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Navarro, Buehrle relationship hitting on all cylinders this season

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Mark Buehrle checks on catcher Dioner Navarro

Aaron Vincent Elkaim/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The good news was aplenty in the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse Tuesday night.

Mark Buehrle, benefitting from another home run heavy performance by his teammates, pitched just well enough to earn his ninth win of the season as the Blue Jays toppled the Tampa Bay Rays 9-6 at Rogers Centre.

The Blue Jays (31-22) maintained their lock on first place in the American League East with the triumph, their season-high eighth straight, to move nine games above .500 for the first time in almost four years.

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And catcher Dioner Navarro, who was rapped on a knuckle on his left catching hand by a bat on a follow-through swing in the second inning, said the bruise he suffered doesn't appear to be overwhelming.

The bad news, at least for Buehrle, is that he had better keep his head up when he enters the clubhouse on Wednesday lest a flying baseball strikes him.

Navarro and Buehrle (9-1) have developed a close relationship with the catcher behind the plate for all of Buehrle's 11 starts this season.

And the pitcher was naturally concerned after his teammate hurt himself in the top of the second inning after he was struck on the back of the hand by the bat of fellow catcher Jose Molina swinging through a pitch.

But there were reports that Buehrle could not suppress a bit of a grin when Navarro took another hard foul ball shot off his right forearm soon after, causing him even more grief.

"I don't know, I'm going to check the video," Navarro responded when asked if he'd seen Buehrle having a laugh at his expense on the mound.

Navarro was then asked what he would do if the video replay provided conclusive evidence of the pitcher's moment of merriment.

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"I'll let him know I throw harder than him," Navarro said of Buehrle, who is notorious in baseball circles for his low-velocity pitches. "I'll hit him with a ball in the forearm and see if he's going to laugh."

It is a collegial, frat-boy kind of an atmosphere that exists around the Blue Jays right now, a natural occurrence on a baseball team where winning has suddenly become infectious.

"We're having fun," Buehrle said. "When you're winning you're having more fun than when you're losing. It just seems like the ball is falling our way and we're playing good baseball."

And it helps when the team is continuing to hit the stuffing out of the baseball with Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind and Juan Francisco all clubbing home runs in the victory.

The Blue Jays have now stroked home runs in 10 straight games (20 in total) and in 29 of their last 34. Toronto leads Major League Baseball with 76 home runs on the season.

"There's no break in that lineup right now," groused Joe Maddon, the Tampa Bay manager.

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Encarnacion, especially, remains almost unstoppable at the plate, his home run in the four-run Toronto fifth inning his third in as many games and his 14th in the month of May.

Encarnacion only had two home runs over the first month of the season.

"You can't describe it," Toronto manager John Gibbons said of Encarnacion's huge impact with the bat. "Eddie's on some kind of roll right now.

"He got off to a somewhat slow start like he did last year but n in the back of your mind you knew it was just a matter of time."

The Blue Jays will send recent Triple-A callup Liam Hendriks to the mound on Wednesday to try to secure their fifth straight win over Tampa.

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