KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Halfway through his six spring training appearances, R.A. Dickey feels like an old pitcher with a new beginning.
"It's like getting to start over and do it the right way. You feel like you're getting a chance to reboot," Dickey said Sunday after pitching five shutout innings for the Toronto Blue Jays in a 4-3 exhibition loss to the Houston Astros. "It makes you somewhat regret not being able to invest the time that was really needed last year."
Dickey's first spring with the Blue Jays was interrupted by the World Baseball Classic. A year after winning the NL Cy Young Award with the New York Mets in 2012, he went 4-7 through May with a 5.18 ERA.
"You don't know that in the moment, and you're getting to do a really fantastic honour," he recalled, "but having spent a lot of time with my guys on the team and getting to prepare my body, (this spring) just feels normal."
Dickey threw 82 pitches in five innings in his third spring start, giving up four hits and a walk while striking out four.
He plans to get up to 95-100 pitches in his next two starts, then perhaps dial it back for his final spring outing before pitching in the season-opening series at Tampa Bay.
"Being older, I know what I need to do to prepare, and this is one of the things that helps me feel confident when I take the mound, knowing that I've gone deep in games in the spring," he said. "That way when it happens during the season I'm able to do it right from the get-go and not have to build into it. It works for me. Everybody's different."
Marwin Gonzalez and Carlos Perez drove in runs for the Astros in the eighth inning off losing pitcher Jeremy Jeffress.
Jason Castro hit a two-run homer for the Astros in the sixth.
The Blue Jays took a 3-2 lead in the eighth on a play in which the Astros lost a replay challenge for the second straight day. Steve Tolleson beat a close play at the plate, scoring on a double by Erik Kratz.
"If it's that close, then it's definitely worth challenging because there's no telling what angle they may end up getting that can actually overturn it," Houston manager Bo Porter said.
BLUE JAYS: Asked about the diminished expectations for the Blue Jays this season, Dickey deadpanned: "I think we're terrible, and I don't want anybody to take us seriously. I think because of last year, we're probably going to get walked all over every game."
ASTROS: Rudy Owens, a 26-year-old left-hander who has yet to pitch in the major leagues, matched zeroes with Dickey for three innings, giving up one hit. "I never faced that calibre of hitters, but it's something I've dealt with and I've been doing for my entire career," he said. "It's time for me to step up and I did."
Toronto manager John Gibbons on the post-Tommy John surgery outlook of pitcher Drew Huthison: "You don't even think of Tommy John; modern medicine is so good. It's almost like when you draft these guys and sign 'em, do Tommy John right away because sometimes they end up better than they were to begin with."
Kratz drove in two runs with a single and a double while catching Dickey's knuckleball for five innings. "Calling knuckleballs is an anxious proposition so he's got to navigate that some. He did a good job," Dickey said.