It's been more than a month since the Buffalo Bisons languished in fifth place in the International League's North Division, 9 1/2 games out of first place.
Times have changed for the Bisons. They're just 1 1/2 behind first-place Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, even though they dropped their third straight game to the Richmond Braves on Wednesday night. The 6-1 loss in front of 7,986 in Dunn Tire Park marked the longest losing streak for the Bisons since they dropped three in a row to Columbus at home June 4-6.
Keeping pace for the division title may have gotten a little trickier for the Bisons when they lost starting center fielder Grady Sizemore to the Cleveland Indians.
Sizemore, who turns 22 on Aug. 2, got the call late Tuesday night for his first stint in the major leagues.
"Anybody that has Grady on their roster for any amount of time is going to miss him for everything he brings and the type of player he is," Bisons manager Marty Brown said. "We have guys here who can step in and fill his spots, though, and they're ready to do so."
Taking Sizemore's spot in center will likely be Raul Gonzalez, who played there Wednesday, though Ryan Ludwick and Chris Clapinski are also capable.
Sizemore was hitting .292 with seven home runs and 49 runs batted in for the Herd. He was tied for the lead in the IL in triples (eight), tied for third in hits (115) and was third in runs scored (68).
"At the beginning of the year, Grady struggled a bit, but he seemed to get better every day," Brown said. "He hit well in the two spot for us and played great defense in center field. Cleveland gets game reports every day, and his consistency was really good. It's tough to leave a guy down here when's he's consistent and can help your ballclub."
Sizemore got his first major-league at-bat in Cleveland on Wednesday, going 0 for 1 in the Tribe's 14-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox.
"Grady is a kid that keeps his chin to the grindstone," Bisons first baseman Russell Branyan said. "He's a quiet kid who comes to the ballpark every day looking to get better. He knows right and wrong, and he knows baseball. He's not going to be one of those guys who takes being in the big leagues for granted or get lazy."
In Wednesday's game, the Herd scored its only run in the first inning. Brandon Phillips led off with a single and moved to third on a single by Gonzalez. As Gonzalez unsuccessfully tried to steal second, Phillips went home, scoring on a fielder's choice.
The Bisons had the opportunity to score more runs in the first when they loaded the bases with two outs, but Ernie Young struck out to end the inning. The Herd had another chance to add runs in the seventh with runners on second and third and two outs, but Gonzalez flew out to left.
"We left runners in scoring position a lot this series," Brown said. "We're not doing anything different offensively, but (Richmond) has thrown some good arms at us and have kept us off balance, even when it's a hitter's count."
The Bisons collected nine hits Wednesday but stranded seven runners. What's been the reason for the Herd's lack of timely hitting?
"That's a tough question because you can't expect a team to go a long time hitting .400 or .500 with runners on base," Branyan said. "We scored six runs (on Tuesday), and today it was tougher to come by. We got hits, but we weren't able to get any across the plate. I think we came off a high in that series against Scranton, but that's no excuse. We just have to keep at it and hopefully turn it around on the road trip."
The series and homestand concludes at 1:05 today (Radio 1520 AM) with Bisons right-hander Chad Durbin (3-3, 3.46 ERA) scheduled to start against left-hander Dan Meyer (1-1, 3.38). The Herd has a three-game road trip to Syracuse starting Friday.