Melky homers in fourth straight game to lift Buehrle
After health problems last season, Cabrera looking like his old self
TORONTO -- Melky Cabrera is starting to transition from one of the Blue Jays' biggest disappointments to one of their biggest surprises.
The veteran outfielder has started the season with a bang. He's displayed a surprising amount of power at the plate and also appears to be moving a lot better in the field. This is the player the Blue Jays thought they were getting a year ago in free agency.
Cabrera was back at it again Tuesday night as he homered for a fourth consecutive game while left-hander Mark Buehrle battled through 5 1/3 innings in Toronto's 5-2 victory over the Astros at Rogers Centre.
"We're in a good park to hit home runs, that's for sure," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "You know what, I thought when we signed him last year he had a chance to hit some home runs here. He's hit them before, he's not known as a home run hitter, but it's a perfect place for it."
The Blue Jays originally signed Cabrera to a two-year contract because they viewed him as a perfect complement to Jose Reyes at the top of their order. The ability for both players to post a high average and reach base at an above-average rate could have only meant good things for the likes of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind.
The problem is that plan never worked out. Reyes was lost just two weeks into the season with an ankle injury while Cabrera appeared as though he was rapidly aging before everyone's eyes. He struggled to get down the line, had extremely limited range in left field and lost all power from the lower half of his body.
It wasn't until late in the season that the Blue Jays found a benign tumor on Cabrera's spine that seemed to be the main cause. In fact, the issue went well beyond baseball and could have turned into a life-threatening situation, but was rectified with a surgical procedure late September.
Cabrera's now healthy and doing his best to prove the skeptics wrong. In addition to all of the home runs, he's hitting .314 (11-for-35) with five RBIs. Even though Toronto has once again lost Reyes to an injury at the start of the season, Cabrera is doing what he can to help ease that blow.
"Last year, the tumor in my back didn't allow me to play as good as I could," Cabrera said through interpreter Luis Rivera. "I feel 100 percent now and I'm ready to go. I'm good, I don't have any pain now.
"I feel like my swing has always been the same. It just happened that the tumor last year didn't allow me to really swing the bat well. But I feel like my swing feels the same."
The most surprising aspect of Cabrera's hot start has been the rate of his home runs. His four homers already surpass what he did in all of 2013. It's unrealistic to expect his current rate to continue, but the Blue Jays will be more than happy to ride the streak for however long it lasts.
The timing of Cabrera's latest heroics also could not have come at a better time. The Blue Jays were clinging to a 3-2 lead -- thanks to a Bautista homer and a pair of RBI doubles by Dioner Navarro -- when Cabrera went back to work. After falling behind in the count, 0-2, he sent a hanging slider from Kevin Chapman over the wall in left field. That gave the Blue Jays all the breathing room they would need as they got back to .500.
Jose Cruz Jr. holds the Blue Jays record for most consecutive games with a home run at six. Cabrera is just the latest in a relatively long list of Toronto players who have done it for four games, but not a lot of people would have expected it out of the former All-Star who has never hit more than 18 in a season.
"Even playing the outfield, it seems like he's a lot quicker running around," Buehrle said. "I can't speak much to [the home runs] because he's crushed me over my career. He's owned me. But just seeing him last year, it didn't seem like the same guy, playing against him for all of those years."
Buehrle wasn't particularly sharp vs. Houston, but managed to get through his outing without much damage. He allowed a lot of hard-hit balls and frequently found himself pitching with men on base, but still only gave up one run.
The 35-year-old allowed a total of eight hits, walked one and struck out three. There was at least one Astros baserunner in every inning, but Buehrle managed to escape almost every jam by keeping Houston hitless in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Buehrle admitted afterwards that he didn't feel very good warming up before the game and had trouble finishing a lot of his pitches.
"I think that was probably the reason I got taken out," said Buehrle, who allowed a sacrifice fly to Matt Dominguez in the second. "Everybody was kind of asking, wow 80 pitches, and I think it relayed from [pitching coach] Pete Walker down to Gibby that I didn't feel good in the bullpen and was just kind of battling out there.
"I was up in the zone and everything, wasn't getting ahead in the count like I was last start. I'm fortunate to get away with one run in 5 1/3 innings. That could have been a game where I gave out eight to 10 runs."
Steve Delabar, Aaron Loup, Brett Cecil and Sergio Santos combined to allow just one run over 3 2/3 innings to close things out for the Blue Jays.