Over to Mark Buehrle.
The Blue Jays’ left-hander is scheduled to make his 397th career start on Thursday night against the Cleveland Indians, to wrap up the three-game series.
The Blue Jays aren’t pressing – “too early for that,” manager John Gibbons said – and yet, with a big hit, “everyone can breathe a little easier,” Gibbons said after the 3-2, 11-inning loss on Wednesday night. The much-hyped Jays (0-2) next play host to Boston (2-0) and former manager John Farrell in a three-game series starting Friday.
The table-setters, Emilio Bonifacio in the batting order’s 9-slot, leadoff hitter Jose Reyes and No. 2 Melky Cabrera, have three hits in 24 at-bats through the two games, a .125 average with one walk between them. That’s left Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion with few RBI opportunities.
A repeat offensive performance would stack the odds against Buehrle, the former Chicago White Sox ace who’s up against it, statistically, in his debut for the Blue Jays:
- In 106 games during which his team scored two runs or fewer, Buehrle has a record of eight wins and 84 losses.
- In his 13 seasons, the first month has proven to be his worse for record, at 24-25, and second-worst for ERA, at 4.18 versus a lifetime 3.82.
- Against Cleveland, his career record is 15-17 with a 4.77 ERA. He’s been better against all other AL teams except the Yankees (1-8. 6.38), according to baseball-reference.com.
- On artificial turf, he’s 15-17 with a career ERA of 4.77 although at the Rogers Centre, while going 1-4, he’s compiled a 2.91 ERA with a .227 batting average against, the latter better than at any AL park except Minnesota’s Target Field.
A four-time all-star and a Gold Glove winner for four years running, Buehrle spent 11 seasons in Chicago before signing a four-year, $58-million contract with the Miami Marlins. He arrived in the November trade that netted Friday’s starter, Josh Johnson, along with Bonifacio and Reyes. During spring training, he praised the rotation as better on paper than the one that went 11-1 through the 2005 playoffs, to win the World Series.
“The whole team here looks better to me than the one we won the World Series with,” Buehrle said, after a spring start against Pittsburgh. “But you can't compare this team to that team because we haven't accomplished anything. We have to go do it.”
Buehrle’s a non-nonsense surgeon on the mound, typically taking about 18 seconds between pitches, changing speeds, moving the ball in-and-out, up-and-down with precision. In the 2005 season, a matchup with Seattle starter Ryan Franklin lasted one hour 39 minutes.
“I’m going to give up hits, I’m going to give up runs, it’s just a matter of keeping them to a minimum,” Buehrle said. “There’s always an inning here and there that kind of gets me, and I just have to keep those as short as I can, put the ball in play and hope it goes to our fielders.”
Gibbons said young pitchers would do well to adopt Buehrle’s pace, because the defence behind him stays alert. When pitchers become more deliberate, the defence tends to fall asleep.
Because Buehrle likes to work in the quick rhythm, opposing hitters will sometimes try to implement a strategy of backing out of the batter’s box to upset his timing. The question is whether the umpires will permit the tactic, Gibbons said.
If anyone knows how to deal with Buehrle, it would be former catcher Sandy Alomar, bench coach for the Indians and a candidate in the off-season for Gibbons’s job. He caught Buehrle 81 times.
Buehrle was stunned by the trade to Toronto. A primary supporter of a shelter for abandoned dogs in Illinois, after signing with the Marlins he had moved his family to Broward County in Florida because pit bulls are allowed there while banned in adjacent Miami. One of his four dogs is a pit bull named Slater. Because the province of Ontario bans the breed, the family decided that Buehrle would live in a rented Toronto condo while his wife Jamie and two young children would remain at their permanent home in the St. Louis area with the dogs.