It was during the seventh inning of Buffalo's 6-3 victory over the New Orleans Zephyrs Monday night that manager Brian Graham and pitching coach Gary Ruby began considering whether starter Roland DeLaMaza's arm was spent.
His pitch count was getting up there. The Zephyrs seemed to be hitting him a little harder with every at-bat. Yet neither Graham nor Ruby was about to make a move.
The two have come to accept something about DeLaMaza that others in baseball seem reluctant to admit. So what if he can't bring his fastball to the plate humming a 90-mph tune. He knows how to win. And when you get right down to it, isn't that what the game's all about?
"He worked hard to get back in this ballgame, expended a lot of energy," Ruby said. "But you know what? When you have a guy who's been winning like he has, you have to give him the respect and give him a shot at it."
Like most opportunities that come his way, DeLaMaza wasn't about waste it. He retired the final two batters, each representing the tying run, to secure his first complete game since 1994 and further his reputation as the Bisons' top pitcher of their unexpectedly successful season. Their lead in the American Association East is up to six games over Nashville, which was rained out Monday.
The outcome, settled before a crowd of 10,055 at North AmeriCare Park, improved DeLaMaza's record to 8-1 and left his earned-run average at 2.74.
Yet there was doubt whether DeLaMaza, 11-8 in 47 appearance with Class AA Canton-Akron over the last two seasons, would even begin this season in Buffalo. So much doubt that DeLaMaza wasn't included in the Herd media guide sent to press just before the season.
It's always been that way for DeLaMaza, a fifth-year pro. His fastball hovers around 84-86 mph and tops out around 87. Scouts check their radar guns and groan. They reason that if DeLaMaza doesn't get eaten alive at this level, he'll surely meet his match at the next.
So much for worshiping the gun. DeLaMaza has a career record of 48-14 with a 3.16 ERA.
"They tell me each year I got to go out and prove myself, and that's all I can do," said DeLaMaza, a 25-year-old right-hander. "I'm trying to put some numbers up with the help of all the guys behind me, and the catchers. I'm just trying to do my best each time out.
"If I could light up the gun, maybe in the low 90s, maybe 89 consistently, I think their eyes would open up a little more. But what I throw, like I said, I have to prove myself."
DeLaMaza, coming off his one and only loss of the season, had his shaky moments. The Zephyrs opened a 3-1 lead by scoring twice in the fourth after, with two out, DeLaMaza walked a pair of batters on four straight pitches. He then yielded RBI singles to Dennis Colon and Russ Johnson.
"I think I got picky with my breaking ball pitches . . . Picky as far as nibbling on the corners, trying to put every pitch on the corner instead of -- just throw it for a strike and get ahead," DeLaMaza said.
All year long, DeLaMaza has made it easy on the Buffalo offense. Only once in his eight starts has he surrendered more than three runs. So it was time Herd batters voiced their support, which they did with a five-run fourth against starter C.J. Nitkowski. Alex Ramirez, Torey Lovullo, Les Norman and Trenidad Hubbard had RBI hits in the inning, while Casey Candaele knocked in a run with a groundout.
When he returned to the mound, DeLaMaza was working with a 6-3 lead and Ruby and Graham were liking their chances.
"He's got a little better stuff than most people realize," Ruby said. "He's not a 90 (mph) thrower, but he's got good life on his fastball; he reaches back once in a while to get a little extra. He's got very good command . . . and he's very capable of throwing offspeed pitches behind in the count.
"Everything you want to get accomplished with a young pitcher, that's what he's mastered. Plus, he's tough."
"He falls into that category of not having an overpowering fastball or an out pitch/slider," Graham said. "So unfortunately from a prospect category, he has to battle for everything he gets.
"All his managers love him," Graham said. "All the scouts second-guess him."
The series continues at 7 tonight with Ben Blomdahl (5-7) and Trever Miller (3-6) the scheduled starters. The Bisons plan to activate reliever Danny Graves and infielder Pat Listach before tonight's game.