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GARKO RELAXES, SHOWS SIGNS OF SETTLING DOWN

Here's a scary thought: Ryan Garko figures as the season progresses, he'll be able to relax more and settle down at the plate.

So Sunday's four-RBI, 2-for-4 performance with a home run during the Buffalo Bisons' 7-3 romp over the Richmond Braves is a sign of things to come? Maybe.

"I'm just not seeing the ball right now, but I think it's just the early season and wanting to get off to a good start," the 24-year-old catcher said. "Everybody wants to start well, and we're just swinging at a lot of change-ups and sliders, and I'm the biggest culprit."

Garko is coming off a solid spring (.270, five RBIs) and is caught in the adrenaline rush of the early season. He entered Sunday batting just .222 (2 for 9).

"The more he relaxes, the more he feels comfortable, the better off he's going to be," said Bisons manager Marty Brown. "He's trying to do a little bit too much with his swing the first few games. He just has to relax and be Ryan Garko instead of doing too much."

Like in the second inning Saturday during the Bisons' 6-1 loss to the Braves when Garko swung at a 3-2 pitch out of the strike zone with Jeff Liefer running. Garko struck out and Liefer was caught trying to steal second.

"He's a guy who can hit a lot of pitches. He gets aggressive at times in that situation," Brown said. "You have to keep an eye on him and make sure he stays within himself."

Being too aggressive, especially this time of year, is a frequent occurrence.

"You should look at it with the attitude, 'You're going to be here all year,' " Brown said. "If you get called up, great, but don't let a lot of other things distract you."

After Braves third baseman Andy Marte tore up the Bisons for three home runs and four RBIs while going 6 for 11 in the first three games of the series, he went 0 for 4 Sunday.

"We finally got out Marte," said Brown, smiling.

Ernie Young is sizzling at the plate (.462, including 2 for 4 Sunday), but is the 35-year-old outfielder/designated hitter also becoming a threat on the base paths?

Young stole second in the fifth inning after stealing just two bases last season.

"I think a lot of teams get lulled to sleep by Ernie because he doesn't have that blazing speed he once did," Brown said. "But as long as Ernie fills up that stolen base column, he'll be all right."

The Bisons are only 3-9 against the Braves in Dunn Tire Park in their last 12 meetings. From 1998 to 2002, the Bisons were 16-4 at home against Richmond. . . . After going 1 for 10 in the first three games with runners in scoring position, the Bisons were 3 for 8 Sunday. . . . Richmond, which led the International League in fielding percentage last season, didn't commit an error in the series until the first inning Sunday when Kelly Johnson's throwing error resulted in a run scored by the Bisons' Mike Kinkade.
e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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