In their 2013 debut season in Buffalo, the Toronto Blue Jays decided they needed a little more oomph in the Bisons’ lineup so they put in a waiver claim for former Pawtucket Red Sox slugger Mauro Gomez shortly after the season began.
Gomez ended up belting 29 homers, collecting 73 RBIs and earning the Herd’s most valuable player honors.
The Blue Jays did something similar the day before this season’s opener, signing veteran infielder Juan Francisco after he was released by Milwaukee.
So far, the results have been ultra-similar.
Francisco has been one of the International League’s top hitters the first week of the season. He went 3 for 4 with three RBIs Friday night and was a home run shy of the cycle as the Bisons dumped the Red Sox, 7-4, in Coca-Cola Field.
Francisco is 12 for 25 on the season with eight RBIs. He singled home a run in the first, belted a towering two-run triple off the wall in center in the second and doubled to right in the fifth.
“To go right there in the middle and have him and Dan Johnson there back to back is pretty good,” said manager Gary Allenson, whose club is 5-2. “He’s got a big-league bat and the knock on him has been his defense, so we’re working on it there.”
Francisco, who declined to speak to the media, is expected to see time at both first and third base in Buffalo. The 26-year-old combined to hit 18 home runs last year for Atlanta and Milwaukee but was released near the end of Brewers spring training after losing first-base duties to a platoon of Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds.
“He’s done a great job and the whole team has chipped in,” said Buffalo starter and winner Kyle Drabek. “Everyone has pretty much done what they needed to to get the job done.”
In the ballpark’s 26-plus seasons, no player has hit for the cycle in a regular-season game. But on this night, Francisco and Pawtucket leadoff man Brock Holt were both one hit away through five innings.
Holt led off the game with a line drive home run into the right-field party deck off Drabek, singled in the third and doubled in the fifth. He had two chances for the cycle but grounded out to pitcher Bobby Korecky in the seventh and singled in the ninth to finish a 4-for-5 night.
Drabek needed 94 pitches to get through five innings but retired seven of the last nine batters he faced to get the win.
“He held on. He bled a little bit, but he stopped it there,” Allenson said. “He could have got a little frustrated but did a pretty good job of minimizing the damage.”
“My arm is feeling really good, so that’s a plus for me,” said Drabek, on the road back from 2012 Tommy John surgery. “As long as I keep doing pregame and postgame stuff, I’ll be able to finish a full year.”
The Bisons jumped on Pawtucket starter Jeremy Kehrt for five runs over the first two innings. Top two hitters Anthony Gose and Steve Tolleson both scored in each of their first two at-bats.
Right fielder Kevin Pillar, who was just 2 for 27, rapped an RBI double in the fifth and scored on an Andy LaRoche single.
There were 4,802 tickets sold for the game, with temperatures dropping into the 40s keeping the in-house crowd down to about 400. ... An eerie fog shrouded the adjacent Thruway ramp, First Niagara Center and the HarborCenter cranes during the third and fourth innings. A few clouds made it to the ballpark outfield but did not impact play. ... The series continues today at 1 p.m. (Radio 1520 AM) as Liam Hendriks (1-0) pitches for the Herd.