entering Thursday's gem, Morrow was 1-3 with a 3.94 ERA, while opponents were hitting .287 off him with an .818 OPS. Not once was the right-hander able to make it out of the seventh inning -- but that changed Thursday.
Morrow went seven strong innings to improve to 9-7, while lowering his ERA to 3.09. It was the seventh time this season that Morrow has gone at least six innings without allowing an earned run.
"I was just trying to put up strikes the whole time and stay within myself, really. I wasn't overthrowing. I thought I had pretty good stuff," Morrow said.
Manager John Farrell agreed that Morrow mixed his stuff well but felt that he particularly tightened up his slider, making an adjustment to get Yankees hitters to chase. Farrell said that in Morrow's last start against the Rays, in which he allowed five runs in four innings, the batters would simply lay off the slider because it wasn't as sharp.
Morrow has been nearly untouchable in his nine victories this year. Over 63 2/3 innings, he has allowed just four runs, good for a 0.57 ERA, and surrendered 40 hits.
Brett Lawrie gave Morrow a lead to work with in the bottom of the third. With one out and Anthony Gose on base, Lawrie took the first pitch he saw from Yankees starter Ivan Nova the other way for a two-run homer, his 10th of the season, to give the Blue Jays a 2-0 lead. It was Lawrie's first long ball since July 22 and first opposite-field homer of the season.
The score remained that way until the Blue Jays got to Nova again in the fifth.
After Gose and Colby Rasmus collected base hits to put two on with one out, slugger Edwin Encarnacion hit an opposite-field double to increase Toronto's lead to 4-0. Encarnacion went 3-for-4 with three RBIs, giving him 110 and extended his hitting streak to nine games.
Toronto's top three in the lineup -- Lawrie, Rasmus and Encarnacion -- combined for seven of the Blue Jays' 10 hits.
Nova lasted just 4 2/3 innings, allowing four runs on six hits, and fell to 12-8. His ERA now sits at 5.02.
Making his impact felt on both sides of the diamond, Gose came through with a clutch defensive play to help Morrow in the fourth inning.
Nick Swisher hit a 1-1 offering to the warning track in left field, but Gose chased down the ball and reached out to come up with it at the wall. Gose then fired to second baseman Kelly Johnson, who relayed to Adam Lind at first to retire Robinson Cano and complete the 7-4-3 double play to end the inning.
"The arm strength is clear," Farrell said about Gose. "The range is outstanding. His routes have been spot on."
Morrow didn't allow more than one baserunner in each inning from the first through the sixth before experiencing trouble in the seventh.
The right-hander issued a leadoff double to Cano before walking Swisher to put runners at first and second with none out. But Morrow battled back and retired the next three batters to escape the inning unscathed.
"That's the first time we've seen him all year," Swisher said about Morrow. "He's a guy who throws super hard, you know -- 97, 98 [mph]. Tonight ... it felt like he wasn't throwing like that. He was throwing a lot more offspeed pitches, working both sides of the plate, changing speeds.
"You've got to give him credit. He did a good job."
J.P. Arencibia crushed a solo homer, his 18th of the year, to left field in the eighth inning to make it 6-0.
The Blue Jays recorded their 11th shutout of the season and seventh at home.
Chris Toman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.