It’s all about the first-pitch strike.
Throwing that first pitch for a strike immediately changes the strike zone in the hitter’s mind. He starts to swing a bit outside the zone. He’s back on his heels. The pitcher takes command of the count early on.
It’s been a key component to the Buffalo Bisons’ success this season. The team’s earned run average is best in the International League at just 3.08 while the bullpen has developed into a consistent, and dominant, presence.
The Herd stayed in first place in the International League North despite having their game against the Gwinnett Braves postponed Wednesday night as heavy rains moved across Coca-Cola Field in downtown Buffalo.
That first place position comes largely from a pitching staff that collectively is one of the best to come through Buffalo in a number of years.
“This has been really fun so far,” said Bisons catcher Mike Nickeas, who has spent parts of the last six seasons in Buffalo. “I want all the guys to go up as quickly as possible but while they’re here, we’re really enjoying it.”
While Marcus Stroman has already made the transition from his Triple A debut with the Herd to a spot in the Toronto Blue Jays’ bullpen, there are others on the mound who have been impressive.
Starter Liam Hendricks has been impressive with a 5-0 record and 1.51 ERA while being incredibly efficient with his pitches.
Ricky Romero has struggled at times, but that’s been the nature of his journey the last two years. He will get the start in the first game of tonight’s doubleheader (5:05 p.m.) with an 0-1 record and a 6.00 ERA.
Kyle Drabek will start the second game with a 3-2 record and a 4.04 ERA.
And however far those two go, the bullpen is ready to drive the team home.
May has been outstanding for the Bisons’ bullpen with a 0.82 ERA in the first 13 games of the month. They have allowed just four runs on 23 hits in 44 innings of work in May while collectively waking only eight batters and striking out 58.
“No matter what kind of stuff you have, obviously throwing strikes and getting ahead is important,” Bisons manager Gary Allenson said. “If you really watch the game there and the pitcher throws strike one, the hitting zone seems to expand a little bit to the hitter.”
It has taken some of the younger guys in the bullpen some time to adjust to Triple A, but Gregory Infante, Ryan Tepera and Rob Rasumussen have improved steadily, while Bobby Koreky continues to throw up zeroes, having yet to give up an earned run in 25 innings pitched.
“I think some of the younger guys who had been initially a little unsure and a little less confident than we’d like are starting to figure out that they can really pitch at this level and hopefully the next level, too,” Nickeas said.
The teams will play two seven-inning games today. First pitch is scheduled for 5:05 p.m. with gates opening at 4:30. It is single admission for both games while fans holding tickets to Wednesday’s game can exchange them for any game (aside from special event games) in the 2014 season.