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Nieuwenhuis stays hot in the cold; Bisons prevail over Lehigh Valley, 4-2

Baseball weather is bound to arrive at some point. Some day the Buffalo Bisons will play a game under clear skies, no longer subjected to the perpetual threat of rain. Angry winds will give way to gentle breezes. The temperatures will rise to where a ball fouled off the fists no longer feels like a 10,000-volt shock running through the body.

The Bisons have received little in the way of reprieves from the weather this season. Perhaps that helps explain why they entered Friday night's weather-delayed game against Lehigh Valley with a paltry .214 batting average that ranked last in the International League. It's hard to get a feel for hitting when you can't get a feel for your fingers.

But while the elements have conspired against the Bisons as a team, they've done little to affect the individual performance of Herd center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis, the New York Mets' No. 5 prospect as rated by Baseball America.

Nieuwenhuis, 23, extended his hitting streak to 12 games with a double in the fourth inning of Buffalo's 4-2 victory over Lehigh Valley on Friday night at Coca-Cola Field. He made it 16 straight games reaching base by drawing a first-inning walk. In both instances he came around to score on a rain-dampened track, helping the Bisons to make it three straight victories after snapping a six-game losing streak with Thursday's doubleheader sweep of Rochester.

The left-handed hitting Nieuwenhuis reached in four of five plate appearances, raising his on-base percentage above .450. The double in two official at-bats boosted his top-10 batting average to .346. He's been the one constant this season for an offense that looks like it's just beginning to turn the corner. And he's gotten it done in all varieties of weather.

"I grew up in Colorado, I played in high school there, but it's been a while since I've been in this kind of weather," Nieuwenhuis said.

"He's having a great start, and that's what we were hoping to get out of Kirk early in the year," manager Tim Teufel said. "He had a tough year up here last year but I think that's behind him. It's a fresh beginning, a new season, and he's ready to take on this challenge."

Nieuwenhuis hit .225 in 30 games with the Bisons last season after going .289-16-60 with Binghamton, where he was team MVP.

"It was a little bit frustrating not showing that I could hit up here last season," Nieuwenhuis said. "So it did serve as a motivator for this offseason. Worked a little bit harder and it's been so far, so good."

The Bisons jumped on IronPigs starter Brian Bass from the get-go, scoring a pair of runs in a first inning that included singles by Ruben Tejada, Ronny Paulino and Russ Adams. A Nick Evans single drove in Nieuwenhuis to make it 3-1 in the fourth. That made it four RBIs in three games for Evans, who homered twice in the opener of Thursday's doubleheader.

Could second baseman Luis Hernandez be about to break out as well? Hernandez produced a pair of singles and drove in his first run of the season in the seventh.

Bisons starter John Stinson rebounded sharply from his last outing, in which he allowed six runs over four innings, allowing two hits and a run in five innings.

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The Mets placed center fielder Angel Pagan on the disabled list Friday, summoned outfielder Jason Pridie from the Bisons and immediately inserted Pridie into the starting lineup for Friday's game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Pridie, a standout fielder, was batting .186 with the Bisons (11 for 59) with three homers. Infielder Jonathan Malo was promoted from Class AA Binghamton.

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The second game of the four-game series is at 1:05 this afternoon (Radio 1520 AM). The Bisons hadn't named their starter. Ryan Feierabend (0-1, 6.75) is scheduled to go for Lehigh Valley. The announced attendance was 4,279, with a few hundred actually on hand.

e-mail: bdicesare@buffnews.com

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