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Bisons’ bats wake up, but pitching falters late

The weather was fantastic. The results were not.

The first four games of the season for the Bisons in Buffalo were played in sunshine with temperatures in the 60s and 70s – an unusual greeting from April to baseball at Coca-Cola Field.

But the Bisons’ output failed to match their surroundings. The Herd put up just one win over four days and closed out the homestand with a disappointing 7-4 loss to the Pawtucket Red Sox on Sunday afternoon.

The offense had been the weakness in the first week of the season for the Herd. There were signs of breakout Sunday afternoon, including a homestand-high eight hits and a solid two-run home run from Matt Dominguez that gave the Bisons a 4-3 lead heading to the ninth inning.

That’s when the pitching, which had been so solid for the Bisons, faltered.

David Aardsma had closed out his first three save opportunities for the Herd. He came in to polish off the ninth, but left with his first blown save and the loss, getting tagged for four runs as Pawtucket rallied for the win.

It was a combination of quality at-bats by Pawtucket and a little bit of hard luck for the Bisons’ defense that set up the PawSox ninth-inning rally. Blake Swihart led off by driving an opposite-field double up the third-base line, then Sam Travis had a bloop single that fell between short and left.

“Once it got to first and third with nobody out, I thought that David tried a little bit too much not to give up any runs instead of just giving up one,” Bisons manager Gary Allenson said. “Pitch to give up one run right there. Instead it snowballed.”

Justin Maxwell drew a walk to load the bases with no outs and a sacrifice fly by Chris Marrero drove in the tying run. Aardsma did get a strikeout for the second out, but back-to-back singles scored three runs to give Pawtucket its winning runs.

Pitching was a problem Sunday before Aardsma’s trouble in the ninth. While he only gave up two runs and left with the game tied, Chris Leroux struggled. He made it only to four innings, throwing 89 pitches. That sent the Bisons to the bullpen early.

“With Leroux, we’ve just got to get more than four innings,” Allenson said. “Twenty pitches an inning is not going to make it. We’ve got to have some 12-14 pitch innings to go a little deeper. We used five relievers today. We need some of our starters to go deeper in the game.”

There was a positive side for the Bisons as some players started to generate some offense. Dominguez went 2 for 4 with the two-run home run and overall the team had eight hits and scored more than three runs in a game for just the second time this season.

“We had a lot of good at-bats today,” Dominguez said. “Took a lot of walks, hit some balls hard, so it’s just a matter of time before they start falling in. It’s really early in the season. We’ll get our timing and things will start to click both ways for us.”

The Bisons also drew seven walks but left eight runners on base, hitting 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position. A bit more offense was good, but Allenson wants to see more aggressive plate appearances – especially with runners in scoring position.

“Sometimes as a hitter the first time up at the plate, you like to see the speed of the guy’s fastball,” Allenson said. “You think he’s throwing hard, you get up there, you get out in front and you’re like ‘Oh, he’s not throwing as hard as I thought he was’ but not to do that at-bat after at-bat, especially with guys in scoring position.

“Sometimes the best pitch to hit is the first one you see. The first time up may be a different story but if it’s second and third with one out, I’m zeroing in on the fastball and if it’s in my spot, I’m letting it go. I’m going to be aggressive. Too many guys are sitting back a little bit, maybe getting too deep in the count and not being as aggressive as they need to early in the count.”