BUFFALO, N.Y. (From Bisons.com)- Ricky Romero had to wait awhile for his first win as a member of the Buffalo Bisons.
The left-hander got his initial victory Tuesday in his 12th start with the team Tuesday at Syracuse. On Sunday afternoon, he followed that up by fully exemplifying what made him a 15-game winner and an All-Star in 2011 with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Romero picked up his second win in the matinee at Coca-Cola Field, going a season-long eight innings in the Herd's 7-1 win over the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders to take the concluding game of a three-game series. The RailRiders swept a doubleheader Saturday night to take the series.
On the road to regaining the All-Star form he once had, Sunday was the most promising step yet. But there was plenty of evidence that would lead one to believe Romero could allow just one run on four hits and only one walk while striking out four, as he did against the RailRiders.
It was the fourth straight quality start for the southpaw, and he has recorded six of them in his last seven outings. He is becoming increasingly assertive each time out, building up to Sunday being the most excellent Romero has been all season.
"That's as good as I've seen him up here," manager Marty Brown said. "He came out from inning one and really pounded the zone, didn't hold anything back, got a lot of the easy outs because he was pitching ahead for the most part.
"... I think you can see his confidence building. You can see the fact that he believes in him and really sells out on everything he's doing out there, pitch-by-pitch."
A runner didn't advance past first base until the seventh inning, when David Adams was able to come around and score on a J.R. Murphy RBI double after drawing a leadoff walk. Brown even noted with strong conviction his starter could have went the distance, but he wanted to give Mickey Storey, who pitched the ninth, some work as the All-Star break has begun.
"I think the consistency of throwing strikes and being in the zone, getting a lot of quick outs," Romero said of what worked well on the day. "That was the result today, let the defense work behind me, I got a lot of groundball outs, a lot of pop outs."
He certainly did fire a plethora of strikes while working quickly through innings. The key to that was having his two-seam fastball up to speed.
Romero's velocity was consistent the whole game, throwing his fastball in the low 90s, en route to being in control the whole game, keeping his pitch count low. He finished with 93 pitches, an astounding 62 of those going for strikes. The longest inning he had was a 17-pitch seventh, and he had five innings of 10 pitches or less.
"When you have control of that heater, it just makes everything else better," Romero said. "That's been the thing right now where I'm jumping ahead with my fastball and using my change-up and curve ball when I need to and my cutter when I need to."
After allowing five runs on six hits and five walks over 3 1/3 innings in a home start against the Durham Bulls June 24, Romero has looked outstanding. Over his four-game quality start streak, he has improved his record to 2-3, fanned 21 batters compared to just six walks, given up 25 hits and allowed nine earned runs over 28 innings.
"I think it's been a progression," Romero said. "I've been feeling great for the past month and a half, ever since that Norfolk start (June 1, eight starts ago) it's been a development of consistency. I think there was a little rough start somewhere in between that, but I bounced back from it and I have been feeling great."
It's an aggressive approach that has Romero, who has a 5.56 ERA, pitching confidently, thus yielding the positive results.
Earlier in the season, there were times Romero would be pitching well, then would lose control, walk batters and give up a costly hit or two, all in the span of an inning or two. He attributed that to being tentative at times, trying to aim the ball instead of what he's doing now, just staying loose and throwing.
Brown called noted those types of situations were brought on by "Chuckie The Demon."
"Chuckie didn't show up (Sunday)," Brown said.
"It's more just, 'Here you go, here's my best stuff, hit it - if you hit it, so be it,'" Romero said. "... This is who I am and this is the kind of pitcher that I am, and I've always been like this and showing that mentality where I'm going to attack you whether you hit me or not."
A four-run fifth distanced the Herd and gave Romero a comfortable cushion the rest of his day.
A Kevin Pillar single loaded the bases with one out and they were soon cleared. Jim Negrych hit a hard chopper to Dan Johnson at first base, and he misplayed it for an error. The ball went off his glove and into the Herd's bullpen in foul territory in mid-right field, scoring all three runners and Negrych ending up at third to further the lead to 5-0.
Negrych was credited with one RBI on the play, and he would score the next at-bat on an Andy LaRoche sacrifice fly to left. Of the four runs in the frame, three were unearned.
Sean Ochinko added his third home run of the season the next inning, a solo shot to left-center that concluded the scoring for the Bisons. The usual catcher who played first base Sunday extended his hit streak to seven games with the long ball, going 9 for 23, including all three of his homers, over that span.
Munenori Kawasaki also played in his first game since being optioned to Buffalo by the Toronto Blue Jays Saturday after Brett Lawrie finished his rehab assignment and returned to the Blue Jays. He made an immediate impact, scoring two runs, including one that was set up by a steal of second in the first that led to a 1-0 lead.
It was his fourth game and third stint with the Herd this year. Kawasaki was a member of the Bisons' Opening Day roster before being called up to the majors twice.
Romero's masterful performance was a continuation of a stretch of solid starting pitching from Buffalo's staff. It was the ninth quality start from the Bisons over the last 11 games, and prior to Sunday's game, starters had an ERA of 3.38 over the stretch that began July 4.
This All-Star break will consist of three off-days for each team across Triple-A. The 26th annual Triple-A All-Star game will be held Wednesday at Aces Ballpark in Reno, NV. Buffalo will return to action Thursday to begin an eight-game homestand with the first game of a four-game set against the Toldeo Mud Hens, the last-place team in the International League West.
At 49-47, the Herd is within reach of the wild-card spot, and can also catch the IL North-leading Pawtucket Red Sox, in an attempt to make a postseason run.
"We've got the type of club that can run off some wins, we really do," Brown said. "Our rotation the way it is now. It just depends on how we mesh."
BISONS NOTES: Jim Negrych and Mauro Gomez are the two Bisons' that will not be able to fully experience the league-wide time off. They were both elected as starters for the International League All-Star team. Gomez will also participate in Monday's Home Run Derby...Gomez, the IL's leader in home runs with 25, had the day off...The herd improved to 4-7 against the RailRiders this season...Former Buffalo Bills and Hall-of-Fame quarterback Jim Kelly was in attendance and threw out one of the first pitches to a loud ovation from the crowd.