The hot hitting has been the exciting part of Buffalo Bison baseball this early season.
But the blip on the screen has been inconsistent starting pitching. And that picture just got a little more complicated this week.
Coming into Wednesday night’s game, an 8-4 loss to the Norfolk Tides at Coca-Cola Field, the Herd’s starting pitchers had a 5.50 earned run average for May.
Claudio Vargas suffered his second straight loss Wednesday, giving up five runs on eight hits in six innings of work. In the fifth inning with a 3-2 lead and two outs, he gave up the backbreaker – a three-run home run to Danny Valencia.
“It wasn’t really typical of him. He came out and threw lackadaisical,” manager Marty Brown said. “He didn’t really have a lot of energy, but he regrouped. The pitch he gave the home run to Valencia on was a change-up first pitch, which probably is not the best pitch selection. …
“Claudio has to put it in spots that are favorable to him and keep the ball down. He didn’t do that.”
Recent developments in Toronto may affect the Herd’s quest to create consistency on the mound. The Blue Jays will need someone to take J.A. Happ’s scheduled start on Sunday after the 30-year-old lefty was injured by a line drive to his head Tuesday night in the second inning in Tampa Bay.
Then on Wednesday night, Ricky Romero was yanked after just a third of an inning, giving up three runs on four hits with two walks, indicating that the starter who was sent to Class A ball out of spring training to work on mechanics wasn’t ready to return to the big club.
It was the first time the Blue Jays have had back-to-back starters go no more than 1∏ innings since 1980.
When pitching problems collide, what happens?
The dust and decisions were still settling Wednesday night, including who will start for the Herd in Thursday’s homestand finale. It was scheduled to be Edgar Gonzalez, but he had his contract purchased by the Blue Jays and relieved Romero in the first inning in Tampa. He gave up five runs on six hits in 4∏ innings.
It looks as if Ramon Ortiz will have his start pushed up a day, but things can change quickly.
“We have to wait and see what happens,” Brown said. “We’re always waiting by the phone to see what’s going on.”
On a night when the Herd could have used a solid, steady performance from their staring pitching, Vargas struggled from the first inning.
He gave up a leadoff home run to Jason Pridie as the center fielder drove a 3-2 pitch off to right-center.
Back-to-back hits put runners on second and third with no outs and a wild pitch from Vargas allowed one run to cross the plate as the Tides took a 2-0 lead.
The Bisons responded in the bottom of the inning when Anthony Gose got on base on a throwing error by the shortstop, then scored on a double by Jim Negrych.
Then came the scary moment of the game when home plate umpire Andy Dudones was drilled with a fastball in the middle of his face mask. He took two steps then buckled. He walked off the field under his own power and after a 13-minute delay the game resumed with two umpires.
Back in game action, a single from Moises Sierra tied the game while a single by Josh Thole gave the Herd a 3-2 lead.
Vargas again got into trouble in the third, giving up a leadoff double to Pridie, who took third on a fielding error by Gose in center field. A walk to Yamaico Navarro put runners on the corners with no outs. A hit back to Vargas by Lew Ford was not fielded cleanly, but Vargas got Pridie out in a rundown to save a run. An infield popup and a strikeout ended the threat.
He didn’t have that kind of success in the fifth. With two outs Vargas gave up a bunt single and walk, then surrendered a first-pitch home run to Valencia. That gave the Tides a 5-3 lead.
Buffalo had an opportunity in the seventh when a hit by Mike McCoy and a pair of walks to Gose and Negrych loaded the bases with two out, but Sierra grounded out to second to end the inning.
Norfolk added two insurance runs in the eighth after back-to-back singles scored on a fielding error by Velez, adding a single run in the ninth.
A solo home run from Ryan Langerhans in the ninth closed out the scoring.
There was a scoring change on Negrych’s game-winning hit in the seventh inning on Tuesday. The hit was changed from a single to a double.… Wednesday’s paid attendance was 4,778. … The cast of Jersey Boys, now playing at Shea’s, will sing the national anthem before Thursday’s 1:05 p.m. start. It is the last game of the homestand.