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BISONS OPEN WITH MOUND OF POTENTIAL
TALLET TO FRONT CAPABLE ROTATION

The pitcher who put the finishing touches on the Buffalo Bisons' Governors' Cup championship serves as the team's Opening Day starter.

Brian Tallet, who recorded the final three outs in relief in the 6-1 triumph over the Richmond Braves in September, starts at 4 this afternoon when the defending champion Bisons host the Braves in Dunn Tire Park.

Free-agent signee Steve Watkins, Kyle Denney and Jeremy Guthrie also will pitch against the Braves in the opening homestand, while Francisco Cruceta is scheduled to pitch against Syracuse on Monday in the first of a two-game series with the SkyChiefs.

"I have confidence that all five of them can go out and give us a chance to win," said Herd manager Marty Brown. "It's not like you're jockeying to see who's the No. 1 pitcher. On any given day any one of those five guys could be our No. 1 pitcher."

The rotation is more about assessment and development.

"It's a situation where we're going to evaluate early, and we have to find out what this team is about," Brown said. "The priority for me was to make sure we get our starters built up."

That's especially the case for pitchers on the verge of moving up such as Tallet, who underwent Tommy John elbow surgery in 2003 and is part of a small collection of pitchers ready to help the Indians' rotation or bullpen. Tallet competed for one of the final two spots in Cleveland's bullpen in spring training, but manager Eric Wedge selected Rafael Betancourt and Matt Miller, who were on the staff last season.

A fastball, slider, change-up thrower, Tallet is coming off a solid spring, yielding just eight hits, one run, six strikeouts and a pair of walks in six appearances (10 1/3 innings pitched, 0.87 ERA).

"There's no complaints on my end," Tallet said. "I felt I threw the ball well, and I gave myself a chance to make the (Indians). At the end of camp they thought it was best suited for the team to have someone else besides me, so I'm going to come down here, work on stuff and try and get better. If I get the opportunity, this year, next year or whenever, I'll be ready."

Tallet will be a starter with the Herd, but his pitch count will be supervised closely. He was on the path to Cleveland as a starter before his career was interrupted by the ligament problem in his elbow.

"If Tallet goes up, it will probably be out of the bullpen," said Ken Rowe, Bisons pitching coach. "They want him to get a lot of innings here and throw a lot of pitches."

Coming out of the 'pen is fine by Tallet. He just wants to pitch.

"They told me they still see me as a starter, (and) they see me as a reliever," he said. "They just haven't figured out what they want to do with me yet. I simply told them, 'I don't really care.' It doesn't matter to me, I'll do whatever. Whatever I can do to help make the team better."

Then again . . .

"I love starting," he said. "You can set the tone for the game, and you basically get to control the game from the start until whenever you're done."

Denney, a 10-game winner last season, seemed the favorite to get the Opening Day nod until he was struck in the knee by a flying bat during an intersquad game last week. Still, Brown said Tallet would have been the likely starter anyway because Cleveland wants to see more work from the left-hander.

The unknown among the rotation is Watkins. A right-hander, Watkins spent seven years in the San Diego Padres organization before signing with the Indians in late November as a nonroster player.

He began last season at Double-A Mobile and was promoted to Triple-A Portland, where he pitched in the bullpen and the rotation. He was called up to the Padres on Aug. 18 and made 11 appearances -- all from the bullpen -- while posting a 6.28 ERA. Though Watkins' ERA was high, he once retired 12 consecutive batters.

The Bisons donated 2,000 tickets to the MilitaryFamily Assistance Center of Buffalo for today's game. The center will distribute the tickets to members and families of 26 units from the Army, Navy, AirForce, Marines and Coast Guard.
e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com