TORONTO -- The Toronto Blue Jays have come close to falling out of first place in the American League East thanks to a recent slide.
An excellent start from Drew Hutchison and the return of Jose Bautista helped provide a little breathing room in the divisional race while ending a three-game losing skid at the same time.
Hutchison struck out a season-high 10 batters and Bautista belted one of two Toronto homers as the Blue Jays defeated the Milwaukee Brewers 4-1 in front of a sellout crowd on Canada Day at Rogers Centre.
The Toronto right-hander was dominant early on, retiring the first 14 batters he faced. Three relievers combined on the four-hitter as the Blue Jays moved 1 1/2 games ahead of second-place Baltimore.
"When he's on, he's on," Toronto manager John Gibbons said of his starter. "He can be really, really good."
The Orioles were scheduled to play the Texas Rangers later Tuesday.
Bautista, meanwhile, gave his team an early lead with a no-doubt blast off Marco Estrada (7-5) that hit the facing of the second deck. It was the first start for the Toronto slugger since he strained his left hamstring on June 22.
Colby Rasmus hit a solo shot in the fifth inning for the Blue Jays (46-39), who added some late insurance with a two-run eighth inning. Hutchison improved to 6-6 with his sixth quality start of the season.
"A dynamite fastball and a good breaking ball," Gibbons said. "He got lots of strikeouts. They're a very aggressive hitting team over there so he got a lot of strikeouts up in the zone. But his fastball had a little extra life."
The Toronto skipper showed his faith in Hutchison by leaving him out there after loading the bases in the seventh. He got out of the jam when Jean Segura lined out to right field.
"I want to be in there in those situations," Hutchison said. "I believe in myself to make a pitch to get out of that so to have that (confidence) from (Gibbons), it was nice to be able to have that and then get out of it."
Aaron Loup, Dustin McGowan and Casey Janssen completed the four-hitter. Janssen worked the ninth inning for his 13th save.
"We didn't get a lot of hits," said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. "A lot of strikeouts, not a lot of hits."
Bautista was the designated hitter and he returned to his No. 3 position in the lineup for his first start in nine days. He got the crowd of 45,088 into the game early by turning on a 3-2 pitch for his 16th homer of the year.
"He's a pretty good hitter," Gibbons said. "We're not quite the (same) team without him, that's for sure."
Hutchison already had eight strikeouts before Khris Davis reached on an infield single in the fifth to become Baltimore's first baserunner.
Davis hit a ground ball up the middle that Jose Reyes did well to retrieve. The shortstop was forced to make a hurried off-balance throw that pulled Edwin Encarnacion off the bag at first base.
Rasmus made it a two-run game in the bottom of the frame. He turned on an 0-1 pitch for his 12th homer of the year.
Milwaukee (51-34) halved the lead in the sixth inning. Leadoff man Scooter Gennett reached on a flare to left field and Ryan Braun drove him in with a double into the right-field corner.
Estrada was pulled for southpaw sidearmer Zach Duke after giving up a walk to Encarnacion and a single to Dioner Navarro in the bottom of the seventh. Duke retired the next three Blue Jays in order to keep it a one-run game.
Loup hit the lone batter he faced, putting pinch-hitter Rickie Weeks on to open the eighth. McGowan came on and got Braun to hit into a 4-6-3 double play.
McGowan walked Jonathan Lucroy and then fanned Carlos Gomez with a 96 mile-per-hour heater. In the eighth, Melky Cabrera drove in a run with a triple and scored on an Encarnacion double.
"We played (well) today on an important day for us to win a game -- it seems like it's been a while," Gibbons said. "It's Canada Day in front of a nice crowd. You don't want to lay an egg on that day. So it was a good day for us."
Hutchison allowed three hits, one earned run and walked a pair. He threw 66 of his 105 pitches for strikes.
"He was our win," said Rasmus. "Everything revolves around the starting pitcher. He came in and did a good job, kept them off balance, kept the ball up in the zone and kept them swinging and missing. He did a great job."
Estrada gave up six hits, two earned runs and a walk while striking out two.
Notes: The game took two hours 56 minutes to play. ... Blue Jays wore their red and white jerseys for Canada Day. ... It was Toronto's sixth sellout of the season. ... IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, Ont., threw out the ceremonial first pitch. ... Hockey commentator Don Cherry received a nice ovation from the crowd when he was shown on the video scoreboard in the fourth inning. ... Elian Herrera replaced Davis in left field in the seventh inning. ... The teams will close out the mini-series with another matinee on Wednesday. Left-hander J.A. Happ (7-4, 4.29) is scheduled to start against Milwaukee right-hander Wily Peralta (9-5, 3.20). ... The Blue Jays will kick off a 10-game road trip with the opener of a four-game series against Oakland on Thursday. ... Toronto leads the major leagues with 110 home runs. ... The Blue Jays are now 13-23 in Canada Day games.