MOOSIC, Pa. — You expect big hits from the likes of Jim Negrych and Luis Jimenez, and the Buffalo Bisons got them during their 10-4 victory Saturday night over the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
But an interesting sidelight to Buffalo’s 15-hit attack was the two hits and two RBIs from catcher and No. 9 hitter Mike Nickeas, who stands to get a lot more playing time as Buffalo’s top receiver with Josh Thole gone to Toronto.
Nickeas entered the game batting just .156. But he collected an RBI double in the sixth inning, one of Buffalo’s seven two-baggers in the game, and added an RBI single in the seventh.
It was Nickeas’ second two-hit, two-RBI game in his last four outings. He’s 6 for 19 in his last five starts after opening the season just 8 for 63.
“I’m really happy for Josh,” said Nickeas. “He’s done the job and really deserving of going up and now hopefully I can keep putting these kind of games up and keep helping the team. I’m fine in the role of backup but it’s easier to put up some numbers offensively starting. It’s good and I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
“Mike has worked extremely hard during the time when Josh has been getting most of the at-bats,” said manager Marty Brown. “But Mike has continued to try to figure out a way to stay above the ball, do little things and he did that tonight.”
Nickeas, a 30-year Vancouver native, is the answer to a bizarre trivia question as he was the only player to appear with Buffalo in all four years of its affiliation with the New York Mets. He was traded to Toronto in December along with Thole in the R.A. Dickey deal.
Nickeas saw his most duty with the Herd in 2011 when he played in 60 games, batting .214. He hit .364 in 22 games for the Herd last year while batting just .174 in 47 games with the Mets.
“It’s unbelievable to be back, great for me,” Nickeas said. “I’ve really grown to appreciate and love Buffalo. It’s a really cool town with great fans and a wonderful place to live for 5-6 months a year. And being Canadian with Toronto is very neat for me. It’s fun to be part of the only team in Canada and fun to represent.”
Nickeas also caught a strong game from starter Claudio Vargas (5-5), who went 6∑ innings and matched his season high with six strikeouts. Vargas was in a 3-0 hole through three innings but then retired 10 of 11 men while the offense got in gear.
Negrych went 2 for 5 to push his batting average to .354 and snap a tie with Rochester’s Chris Colabello for the International League lead. Negrych’s two-out, two-run double to left-center in the fourth inning was the first of three straight doubles that quickly turned the three-run deficit into a 4-3 lead.
Jimenez was also 2 for 5 and his RBI single in the fifth gave him 53 RBIs for the season. Jimenez improved his average to .340, which is fourth in the league. The Bisons put the game away with a three-run seventh, capped by Ryan Goins’ two-out, two-run single up the middle.
A listed sellout crowd of 7,268 attended the opener of a four-game series. It was Buffalo’s first game at PNC Field since Sept. 5, 2011, when the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre team was still named the Yankees. The ballpark located between the two Eastern Pennsylvania cities was completely reconstructed over the last year in a $43 million renovation.
Reliever Brad Lincoln, who threw 48 pitches and four shutout innings to get the win in the Blue Jays’ 18-inning win Saturday over Texas, was sent back to Triple-A after the game to give the Jays a chance to augment their bullpen. Brown said he expects the Bisons to lose a pitcher today.
“I took my phone with me into the dugout,” Brown said with a pained smile.