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Starting Pitching Fueling Bisons Success

Stroman throws gem before promotion to Toronto

One of the biggest reasons that the Bisons sit close to the top of the International League standings, and are in the mix for the top of their division, is strong pitching from the starting rotation.

This is remarkable considering some of the meltdowns and chaos happening in the Toronto bullpen, and the steady march of great performances had Bisons manager Gary Allenson all smiles as the team came home from an eight-game road trip.

Consider that the Bisons went 7-1 on their last homestand, with most of the games played before small crowds and horribly cold conditions. None were more memorable than April 29, when 23-year-old Mark Stroman threw six innings of no-hit ball, gained 10 strikeouts, and might have gone on to pitch only the second Bisons no-hitter in the history of Coca Cola Field. He was overpowering and dominant as he left the mound after his sixth inning of work. Allenson lifted him most likely due to pitch counts mandated by the parent club. By the following weekend Stroman was gone, promoted to Toronto for his first stint in the Show. “We might not have even needed our outfielders tonight he was that good,” said Allenson.

There have been more. Liam Hendricks nabbed his fifth win of the season this past weekend down in Charlotte, putting together yet another strong six-inning performance. Starter Kyle Drabek has been solid on the mound, with the occasional bad inning about the only blotch on what is otherwise great pitching. Then there is Sean Nolin. He has also been the victim of that one bad inning where the wheels seem to come off.

About the only trouble spot in the Bisons rotation is Ricky Romero. The Blue Jays are paying him a boxcar seven-figure salary, yet he is struggling to get it right as he gets his starts here in Buffalo. Romero is a fallen ace who had his troubles in spring training and was shipped to Buffalo before camp was even shut down for the regular season to begin.

Romero seems to be regressing. Save for one great start here in Buffalo on April 17, he has not had any quality performances, and his 0-1 record masks the struggles he has encountered as he tries to get his groove back.

Allenson almost bristled when asked if he was surprised about the early success of his pitching staff, which has been bolstered by solid appearances out of the bullpen by closers Neil Wagner and Bobby Korecky. “You mean because guys like Stroman and Nolin are basically new here?” Allenson shot back. “They’ve got good stuff around the plate. I know that. Our bullpen has been a little shaky for a bit there, but the last week or so it’s been good. They keep us in games. It’s nice to know that when you’re down and the bullpen allows you to contain the damage and that gives you a chance to come back. It’s a game of momentum, so even if you’re down a run you feel like you’re up a run. So our bullpen has been a key for us.”

Stroman’s brilliance in Buffalo has not necessarily translated to success in the big leagues. Since his promotion to Toronto, he has appeared in five games coming out of the bullpen. This past Sunday he was shelled in his relief appearance against the Los Angeles Angels, giving up six hits and four runs in only 1.2 innings of work in another dreary loss by the Blue Jays, who are dealing with huge problems not only in their starting rotation but also in their bullpen. “That’s the whole thing with the minors, we’re here to develop players and get them ready to help the big club. I’m always glad to have a guy like Neil [Wagner] in my pen. But whoever they need up there, we then have to work with the staff we’ve got,” said Allenson. “So far, it’s been working out for us here in Buffalo just fine.”

Around the bases (great hits update)…

• Outfielder Kevin Pillar’s 18-game hitting streak came to an end on the recent road trip, but then he plated three multi-hit games in a row. His dismal average of the first two weeks is now a distant memory, as he has emerged as one of the Bisons’ top offensive weapons.

• If Ryan Goins is disappointed about his recent demotion to Buffalo, he’s not showing it. He already has four multi-hit performances, and last week at home made four highlight reel defensive plays at second base in one game, smothering a sure hit and recording the final out to seal the win on the final day of the homestand.

• And congratulations to the 2014 class in the Bisons Hall of Fame: former manager Eric Wedge, former first baseman Greg Tubbs, and Buffalo area scout Bob Miske. All will be inducted at the Bisons game on July 11 at Coca Cola Field.

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