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Injuries Shaking Up Herd Roster

Yet team keeps on winning...

So much for “staying healthy.”

Buffalo Bisons Manager Ken Oberkfell has repeatedly emphasized that one of the major reasons for the team’s success has been avoiding the injury bug. Injuries were one issue that demolished the Herd’s chances last season, when young players not ready for AAA were thrust into playing roles to which they were not acclimated.

But lo and behold. The Bisons came home last week for another eight-game homestand and managed to post six wins. Then this past Sunday in Lehigh Valley, the team won its fifth straight game. They had not managed to put together a five-game winning streak since 2007.

While Oberkfell has had to make numerous roster adjustments, the hits, and the big games, just keep on coming. “Guys are stepping up and making plays,” said a grinning Oberkfell last week. “It’s great to see that we’ve got the depth that we do here.”

Who can argue. The parent New York Mets went through their own recent injury woes. Pitchers Jonathan Niese and John Maine were sidelined with injuries. As a result, the Bisons lost its two best players from their pitching staff—starter R.A. Dickey, whose knuckleball has dazzled and fooled AAA opponents, and closer Elmer Dessens, who had managed to earn six saves and post a 5-0 record with the Bisons before his call-up.

The Bisons have had their own share of injuries as well. Last week four players went down in one game, the worst being a hamstring pull by leadoff hitter Jason Pridie. Along with Pridie, Ruben Tejada and Josh Thole also had to leave the game with injuries, and Andy Green had his hand injured after being hit by a pitch. All three players managed to return to the lineup, while Pridie was placed on the disabled list on May 19.

In addition, Mike Cervenak missed most of the month of May due to inflammation of his right heel.

But the reinforcements who have come onto this roster have performed admirably. And with respect to the pitching staff, this team is finding its identity as a hitters team capable of producing the big inning.

“It’s nice. It’s nice, I tell you,” said Oberkfell. “That’s what is great about the organization. We got guys who can come in and we can throw in and they do a nice job. [Emmanuel] Garcia comes in a gets a big hit, and [D.J.] Wabick hits a big three-run triple. It’s good to see. It’s good for those guys to get in there and get it done, and if worse comes to worse, we’ve always got Hessman.”

Mike Hessman. He has already collected 14 home runs and 48 RBI while batting in the .300 range. His mammoth home runs at Coca Cola Field have hit, and even cleared, the tall netting in left field.

The Mets landed yet another home run threat for the Buffalo roster when they signed Valentino Pascucci, who has hit three bombs since joining the Bisons on May 14. Pascucci was signed from the independent Atlantic League, but Oberkfell knows him well. “He played for us when we were down in New Orleans back in 2008. He hit a truckload of home runs for us that year.”

Actually 27 home runs for the New Orleans Zephyrs, who were then the Mets AAA farm team. Pascucci has been following Hessman in the fifth spot in the batting order since coming to Buffalo.

Hessman will have a chance to reconnect with his old teammates this weekend, as the Toledo Mud Hens come to Buffalo for a four-game set starting Thursday.

The Mud Hens will be followed by the Syracuse Chiefs. The Chiefs have been red hot this year, and currently lead the Bisons by a hair for first place in the division. Some of this success has been due to the hot pitching of phenom Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg has been a sensation wherever he has visited and played. His start in Rochester last week drew an overflow crowd to Frontier Field, and fans could not get enough of his performance, which included six and a third shutout innings, the presence of national media and officials from the parent Washington Nationals, and fans gobbling up Strasburg t-shirts at the team store, at a price of $20 no less.

It looks now like Strasburg will not be in the pitching rotation when the Chiefs come to Buffalo next week. The Washington Nationals begin a homestand on June 4, and it chances are that Strasburg will be activated by that date, to allow him to pitch two games in that first rotation at Nationals Park.

The chaos in the Bisons roster may not be over, as the Mets have had their own troubles in New York, and rumors are swirling as to the futures of general manager Omar Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel. The Mets managed to take two of three games against the Yankees in last weekend’s subway series, but the winds of change are swirling, and how it all goes down may have a big impact on Buffalo’s clubhouse in the weeks ahead.

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