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TOR@OAK: Buehrle shuts down A's for seven frames

OAKLAND -- The Blue Jays' starting rotation hasn't lived up to the hype this season, but the same can't be said about veteran left-hander Mark Buehrle.

Buehrle has become the solidifying force on an otherwise disappointing staff that was expected to be one of the best in baseball. While other members of the starting five have either underperformed or suffered through various injuries it's Buehrle who has continued to be the consistent workhorse.

The production continued on Tuesday night as Buehrle extended his streak of scoreless innings to 20 while Jose Bautista and Emilio Bonifacio each homered in a 5-0 win over the Athletics.

"Every time he takes the mound he gives us a chance," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "We don't always win them, but he gives us a good effort, he eats up innings, he does everything right. He's had a tremendous career and he's just building on that."

The fact that Buehrle's season has turned into a success is a testament to just how far he has come since the middle of May. The 14-year veteran got off to the worst start of his career and had an ERA above six as recently as May 17.

There were rumblings that the rocky start to his tenure in Toronto was because of a soft-throwing pitcher transitioning to the tough American League East. Since then, though, Buehrle settled in and has turned into the reliable innings eater everybody has grown accustomed to.

Buehrle is 6-4 with a sparkling 2.96 ERA in his past 13 starts. Only two of those outings were less than six innings and, with the exception of an eight-run start on July 12 in Baltimore, he has given the Blue Jays a chance to win every night.

"When you're making your pitches and hitting your locations, I'm not saying I expect outs, but that's when you're on your game and you want guys to put the ball in play and get outs," said Buehrle, who lowered his ERA to 4.27. "Early in the season, when I was making mistakes they weren't missing them, they were making me pay for them."

The spacious confines of O.co Coliseum also played a role in Buehrle being able to continue his run of success. He normally retires a lot of batters on the ground, but against the A's 13 of his 21 outs came in the air and several likely would have cleared the wall at Rogers Centre.

The end result was Buehrle surrendering just five hits with no walks over seven strong innings. He allowed just one runner to reach scoring position and seemed in complete control from the outset as he was staked to an early lead.

Buehrle hasn't allowed a run since the third inning of a July 20 outing against the Rays. The impressive streak is still well off the franchise record of 33 consecutive scoreless innings set by Roger Clemens from Aug. 20-Sept. 5, 1998. Clemens and Dave Stieb also hold the Blue Jays record for most shutouts in a row with three each.

"That's your definition of a professional pitcher out there," A's third baseman Josh Donaldson said. "He's not going to overwhelm you as far as stuff is concerned, but what he's going to be able to do is change speeds and he's going to make quality pitches.

"As a hitter, you try to hit that pitch that he's going to make a mistake over the plate and hopefully make him pay for that, but we weren't really able to do that tonight."

Buehrle wasn't the only bright spot on the Blue Jays' pitching staff Tuesday night. Right-hander Steve Delabar became the first Toronto pitcher to record three strikeouts on just nine pitches while veteran lefty Darren Oliver surpassed the 1,900-inning plateau with a scoreless ninth.

The Blue Jays provided their staff with all the support it would need in the first inning when Bautista sent a solo homer over the wall in left field. The production continued in the fourth when Colby Rasmus recorded one of his two hits on the night to drive home Edwin Encarnacion from second base.

Bonifacio then led off the fifth inning with a homer to right. It was a rare display of power from the utility man who was given the start in left as the Blue Jays opted to rest Melky Cabrera's sore legs. Toronto went on to score another pair of runs in the inning thanks to an error by shortstop Adam Rosales, who threw the ball away on a potential double play at second base.

"He has some pop in his bat for a little guy, he really does," Gibbons said of Bonifacio. "He played good defense out in left, too. It's come to the situation where he has been the odd-man out. [Maicer] Izturis, playing much better, he has kind of taken over at second.

"When Melky wasn't playing, Rajai [Davis] was out there and we gave him that opportunity tonight and he did a nice job for us. There's so much more in there than we've seen, but it just came down to who's going to play and who's not."

Toronto is now 1-1 on its current 10-game road trip through Oakland, Los Angeles and Seattle. The club will have a chance to secure its second consecutive series victory when the three-game set vs. the A's wraps up on Wednesday afternoon.

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