It's been a mostly miserable June for the Buffalo Bisons. A solid, all-around performance in Friday night's 8-0 win over the Louisville Bats in Coca-Cola Field showed a pretty simple solution to their woes.
Get lights-out starting pitching, get plenty of hits, play errorless defense. It was a quick equation for the Herd's third straight victory after a miserable 1-12 stretch that was its worst since 2004.
Buffalo started to find its offense in Durham, scoring 23 runs despite losing all four games that included Monday's 14-10 slugfest. The Bisons scored 24 runs in the four-game set against the Bats, taking the final three games.
In his first start since being named to the Triple-A All-Star Game, ace Matt Harvey (7-3) tossed seven innings of two-hit ball. He struck out nine to take over the International League strikeout lead with 96 and walked just one.
Harvey retired the first 14 batters before Paul Janish rolled a single through the right side of the infield with two out in the fifth.
"The way that Harv threw tonight, that was a big-league guy on the mound tonight — and on a good night," said Buffalo manager Wally Backman. "He commanded the strike zone, threw the secondary stuff for strikes and it was the best I've seen his changeup."
Harvey concurred with that assessment. He said he was happy with his changeup and found a comfort zone with different speeds of curveballs, including a harder one to draw third strikes. He has a 2.16 earned-run average in his last four starts — with 32 strikeouts and just seven walks in 25 innings.
"I was just staying back and letting everything work because I realized I was rushing to the plate a little bit too much," Harvey said. "In my bullpen work I wanted to refine things and stay back and it helped."
The Bisons wore their classic 1988 red and white jerseys from then-Pilot Field's first season. Harvey did his best impression of Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famers of that era like Dorn Taylor and Rick Reed in breaking the Bats' spirit.
Neither Taylor nor Reed, of course, could break off a 96-mph fastball like Harvey. He was completely dominant after running to 3-0 counts on the first two Louisville hitters and then rebounding to strike out the side.
"You never like to start the game off three straight balls and do the same thing to the next guy," Harvey said. "I was able to battle through it, stay with [catcher] Rob Johnson and all the credit goes to him."
"He overpowered hitters," Backman said. "The thing that was most impressive to me was that a lot of secondary stuff that he threw was strikes and they're swinging and missing in the strike zone. That's a big thing for the next level."
Elvin Ramirez and Pedro Beato finished up on a combined three-hitter in front of a crowd of 10,101. Josh Rodriguez (4 for 5) and Brad Emaus (three hits, three RBIs) led the Buffalo offense. Oswaldo Navarro, Matt den Dekker and Rodriguez all homered, with the latter two back-to-back in the fourth.
Buffalo gets another crack at Durham in a four-game set starting tonight at 7:05 (Radio 1520 AM). Mark Cohoon will start as the Bisons look to avenge last week's sweep on the road. Cohoon was the loser Monday after giving up seven runs in 3 2/3 innings.
"You get into a rut and lose a bunch of games. There's no telling that you can't come back and win a bunch more," Harvey said. " ... I wish I was throwing against [Durham] but I think guys are amped up to show them some Buffalo baseball."
The Bats loaded the bases in the eighth off Ramirez on two walks and a single but he got Mike Costanzo to take a called third strike to escape the threat.
Bisons 8, Louisville 0
The Pitch: Herd wins third straight as Harvey (7-3) tosses seven shutout innings with nine Ks. ... Emaus goes 3 for 3 with three RBIs. ... Navarro, den Dekker and Rodriguez (4 for 5) belt homers.
Fast Fact: Harvey takes over IL strikeout lead with 96.
Next game: Tonight vs. Durham, 7:05 in Coca-Cola Field (25th season Logo Cap Night).