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Second most experienced roster in IL gets Bisons off to good start

The Buffalo Bisons made errors on the first two balls put in play Sunday and faced a bases-loaded jam in the second inning of Game One against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Herd starting pitcher Mat Latos managed the crisis by allowing just two runs.

That’s just what you’d expect from a guy who has pitched in 194 big-league games and won 14 or more games three times in the majors.

Latos got the Bisons started off on a double-header sweep of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and demonstrated one of Buffalo’s strengths: Experience.

The Bisons have the second oldest roster in the International League, based on the Opening Day lineups.

The average age of the Herd’s players is 28.1 years, counting players on injured reserve. Buffalo has the most veteran pitching staff of the 14 IL teams at 28.9 years, by The News’ count. The Herd is roughly in the middle of the pack, at eight, in terms of positional players at 27.2 years.

“It’s great because you’ve got guys like Mat and Jarrett Grube who have been around awhile who are literally going out there and don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Bisons manager Bobby Meachem. “I man, they’ve been working their butts off for years and years trying to get back to the big leagues. They don’t know if it’s going to be good enough or not, but they continue to do the work. That’s admirable for me to look at and for the younger guys coming up to see that.”

Part of the reason Buffalo has a lot of experience is a lot of the top young talent in the Toronto Blue Jays organization is still at the lower levels. Buffalo has one top-10-rated prospect on the roster in first baseman Rowdy Tellez (No. 6). Double-A New Hampshire has five of the Jays’ top-10 prospects.

Fourteen veterans on Buffalo’s roster of 31 (counting the DL) were acquired by Toronto in the offseason.

Does experience equal an IL contender? Too early to say. Obviously, the health of the major league club and the degree of roster turnover during a season is a huge factor in any Triple-A club’s success.

But Meachem says good veterans set the right tone. If a young guy needs to be reminded to run a ball out or shown proper pregame preparation, the manager isn’t the lone voice.

“They’ve already talked to each other in a group setting,” Meachem said. “The guys have said, nobody have thin skin, don’t be too sensitive, but we’re going to hold each other accountable. They said it. It came out of their mouths, and I hope it works out that way.”

The Bisons, who improved to 3-0 Sunday, open the season with proven veterans at the top of the batting order.

Leadoff hitter Chris Coughlin, 31, was the 2009 National League rookie of the year for Philadelphia. He got nine at-bats for the Cubs in the World Series last October.

No. 2 hitter Jake Elmore, 29, is a lifetime .304 hitter at Triple-A. No. 3 hitter Darrell Ceciliani, who turns 27 in June, is a solid contact hitter with a career .287 average in the minors.

Latos, 29, has a 71-58 career record in the majors with a 3.60 earned-run average. He was signed in February as insurance for the Jays.

A less experienced pitcher might have let Sunday’s opener get out of hand. Instead Latos lasted four innings, and the Bisons won, 4-3.

“It’s tough when you give up errors and runs are scoring to keep throwing the ball in the strike zone,” Meachem said. “Sometimes you see guys have a tendency to overthrow to try to get strikeouts. But he just had confidence in our defense and kept throwing the ball over the plate.”

The Toledo Mud Hens, farm team of the Detroit Tigers, have the oldest IL team, by a long shot. The Mud Hens’ average age is 29.3 years. Toldeo has eight positional players age 30 or more. The Mud Hens are on a string of seven straight losing seasons.

The youngest IL team is Indianapolis, farm team of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Indy’s average age is 25.8 years. Cincinnati’s farm team in Louisville and the Yankees’ Scranton/Wilkes-Barre team are next youngest at 26.2 years each.

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