Blake Gailen is asked about his height and he rises slightly on his toes like a boxer ready for Round One and starts laughing.
“If you want to say 5-10,” he said, “you can say 5-10.”
You can say it, but the truth is Jim Negrych, all 5-foot-9 of him, is almost two inches taller than the Buffalo Bisons’ new outfielder.
“I like to say, 5-8¾,” Gailen said, “and I have big shoes on right now.”
The Bisons signed Gailen not for his height but for his bat. Making his Triple A debut, Gailen went 2 for 3 in the Bisons’ 2-0 victory over Lehigh Valley in front of 9,841 Saturday at Coca-Cola Field. Both Rochester (72-63) and Norfolk (70-64) lost Saturday so the Bisons picked up a full game in the International League wild card standing and trail the Red Wings by 2 1/2.
As Buffalo (69-65) built a 2-0 lead, starter Sean Nolin (1-1) protected it by allowing five hits over 6∏ innings. It was the southpaw’s second start since his promotion from Double A New Hampshire on Aug. 17. Andy LaRoche went 3 for 4 and Brad Glenn added an RBI for the Herd.
Noted for his quick stroke, Gailen slapped a 2-2 pitch between first and second in the third inning.
“That kind of took the weight off my shoulders and the monkey off my back a little bit,” Gailen said. “I had a little bit of the jitters so it was definitely nice to get that thing out of the way and hopefully the floodgates are open ”
Gailen popped out to center in the fourth then singled to left in the sixth. He was issued jersey No. 67, which didn’t have his name on the back. Fitting because Gailen has gone incognito for some time.
“He really impressed me just taking batting practice, he can really swing the bat well and has a short path to the ball,” Bisons manager Marty Brown said. “Lefties didn’t bother him and he looked like he moved well in the outfield and you’ll probably see him in center some, too.”
The parent Toronto Blue Jays signed the 28-year-old Los Angeles native Friday. He played in 117 games this season for Lancaster (Pa.) of the Independent Atlantic League, where he hit .288 with 11 homers and 52 RBIs. He was the Atlantic’s MVP and Baseball America’s Independent Player of the Year in 2012 when he batted .338 with 22 homers and 89 RBIs.
“He’s a low strikeout guy, puts the ball in play and is a good defender,” Brown said. “He has the ability to put the ball in play. It’s a possibility we’ll bring him back next year … bring some hunger in here.”
Hunger? More like starving for Gailen, a baseball nomad. The career .329 hitter has spent the majority of his seven-year pro career in independent leagues. He’s hit over .300 in five seasons — including .406 in 69 games for the Lincoln Saltdogs of the American Association in 2011. But Gailen had never been above the Double A level until Saturday.
“I was undrafted so I kind of had to work my way into organizations, just kind of grinding away trying to find myself an opportunity,” Gailen said. “I found one here so hopefully I can run with it.”
Gailen was invited to spring training this year by Colorado, played well but was released. He returned to Lancaster and waited. He finally got the call Friday.