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TIRED BISON BULLPEN LETS LEAD SLIP AWAY

At least you can say this for the beleaguered Buffalo Bisons bullpen: Some help is on the way.

Closer David Riske, who has a team-high 12 saves, was sent back to the Herd Tuesday by the parent Cleveland Indians when outfielder Wil Cordero was activated from the disabled list. Tribe setup man Paul Shuey is getting close to coming off the DL as well, potentially meaning the Bisons could see Roy Smith or Steve Woodard return to aid the cause.

The reinforcements can't come soon enough. The pen blew up again Tuesday night, giving up six runs as Buffalo blew a 3-0 lead in an 8-6 loss to the Indianapolis Indians before 7,722 at Dunn Tire Park.

Nerio Rodriguez was touched for a two-out single in the sixth by Elvis Pena that scored the tying run. Then lefty Mark Watson, who made 16 appearances for Buffalo last year, gave up five runs in the eighth in his 2001 Bison debut. Mike Coolbaugh's two-run homer, a no-doubter into the left-field screen, snapped a 3-3 tie and put Indy up for good.

It's hard to put the lighter fluid to the fire concerning the relievers even though they have a 6.33 ERA to date on the Herd's 2-3 homestand. They've been lights-out much of the season but are simply overworked because of injuries and the starters' inability to work deep into the game. The bullpen's combined ERA of 3.99 in June is well above the 2.61 it posted in May.

"We're to the point now where we have to protect some people from over-using them," said manager Eric Wedge, who has called on at least three relievers in six of the last seven games. "It's a long year and this is just a tough stretch we have to get through."

Sunday's 11-7, 12-inning loss to Louisville didn't help. Starter Dan Smith gutted out seven innings in that one that ostensibly saved the pen, but the extended overtime killed the benefits of Smith's effort.

"The runs have been coming against us and we've been using up the pen," said catcher Chris Coste. "It's one of those things. A lot of the pitches aren't that bad but they (Indianapolis) are a good hitting ballclub, just like Louisville was."

Tim Drew threw five innings in his first game back after an eight-day stint on the disabled list and turned over a 3-2 lead to the pen. It didn't last long. Rodriguez, who gave up D.T. Cromer's game-winning grand slam Sunday, yielded a leadoff double to Brian Lesher but nearly escaped the inning before Pena's single to left.

"I made a little mistake on the leadoff hitter," said Rodriguez, back in the pen after a stint as a starter when the rotation was riddled by callups. "I was trying to throw the cut fastball away and got it up. At least I feel a little better (than after Sunday's game). I just want to be out there trying to do the job every time, whether I'm starting or relieving."

"Nerio was better," Wedge said.

Watson relieved Rodriguez with two out and a man on third in the seventh and kept the game tied by fanning Mike Sweeney on a full-count pitch. He couldn't pull a similar trick in the eighth as Lesher led off with an infield single and Coolbaugh followed by bashing Watson's first pitch to put the Indians up, 5-3.

Indy wasn't finished. A two-out, two-run double by ex-Bison Marcos Scutaro made the score 7-3 and Scutaro scored the inning's final run on Sweeney's single. Five of Indy's runs in the game came on two-out hits.

"That's the key to winning seasons -- getting two-out hits and preventing two-out hits with runners on base," Coste said. "Those things happen."

"We're kind of in a little struggle now but we're trying to hang in there," Rodriguez said.

The Bisons got three runs in the second, an inning highlighted by Mark Budzinski's RBI single that extended his hitting streak to 13 games. The Herd merely made things interesting in the ninth off reliever Matt Williams as Coste cracked a three-run homer.

Leadoff man Alex Sanchez was 4 for 4 to lead a 15-hit Indy attack. It was his first game back in Triple-A after being returned by the parent Milwaukee Brewers. He extended his hit streak to 11 games, a stretch that began May 30 before his promotion.

The teams meet again today at 1 (Radio 1520) as Ryan Drese (1-0) makes his second start for the Bisons against Indy's John Snyder (2-7).

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