Every outing is a learning opportunity for Jeurys Familia. It may sound cliche, but the 22-year old righthanded pitcher is serious about his preparation and improvement.
One of the top prospects in the New York Mets organization, Familia showed not just solid pitches but mental toughness Wednesday afternoon, picking up his first Triple-A win in the Buffalo Bisons' 12-3 victory over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in Coca-Cola Field.
In just his second Triple-A start, Familia pitched five innings, giving up four hits and all three runs in the third. He issued just three walks against eight strikeouts and of his 100 pitches, 58 were strikes.
Familia gave his assessment of the win through the translation of teammate Fernando Cabrera:
"He feels pretty good about it. It's just his second start of the season, but so far he's been learning everything. He's learning when he does good things, too, because it's not just about making mistakes. He's working on that stuff for sure but he keeps learning about the hitters in this league. He wants to understand more about the game and every outing he feels he's focusing better."
It was a spotty start for Familia, who gave up three hits through the first two innings. In the third he walked two, then missed a pitch to Dewayne Wise. The outfielder crushed a three-run home run to right field, which gave Scranton a 3-2 lead.
"We were trying to go fastball away," catcher Rob Johnson said. "He jerked it in off the plate a little bit. He was a little bit wild today, but the home run shook him up a little bit."
That was a positive shakeup. Familia struck out the next batter. In fact, he struck out five of the next eight batters he faced. He had his only 1-2-3 inning of the game in the top of the fourth when his team still trailed by a run.
After the Herd put up seven runs in the bottom of the fourth, Familia was working with a 9-3 lead. He capped his outing with an 80 mile-per-hour curve ball that caught Jack Cust looking. Not a bad strikeout to get on your 100th pitch, especially since Cust has 105 big-league home runs with six teams.
Looking for signs of mental toughness early in the season? That's a pretty good one right there.
"We talked about when you have a couple of runs on the board, you go after guys. You don't diddle around try to make the perfect pitch. You go after guys," Johnson said.
"It's still a learning process for this kid," Bison manager Wally Backman said. "He's going to be one heck of a pitcher some day in the big leagues. Right now we've got to take baby steps with him. He's 22 years old. He's got lightning in his arm.
"He's got good stuff. His stuff plays in the big leagues right now. It's just a matter of us being patient enough with him. Letting him get a little more consistent and being able to pitch both sides of the plate."
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The Bisons bullpen has been impressive so far. Wednesday they pitched four scoreless innings and gave up only two hits. That brings the earned run average down to 0.75 for Buffalo relievers.
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Yankees centerfielder Chris Dickerson made a spectacular catch in the fifth inning. He got a late jump on a blast by Herd first baseman Josh Satin. He dived at the warning track and made the catch sliding head-first into the wall. He left the game under his own power and was replaced by Ray Kruml.
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The Bisons kicked off the 25th anniversary season of Coca-Cola Field (see also Pilot Field, North AmeriCare Park, Dunn Tire Park) in style with the win. The Herd is now 15-10 in home openers in the downtown ball park. They had lost three of the last four home openers. There's an addition to the Herd's uniforms this year with a pair of patches to commemorate big events. The side of the player's caps will sport a logo for the 2012 Triple-A All Star Game, which will be played in Buffalo on July 11. Meanwhile the 25th Season logo will be on the uniform sleeves to celebrate the 25th year of the downtown ballpark. The nine-game homestand continues today (1:05 p.m., Radio 1520 AM) with righty Chris Schwinden (1-0, 0.00 ERA) scheduled to start against the Yankees' lefty Manny Banuelos (0-1, 10.80 ERA).