Buehrle steps up, stops Gio, Nationals

Buehrle steps up, stops Gio, Nationals

Buehrle steps up, stops Gio, Nationals
MIAMI -- Mark Buehrle may not have been an All-Star this season, but the veteran left-hander is becoming the Marlins' stopper.

Picking up where he left off before the All-Star break, Buehrle was brilliant once again on Saturday, striking out seven and allowing one run in seven innings, as the Marlins beat the Nationals, 2-1, in front of 28,707 at Marlins Park.

Facing Washington All-Star lefty Gio Gonzalez, the Marlins needed a superb performance from Buehrle, who has won four straight starts.

Over his last 28 2/3 innings, the veteran southpaw has allowed three earned runs, and he's struck out at least seven in each of his last four outings.

Buehrle's big performance snapped the Marlins' three-game losing streak and evened the four-game series with the Nationals at one apiece.

"I don't put any more pressure on myself," said Buehrle, now 9-8 with a 3.13 ERA. "I just go out there trying to win. I don't say, 'We need this game. We've been struggling, losing games.' I go out there trying to win every game. We can win 10 in a row or lose 10 in a row, I go out there, and I don't put any more pressure on myself. I go out there trying to have fun and get outs."

With Buehrle as stopper, the Marlins still are looking to solidify their closer situation.

As part of a closer by committee, Steve Cishek worked a five-out save, securing the win by striking out Jesus Flores with Roger Bernadina attempting to swipe third on the last pitch of the night.

Because of Heath Bell's first-half struggles, manager Ozzie Guillen is going with matchups. Cishek threw 28 pitches and struck out three of the six batters he faced. If it was necessary, lefty Mike Dunn was warming up in the ninth.

"Very tough situation," Guillen said. "We want [Cishek] to get out of the eighth a little quicker than it was. But I like the way he was throwing the ball. I think he was very sharp. We were ready just in case, the lefties come up, Dunn was ready."

Guillen informed Bell that he could regain the closer's role, but he must win the job back.

"We had a nice conversation," Guillen said. "I made it very clear. We are a better ballclub with him on the mound. But he has to win his way back. I will try to give him the opportunity to get that. This was a must-win game against a team we're chasing.

"I will give him an opportunity to pitch his way back into the closer situation. It's not easy when you're in the dugout, thinking about the options. My options -- I don't care about the fans, media, owners -- I've got to put my best option there. If I think my best option is Heath, he will be back on the mound."

Cishek's heroics were huge, but the night belonged to Buehrle.

"He pitched a good ballgame," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "We didn't really center on him. You got to hand it to him. We certainly had opportunities with the right guys up. We just didn't get the hit when we needed it. A couple old-fashioned National League ball when they bunted the guy over and the next guy delivered a hit. That wins you ballgames."

Gonzalez had his curveball working, striking out nine in six innings. But the left-hander gave up two runs, which were too much on a night Buehrle showed why he is a former All-Star.

"I've just been throwing well," Buehrle said. "John Buck's been calling a great game. Just working well, getting balls in play. I'm still scratching my own head trying to figure out why I'm striking all these guys out."

Buehrle has 73 strikeouts in 120 2/3 innings. In his last four starts, he has 29 strikeouts.

"I try to shoot for 100 every year, just to get triple digits," the veteran said. "It seems like I'm getting there faster than I usually do. I don't know if it's just the ball is moving a lot more right now than it usually is. I have no rhyme or reason why it's doing that. I'm just going out there trying to get guys out."

Small ball led to the Marlins scoring their decisive run in the fifth inning. Emilio Bonifacio led off with a bunt single, and he moved to second on Donovan Solano's sacrifice bunt. Buck lined an RBI single to right.

The bunt, actually, was a matter of Solano missing a sign.

"It was a bad play that turned around to be a good play," Guillen said. "He thought the third-base coach [Joe Espada] put on the sign."

Gonzalez, a native of nearby Hialeah, Fla., who had a large cheering section on hand, was perfect through three innings, striking out five of the first nine he faced.

Jose Reyes became Miami's first baserunner with a single to center to open the fourth. After Omar Infante's sacrifice bunt, Carlos Lee ripped a run-scoring single to right. It was the veteran first baseman's first RBI since being traded to the Marlins on July 4.

The Nationals tied it in the fifth on Flores' broken-bat RBI single. Ian Desmond opened the inning with a bunt single. Buehrle, one of the toughest pitchers in the league to steal against, had Desmond picked off. But Desmond was safe at second when he was struck by Lee's throw to Reyes.

Guillen argued briefly that Desmond was out of the baseline, because he swerved onto the grass when he was hit by the ball. The umpires ruled Desmond safe.

"Good call," Guillen said. "I just went out there to make sure nobody got caught up with the umpire. As long as you don't turn and do it on purpose, that's a very smart call. Very smart play.

"I went out there, because I see people booing. That's the first time I told the umpire, 'Let me stay out here and pretend we're arguing.'"

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.