The star of the night was Edwin Encarnacion.
Fans were anxious to see what the American League All-Star would do on a rehabilitation assignment. There was no going through the motions Tuesday night. The slugger drilled a grand slam in the second inning, pacing the Buffalo Bisons to a 7-5 win over the Norfolk Tides at Coca-Cola Field.
The performance, and the power, was beneficial to the Herd, in the midst of a playoff chase, and good news for the Toronto Blue Jays, who have been without the infielder since he strained his right quadriceps in early July.
But there were other big performances by the Bisons on different legs of their professional baseball journey.
There was the play of Kevin Pillar, the outfielder who has been on the QEW express a few times this season while looking to find a spot with the Blue Jays. His single in the first inning extended his hitting streak to 19 games – setting the mark for the best streak in the International League this year.
Pillar finished 3 for 4. He knocked his 36th double of the season in the fifth inning and added an RBI single in the seventh, scoring Darin Mastroianni.
“If you were to tell him right now he’s got a 19-game hitting streak, he wouldn’t know it,” manager Gary Allenson said. “It’s not about those kinds of things right there. It’s just about contributing and helping the team win. Doing what he can.”
His efforts have helped the Bisons climb back in the playoff race. Now a season-best nine-games over .500, the Herd is 2½ games behind Pawtucket in the Wild Card race.
And while Pillar is helping to generate offense, a rotation of Triple-A rookies is quickly making its mark on the mound.
Tuesday it was Kendall Graveman’s turn to pick up his first win at the Triple-A level. The 23-year-old turned in a gem in his third start with the Bisons. He threw seven scoreless innings, giving up just three hits with one walk and two strikeouts.
Thanks to the grand slam from Encarnacion, Graveman was able to pitch with his first significant lead as the Herd went up, 5-0, in the second.
“Edwin did a great job of course hitting the grand slam,” Graveman said. “But it’s one of those things that when you get an early lead you get out there and really attack the zone and they have to swing at it early. I try to let my defense play behind and I’ve got a couple guys behind me who can really do a great job.”
Graveman has played at nearly every level of minor league baseball this season. In his first full year of pro ball after a four-year career at Mississippi State, he began the season in Class A Lansing, then made 16 starts with Class A Dunedin. Twelve of those registered as quality starts and he had an 8-4 record with a 2.23 ERA.
He made one start with Double-A New Hampshire, giving up two runs in six innings, before being promoted to the Bisons on Aug. 1.
“It’s been an exciting year,” Graveman said. “To start in Lansing and be here now, it’s a blessing. All the hard work that I put in the offseason has paid off. It’s nice to be able to move. It’s nice to change scenery every now and then. I’ve been all over the country so far this year. … I’m just trying to be consistent each and every time I go out and do my job.”
The series continues tonight (7:05 p.m., Radio 1520 AM) with Sean Nolin (4-4, 3.15) scheduled to start for the Herd against Miguel Gonzalez (1-0, 4.50). Bisons Hall of Famer Jeff Manto will be honored in a pregame ceremony as he is inducted into the International League Hall of Fame.