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TOR@TB: Buehrle dominates Rays, fans 11 over 8 2/3

Mark Buehrle will look to continue bucking his own personal trend of early season woes when he takes the mound at Rogers Centre tonight against the Astros.

The Blue Jays left-hander has traditionally struggled in the early going of regular-season play. Prior to the gem he threw in his 2014 debut against the Rays, Buehrle had a 4.32 career ERA in March and April, the highest of any other months. Last season, Buehrle allowed at least five runs in five of his first seven starts, and by May 6, he had an ERA of 7.02.

But in last Wednesday's win over the Rays, the durable, 14-year veteran was in the zone through his 8 2/3 innings, racking up 11 strikeouts and allowing only four hits to build off his solid 2.93 Spring Training ERA.

"He was really good; he might have found the fountain of youth," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said in a half-joking manner. "He said all Spring Training long that he's felt the best he has felt in a long, long time."

Buehrle's 11 strikeouts marked just the second time in his career he's reached double digits in that category. He's reached 12 strikeouts only once, in an April 16, 2005, game against the Mariners. Buehrle was 2-0 with a 0.53 ERA in two starts against Houston last season. He threw his only complete game of 2013 against the Astros on July 25 in a 4-0 shutout.

The Astros will counter with Brett Oberholtzer, who was dealt a loss by the Yankees in his first outing this season, allowing three runs and five hits in 5 2/3 innings. The left-hander was 4-5 with a 2.76 ERA through 13 appearances in 2013, his first Major League season.

"I threw the ball really well my first game. Obviously, I would like to go a little deeper," Oberholtzer said. "You want to have success and pitch well and ultimately get the win to help your team,"

Astros: Castro goes deep in return
Jason Castro made an impact in his return to the lineup on Sunday, lifting a two-run homer off Angels starter Jered Weaver in Houston's 7-4 win. Castro had missed the previous two games with a bruised right foot.

The All-Star catcher's ankle was still wrapped on Sunday, but he was happy the injury wasn't more severe. Castro was the designated hitter against the Angels on Monday.

"It could have been worse possibly, but I'm just thankful it wasn't and it's just a pretty bad bruise and some soreness," Castro said. "There's nothing wrong with it. You just have to get over that hump, and I think we're pretty much there."

The injury occurred last Thursday, when Castro was squarely hit by a pitch. He said he doesn't plan to wear extra padding to protect the foot.

"I don't really plan on getting hit on the front of the foot again," Castro said. "I don't think what I have would have really done much anyway, so I'll just wear the normal shin guards I wear for the inside of my ankle and try to get out of the way."

Blue Jays: Club struggling offensively
Timely hitting will be key to Blue Jays' success moving forward. The team is battling just .196 (9-for-46) with runners in scoring position through seven games. On top of that, heading into Tuesday's series opener, Toronto has yet to score more than four runs in a game.

It's a problem that will be solved once a few bats heat up, Gibbons said following the team's 6-4 loss to the Yankees on Sunday afternoon at Rogers Centre.

"We've got a few guys in our lineup that are cold right now," said Gibbons. "We've won a few games, gotten some pretty good pitching, so I'm optimistic [wins will come] once they get going. It shouldn't be that far off. Too many of them have proven themselves in the past."

Shortstop Ryan Goins, center fielder Colby Rasmus and third baseman Brett Lawrie are among the Blue Jays' slumping hitters. Goins isn't expected to produce show-stopping numbers at the plate, but he's a dismal 1-for-16 to start the season. Lawrie is 2-for-21, and Rasmus is 2-for-22 through seven games.

Worth noting
• Drew Hutchison's loss in Sunday's game was the first of his career at Rogers Centre. The 23-year-old Blue Jays righty was 3-0 in five games on home turf heading into the contest.

• Melky Cabrera's Sunday was full of threes. The Blue Jays outfielder hit his third home run of the season, marking the first time in his career he has homered in three consecutive games. It was also the third leadoff home run of his career.

• Twelve of the Blue Jays' 22 runs this season have come via the home run. Conversely, the fourth-inning home run by Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner off Hutchison was the first surrendered by a Toronto starter this season, a span of 36 1/3 innings. It was just the second home run given up by the team all season.

• The Astros are off to a slow start at the plate this year, hitting .191 as a team through seven games. Nearly a quarter of their hits (10 of 41) have been home runs and they have nearly as many extra-base hits (20) as they do singles (21).

Robbie Grossman is in an 0-for-18 slump; Marc Krauss is an 0-for-13 slump. Jose Altuve is 0-for-9.

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