It seems like it doesn't matter who gets the call. Whether the Buffalo Bisons signal for a long man, a set-up job or their closer, relief is immediately at hand.
The latest display of the Herd's bullpen dominance came during Thursday's 5-3 win over Norfolk in Coca-Cola Field. A trio of relievers combined to fire 5 2/3 shutout innings, allowing just two hits, as the Bisons earned a split of a four-game series.
The Bisons wrapped up April with 14-7 record and the combined numbers of their relief corps are downright astonishing for an entire month.
In 69 2/3 innings, Buffalo relievers have given up just 11 earned runs on 44 hits. They've struck out 57 and walked only 15 while posting a 1.42 earned-run average. Relievers are 7 of 8 in save opportunities and have allowed just four of 17 inherited runners to score.
Lefty Rob Rasmussen was the marquee man Thursday, firing 3 2/3 innings in the longest stint of the year for a Buffalo bullpen member. He left two men on base in the fourth to stop a three-run Norfolk rally and then allowed just one hit over his final three innings. Gregory Infante threw a perfect eighth and Bo Schultz allowed one hit in the ninth while posting his fifth save, one off the International League lead.
"What's really helped us has been the starters going deep into games, so for the most part we've been fresh," said Rasmussen. "Even since spring training, we've been pounding the strike zone, not giving up free passes and making guys hit the ball as a staff in general."
Rasmussen, 26, was converted into a reliever last year after being acquired by Toronto in a 2013 trade with Philadelphia. The former UCLA standout was 1-1 with a 2.72 ERA in 35 games with Buffalo and posted a 3.18 ERA while getting no decisions in his first trip to the big leagues over 10 games with the Blue Jays.
"He was a little bit too much of a thrower last year and not a pitcher," said Bisons manager Gary Allenson. "From the start this year, he's stayed in rhythm with his pitches ... Anytime you get three pitches over the plate and sometimes four, and you pitch backwards a little bit, he's tough. It looked like he was hiding the ball a little bit too and it was tough to pick up."
"This has been great for me. Last year at this time, I was still trying to find my way, find my routine in terms of the bullpen," Rasmussen said. "Now I feel like I've got a good routine in place and it's just going out there and competing. And something that's nice too is when you're familiar with the coaches, the ballpark, the city."
Rassmussen has a good repertoire topped by a fastball, slider and changeup. He struck out two, got four groundouts and two infield pop-ups during his outing. And his first strikeout, of Norfolk second baseman Sharlon Schoop, ended the fourth to strand two runners. Rasmussen credited catcher A.J. Jimenez for mixing pitches and keeping Norfolk hitters off balance, and said working the fastball in tight on right-handed hitters, not the norm for a lefty, was a key to his outing.
"You're just trying to limit the damage as much as you can," Rasmussen said. "They've scored three at that points, so you know they're swinging the bats fairly well at that point. You want to try to throw strikes, let our defense play behind me and get out of it as quick as I could."
Rasmussen said the relief corps isn't wowed by its wild stats and is maintaining a businesslike attitude.
"I want to say it's impressive but I expect that from all of those guys," he said. "We're a very, very good bullpen. We've a very experienced bullpen. You kind of expect it from guys, especially in colder weather with it being harder to hit, with the talent we have and the stuff we have. As good as we look on paper, we've been that way on the field too."