May 8, 2014, TORONTO (ISN) – Mark Buehrle is off to such a great start this season that manager John Gibbons is beginning to run out of words to describe his outings.
Toronto’s veteran left-hander is off to one of the best starts of his 15-year career. He has established himself as the Blue Jays’ ace through the early stages of this 2014 season and has showed no signs of slowing down.
Buehrle was back at it again on Wednesday night as he tossed seven scoreless innings to pick up his Major League-leading sixth win of the season, while the Blue Jays’ offense erupted for nine runs in the seventh en route to a 10-0 victory over the Phillies.
“I thought he did a nice job; he threw more curveballs tonight than he normally does, so they had a good game plan there, and they made some adjustments that way,” Gibbons said. “But he does what he typically does. He keeps them off-balance, throws anything at any time and uses his defense.”
Gibbons sort of shrugged his shoulders after making the comment, as if to suggest, “What more was there to say?” He has been asked about Buehrle, a notoriously slow starter in the past, often in the early part of this season, and with good reason.
The 35-year-old Buehrle has allowed two runs or fewer in all but one of his seven starts and has pitched at least seven innings on four occasions. His ERA sits at a remarkable 1.91, all of this from a pitcher who rarely tops 84 mph on the radar gun.
After Gibbons issued the initial assessment on Buehrle’s latest outing he paused, and a big grin came across his face.
“I don’t know if I can describe it any more than that, again,” Gibbons said. “All he does is keep winning. I don’t know, does the same thing every time he wins. Just hit rewind.”
Buehrle allowed three hits and two walks while striking out six. He has five quality starts in seven outings and made it look relatively easy against the Phillies’ lineup. He recorded a trio of three-up, three-down innings and allowed just three baserunners to reach scoring position. The strong performance played a major role in the Blue Jays being able to even their record at 17-17 with a fourth consecutive victory.
Whenever Buehrle pitches well, he simplifies it by saying that luck was on his side. He reiterated that point Wednesday but also acknowledged this might be one of the best runs of his career.
“At the start of a season, it has to be the best,” Buehrle said. “Trying to think of a seven-game stretch going as good, I don’t know if I can really think of one off the top of my head.
“I didn’t feel the greatest in the first inning or two; I felt like I was battling and falling behind the count. … Then I had a couple quick innings and kind of caught a breather. It’s just going my way right now.”
The hype for Wednesday night’s game suggested a pitcher’s duel between Buehrle and veteran lefty Cliff Lee, and neither starter disappointed early on. Through six innings, Lee matched Buehrle almost pitch for pitch with the exception of a run in the third on a sacrifice fly by Jose Reyes, which followed hits by Colby Rasmus and Steve Tolleson.
But Lee’s pitching dominance ended in the seventh, when the Blue Jays put the game out of reach in a hurry. Erik Kratz, Juan Francisco and Edwin Encarnacion all homered during an inning that saw 12 batters come to the plate. The nine runs came up just short of the franchise record of 11, which had been done in 1984, 1995 and 2007.
Toronto had eight hits in the seventh to go along with a walk. In addition to the home runs, Jose Bautista added an RBI single and has reached base in all 34 of the Blue Jays’ games this season. Lee surrendered the home runs to Kratz and Francisco as he managed to get just one out in the seventh before leaving the game. The Phillies’ ace was charged with six runs on seven hits and a walk with six strikeouts.
“It’s one of those innings where they didn’t miss anything,” said Lee, who allowed more than three runs for the first time since Opening Day. “It is what it is. It wasn’t like I was walking a lot of guys. They just got hits. Put some good swings on balls and put together a huge inning.”
The offense has easily established itself as the Blue Jays’ biggest strength this year. Toronto finished its game on Wednesday night in a tie for the second-most runs in the American League, with 166. The club has scored at least five in all but two of its past 11 games.
There are still some long-term question marks about the pitching staff, but if the bats keep this up, it will give the Blue Jays a chance on any given night, and the pitchers know it.
“I think we all know what this offense can do when they get on a roll,” Buehrle said. “We have had guys out of the lineup and guys hurt, and we are still producing. We have guys come up from the Minor Leagues, and they are doing pretty good. If they keep this up, I think our pitching will be better than we have showed. If we can kind of get everything together and get on a little roll, I think we will be all right.”