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TOR@CLE: Buehrle strikes out three in dominant outing

CLEVELAND -- Mark Buehrle was just what the doctor ordered for a Blue Jays bullpen that had become battered and bruised over the past couple of days.

Toronto entered Saturday's game with five key relievers unavailable for action. Earlier in the day, manager John Gibbons talked about how much his team needed Buehrle to eat up a lot of innings, and that's exactly what ended up happening.

Buehrle continued his nearly flawless start to the season by pitching seven-plus scoreless innings as the Blue Jays secured a winning road trip with a 5-0 victory over the Indians on Saturday afternoon.

"He's just locked in right now," Gibbons said. "He even admitted in Spring Training he hadn't felt this good in a long time. But he competes, he's a great competitor. One thing about Buehrle is he pitches to win, he doesn't pitch for stats, you get guys in this game who pitch for stats, he pitches to win and you need more guys like that."

Buehrle is now a perfect 4-0 on the season with a sparkling 0.64 ERA. He's the first four-game winner in big leagues, and he became the first Blue Jays starter to win his first four games since Roy Halladay did it in 2007.

The personal accolades don't stop there. This marks just the third time in Buehrle's career that he has started the season with a perfect 4-0 record. He currently leads the Major Leagues in ERA among qualified pitchers and he also moved into a tie with Justin Verlander and David Wells for most wins at Progressive Field with nine.

At this point last year, Buehrle had a 5.87 ERA and saw his struggles continue well into the month of May. This season he has been close to perfect. But don't expect a specific explanation about his turnaround, because even Buehrle doesn't quite understand why he's had so much success.

"The last few games, I've been getting runs early. [It] makes it a little easier to go out and pitch, but I haven't changed anything in 10 years, 11 years," Buehrle said. "I haven't changed the way I'm pitching. I'm not going to keep asking questions, I'm going to run with it and see what happens."

The timing of Buehrle's outing on Saturday afternoon could not have been any better for Toronto. The Blue Jays were without the services of Sergio Santos, Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil and Neil Wagner after all four pitched on back to back days, while long reliever Todd Redmond also had the day off because he threw 3 2/3 innings on Wednesday.

That left Toronto with only Aaron Loup, J.A. Happ and Esmil Rogers to use out of the 'pen. Loup is the only pitcher of that trio that's typically used to protect a lead, so it was Buehrle's responsibility to eat up most of the innings. He had a pair of runners on during each of the first two innings, but cruised the rest of the way.

Buehrle faced the minimum from the fourth inning until the end of the seventh. He departed with a pair of runners on in the eighth as Rogers came in to get out of the mini-jam. Buehrle has now allowed just two earned runs in 28 innings this season, and he is off to one of the best starts of his career.

"It's not just today, it has been his first four starts, probably for the majority of his career," Indians first baseman Nick Swisher said of Buehrle's success. "He gets the lead and he kind of puts you in a rocking chair.

"A little fastball cuts it in to keep you honest, expands the plate and takes something off of it. Throws a lot of changeups. You hit a ball hard to someone, you get a guy on and he'll get you to roll over. He's really good at that.

"He's obviously feeling pretty good about himself. He's throwing the ball real well right now."

The Blue Jays gave Buehrle some breathing room early in the game when they scored two in the first inning on a pair of RBI singles by Jose Bautista and Dioner Navarro. Toronto added one more in the second on an RBI single by Jose Reyes, and then broke the game open in the seventh on a two-run single by Navarro.

Melky Cabrera had another impressive day with a double and a triple. The Major League leader in hits with 28 is now batting .337 on the season, and he has at least one hit in all but one of Toronto's 18 games. Reyes had one hit in his return from a left hamstring injury and Navarro increased his RBI total to 12.

Toronto has an opportunity to go for its first series sweep of the year on Sunday afternoon. The Blue Jays also will have their bullpen fully rested for that game, and Buehrle is the main reason why.

"Pete [Walker] came over and asked me how I was feeling," Buehrle said of Toronto's pitching coach. "I said, 'Listen, I'm not feeling the greatest, but I'm going to go out there because I know the bullpen is blown out and they need a break.' I said, 'I'll go out there and go as deep as I can.'

"If this was any other game, I probably could have said, hey, 'Let the bullpen take over,' but knowing where they're at and how much they've thrown the last few days, I was going out there to try and get through the eighth inning."

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