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Denney hoping to pitch in

When Kyle Denney started warming up in the bullpen in the seventh inning Friday night, there was a buzz in the scouts section and the press box of Dunn Tire Park. It turns out Denney was simply having a scheduled throwing session and wasn't coming into the game.

But Denney, who hasn't pitched for the Herd since suffering a fractured skull here June 26, said Saturday he's ready to go and can contribute to the Buffalo cause during the Governors' Cup playoffs.

"I feel fine and why not try?" Denney said before Game Four of the International League semifinals against Indianapolis. "It would be a tough situation but as a competitor I want to do it. Would I be able to start and go five innings? I don't know. I'll give them what I've got.

"I don't want to hurt the team but I want to help them in any way I can. Marty (manager Marty Brown) will do the right thing and put guys in the situation to help the team the best."

Denney, on the road back from the line drive hit by Durham's Joey Gathright, made his first competitive appearance since then last Saturday for Class A Mahoning Valley. Denney gave up a run on two hits in one inning but was still happy with the outing.

"It was great just to see a hitter again," Denney said. "My line wasn't very good but I threw the ball a lot better than the line and that's what was important."

Denney said he'd be thrilled to get back on the mound for the Herd this year. He's trying to be part of his third straight championship team after winning in 2003 at Double-A Akron and last year with Buffalo.

"I told (Brown) I'll do anything: start, relieve, close, whatever," Denney said. "It would be great for me to contribute in a positive way. These are my guys. I've been with them all year and it would be awesome to get back out there."

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The Bisons' top three hitters -- Brandon Phillips, Joe Inglett and Mike Kinkade -- are 16 for 49 in the first four games of the series. The middle of the order, however, has been a trouble spot for the Herd with Ryan Garko called up to Cleveland.

Hitters 4-5-6 -- Andy Abad, Ernie Young and Jason Cooper -- are 6 for 45 so Brown shook up the order for Game Four. Abad was out of the cleanup spot for the first time and moved to No. 5. Cooper, whose lone hit in the first three games was a solo homer in the fourth inning of Game Two, batted cleanup for just the third time this season. Young dropped to No. 6.

While their middle-of-the-order men have been struggling, the Bisons have had major trouble with Indy cleanup hitter Graham Koonce. A former Pacific Coast League MVP with Sacramento, Koonce is 8 for 16 with three doubles and a home run.

"We're constantly behind in the count with him," Brown said. "We're allowing a guy with his kind of power and hitting ability to hit in a 2-1 count every time he goes to the plate. Shoot, I wish I could hit in his counts. We have to get him to offer at some quality pitches."

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Pitcher Francisco Cruceta, who spent most of the last two years with the Bisons before being claimed on waivers by Seattle on Aug. 26, was the starting pitcher late Saturday night for Tacoma in Game Four of the Pacific Coast League semifinals at Sacramento.

Tacoma trailed the series, two games to one, after Friday's 7-4 win at Sacramento, an Oakland affiliate that has won the last two PCL championships. Cruceta pitched 6 2/3 innings of two-hit ball in Sunday's 3-2 win over Sacramento that allowed Tacoma to clinch the PCL North title.

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Friday's crowd of 7,016 was the second-largest thus far in the IL playoffs, behind only the 8,962 Toledo drew for its first home game Friday against Norfolk. Indianapolis sold only 4,324 tickets combined for its two home games in this series.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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