TORONTO — Melky Cabrera insists he’s got the same swing he did a year ago. It’s just the way he’s feeling that’s all new.
Seven months after having a benign tumour removed from his spine, the Toronto Blue Jays left fielder is healthy, buoyed by an off-season workout routine with slugger Jose Bautista and ready to show the player he can be.
Cabrera slammed a home run for a career-best fourth consecutive game on Tuesday as Toronto beat the Houston Astros 5-2 at Rogers Centre.
“I feel 100 per cent now and I’m ready to go,” Cabrera said through a translator.
Cabrera, signed by Toronto before last season for $16 million over two years, had missed more than 50 games due to various injuries before surgery in September to remove the tumour, which is not believed to be related to the steroid use that saw him suspended 50 games by Major League Baseball in 2012.
“I’m good. I don’t have any pain now,” said Cabrera, who had never before homered in three straight games in this his 10th season in the Majors. “I knew last year wasn’t the way I was capable of playing.
“I’m going to continue to work hard and continue to play hard and try to help the team win games.”
Cabrera’s homer gave the Blue Jays some breathing room in the bottom of the seventh. Up 3-2, on a night where Houston continually threatened but couldn’t cash in, he drilled an 0-2 slider from Astros reliever Kevin Chapman over the left-field wall to make it 5-2 and effectively end the drama.
“I thought when we signed him last year he had a chance to hit some home runs here,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of Cabrera, who had a career high of 18 home runs with Kansas City in 2011. “He’s not known as a home run hitter but it’s a perfect place for him.
“He’s off to a good start. He and Jose (Bautista) keep going back and forth, a little competition there.”
Bautista took the club lead with his fourth home run of the season to open the scoring in the bottom of the first.
Cabrera’s blast matched that and ended the night’s scoring before 13,123 at Rogers Centre.
Veteran catcher Dioner Navarro had an RBI double from each side of the plate to account for the rest of the scoring for the Blue Jays (4-4), who were outhit 9-5 on the night by the Astros (3-5).
Veteran left-handed pitcher Mark Buehrle, who bent but didn’t break over 5-1/3 innings, ran his record to 2-0 despite being hit hard by the Astros.
“Tonight was one of those where I had to battle,” said Buehrle, who gave up eight hits and an earned run before leaving up 2-1. “I was up in the zone on everything, wasn’t getting ahead in the count.
“I’m fortunate to get away with giving up one run in 5-1/3 innings. That could have been a game where I gave up eight to 10 runs, so luckily we snuck out the win on this one.”
Four Toronto relievers held the Astros to one run and one hit over 3-2/3 innings as Houston had base-runners in each of the first eight innings but went 0-14 with runners in scoring position.
Sergio Santos struck out the side in the ninth for his third save.
Gibbons said it was obvious Buehrle “was a little bit off” so he decided to pull him even though the southpaw had only thrown 81 pitches.
“But he did what he does best. He survives. He keeps you in the game and he got some big outs when he had to,” Gibbons said. “I just thought in a one-run game it was time to turn it over to the bullpen, everybody was pretty rested down there.”