The Buffalo Bisons are the International League's worst defensive team and are just 11th of 14 clubs in pitching. But thanks largely to an offense that fueled a 24-12 start, the Herd has managed to stay in first place in the International League North since May 5.
So manager Torey Lovullo was particularly pleased his club began the second half of its season with Thursday's 2-1 win over the Louisville Bats before 8,168 in Dunn Tire Park. This one was all about pitching and defense, not Buffalo's forte thus far.
Starter Eric Dubose (2-0) threw seven innings to win his home debut. Setup man Bubbie Buzachero worked a perfect eighth and closer Mike Koplove overcame a leadoff walk in the ninth to earn his fifth save. A Buffalo team on pace for its most errors since 1998 played errorless ball and turned three double plays, the last coming when third baseman Keith Ginter speared Ryan Jorgensen's liner and fired to second to catch Jeff Bannon off the bag and end the Louisville fifth.
"I've been preaching pitching and defense all along," Lovullo said. "We picked up the baseball well and we got a great effort from Eric Dubose. Players make plays like [Ginter's grab] when pitchers are attacking the strike zone. Hopefully that's a sign of things to come. . . . That play was a huge pick-me-up."
The 5-foot-10 Ginter had to extend his glove hand to the apex of his leap to grab Jorgensen's shot.
"It was one of those slow line drives I saw off the bat," Ginter said. "I just jumped as high as I could and reached up. I really didn't have much more."
Louisville led, 1-0, at the time but the play seemed to energize the Herd. Brad Snyder led off the bottom of the fifth with a double and eventually scored the tying run on Luis Rivas' sacrifice fly. In the sixth, Ginter led off with a booming triple to the wall in left-center -- his first since 2004 with the Milwaukee Brewers -- and scored the winning run on a wild pitch by Louisville starter Tom Shearn.
"As a hitter, I'd rather hit with a man on third with less than two outs," Ginter said. "I was trying to do that for the hitter. They don't pay us any extras to hit triples so I usually just stop at second."
Koplove found trouble in the ninth with a leadoff walk to Joey Votto but retired the next three hitters. The key at-bat came with one out between Koplove (217 appearances for the Arizona Diamondbacks the last six years) and Mark Bellhorn (second baseman on Boston's 2004 World Series champions). Koplove won the confrontation as Bellhorn was so far out in front of a change-up that his bat went flying into the Buffalo dugout.
With Edward Mujica back in Cleveland, Koplove is Buffalo's closer. He crumbled Monday as Lousiville rallied for four eighth-inning runs in a 6-5 win but had no such trouble Thursday.
"I was proud to see him regain his confidence and composure and start to attack hitters," Lovullo said. "We're going to count on him."
Prized pitching prospect Adam Miller, out since May 12 with a finger tendon injury, will throw a simulated game this afternoon and will be eased back into a relief role Tuesday in Scranton if the session goes smoothly. . . . X-rays of shortstop Hector Luna's nose and cheek were negative after he was hit by a pitch Wednesday night. He's day to day. . . . Jeff Harris (3-4) pitches for Buffalo tonight at 7:35 (Radio 1230 & 1330 AM) against Norfolk.
Bisons 2, Louisville 1
The Pitch: Ginter makes leaping grab at third base to end fifth, then triples and scores winner on wild pitch in sixth. ... Dubose (2-0) goes seven innings in home debut. ... Koplove pitches hitless ninth to earn save.
Fast fact: The Bisons have completed their schedule against IL West teams, posting an 18-14 record.
Next game: Tonight vs. Norfolk at Dunn Tire Park, 7:35 p.m. (pregame tent party/postgame fireworks)