PITTSBURGH -- I've had quite a reunion the last couple hours in picturesque PNC Park (click pic to see press box view at left), visiting with several Mets with Buffalo connections. Got a chance to pop into manager Terry Collins' office before his daily briefing with beat reporters and he's still as enthusiastic and energetic as he was the first time I met him in 1989.
Had a great chat with Mets bench coach and former Herd manager Ken Oberkfell, who's thrilled to make it back to the big leagues as a coach after a long career as a player. Visited in the dugout with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who starts here Saturday and joked that I had to make the drive here to "see the Bisons". One of them, Dillon Gee, tries to improve his record to 7-0 tonight in the series opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates (7 p.m. at SNY).
The big subject of the day, however, is Lucas Duda. He's back with the big club, batting sixth and playing left field. Duda is 2-20 in 10 games with the Mets this year but hit .302 with 10 homers and 24 RBIs in 38 games in Buffalo this year -- including a .413 clip since coming off the disabled list May 28 after a back strain.
"Anytime you get an opportunity like this, you want to make the most of it and the last couple times I really haven't made the most of it," Duda said before the game. "If you play good in the minors, in Triple-A, I think they might throw you a bone and give you another shot.
"The last couple times I've been up, I haven't been too confident in myself. Hopefully now that I've been up and down for a little bit, I can build on that and gain some confidence and be myself."
With struggling Jason Bay getting his second straight night off, Duda figures to get a chance for a few days in the outfield and perhaps first base.
"I want to see the swings I know he has," Collins said. "I want to see that aggressive, in-balance, strong swing. I'm not asking him to hit homers. I know from the other times he's been here, because I've seen him, that there's a better swing in there and I want to see him use that lower body to drive some balls.
"There can't be a better time. He's red hot and let's see what he can do. ... We all know if this guy swings the bat like he's capable of, he will stay. The ceiling on this guy offensively is very, very high."
Among the Buffalo contingent, tonight's Mets lineup features Justin Turner batting second and playing third base, Duda in left, Josh Thole catching and batting seventh and Ruben Tejeda playing second and batting eighth.
Here's Duda's complete session with the media today:
PITTSBURGH -- Greetings from the Steel City, where I'll spend the weekend checking in on several old friends as the Mets and Pirates meet at PNC Park -- which is about as good as it gets in the big leagues for ballparks.
Look for plenty of quips from Terry Collins and Ken Oberkfell and I'm planning chats with the likes of Justin Turner and Dillon Gee, who is starting tonight's series opener and looking to become the first rookie in franchise history to open a season 7-0. Pretty heady stuff for the guy who won 13 games in Buffalo last year and was the team's Opening Day starter this season.
As discussed in this space last night, the Mets called up Lucas Duda today from the Bisons (no, I didn't drive him down with me!). Richly deserved. Other than Jeff Manto's outbursts in 1997 and 1998, I have never seen anyone as hot as Duda has been the last two weeks in Buffalo.
I'm also looking forward to taking a look at the Pirates, who are battling to finish at .500 for the first time since 1992 (or since Sid Bream slid home). New manager Clint Hurdle has been in the World Series twice in the last four years (as manager of the '07 Rockies and hitting coach of last year's Rangers) and is definitely having an impact.
The Bisons, meanwhile, close their series with Indianapolis tonight at 7:30 (Rodney McKissic will be at the helm at Coca-Cola Field) before Columbus comes to town Saturday night.
Jason Bay is in an 0-for-23 slump and has been given a couple days off by Terry Collins to get his head and mechanics together. Lucas Duda (right) is so hot in Buffalo that even his outs are hard-hit and pop-ups seem to reach to the 38th floor of the HSBC Center. So it makes sense that Duda's return to New York could be imminent.
Duda, the report said, could also play at first base with Daniel Murphy switching over at third. Duda, remember, made a sensational play at first in the sixth inning Tuesday night with D.J. Carrasco throwing a no-hitter but Carrasco did not get to first base to cover the bag and lost his no-no.
In 14 games since returning from the disabled list on May 28, Duda is 19-46 (.413) with four doubles, seven homers, nine walks and 15 RBIs. You don't stay in Triple-A too long with those numbers.
Update: The Bisons PR office confirmed that the Mets had called up Duda on Friday. This will be Duda's third stint with the Mets this season.
---Mike Harrington (www.twitter.com/bnharrington)
Photo: Duda homers in the fourth inning Thursday/Mark Mulville-Buffalo News
The Bisons had their biggest crowd of the season in Coca-Cola Field Thursday and a gathering that included more than 10,000 children saw the Herd's biggest offensive output of the season in a 15-2 rout of Indianapolis.
---They saw another home run from outfielder Lucas Duda. In 14 games since returning from the disabled list on May 28, Duda is 19-46 (.413), four doubles, seven homers, nine walks, 15 RBIs.
Manager Tim Teufel on Duda: "He's dangerous. It's great to see him work through his swing. He was kind of struggling at the beginning of the year and now he's locked in and really swinging well. He looks like a very polished hitter right now."
---The Bisons have played five morning games this season, going 3-2 in them. An odd scheduling quirk to say the least, especially when you consider the bizarre luck to run into four of them on the road in four different cities.
IF Luis Hernandez on all the early starts: "It was a little tough for us with all the early games but it's part of the job. You have to come every day whether it's a day game or a night game. The good point here was to jump right in on the scoreboard right away. It was fun to see kids coming and enjoy the game. You pray nobody gets hit with a foul ball but it's nice to see them enjoying it, get out of school for a little bit and watch a sport."
---Hernandez is 6 for 12 in the last three games to get his average over .200 to .221. That run comes after starting the month 1 for 17. He had a career-high five RBIs Thursday, including a grand slam off Indy disaster pitcher Shelby Ford.
Hernandez on his big day: "I knew it was a position player throwing but it was a good feeling to have, especially the way I'm hitting right now. I'm getting confident at home plate so that's good for me. I knew he was going to throw everything fastballs to me. I just tried to get a base hit and the grand slam happened."
---Just like the parent Pittsburgh Pirates, Indianapolis is on a run back to .500. The Indians were once 11-23. They could have pulled even at 31-31 had they won Thursday. Instead, they're now 30-32.
---Starting tomorrow, all Friday games are now 7:30 starts the rest of the season to accommodate darkness for the postgame fireworks shows.
It's the annual School Kids Day game in Coca-Cola Field as the Bisons meet the Indianapolis Indians before at least 10,000 children with plenty of Spongebob Squarepants music likely to be rocking the house.
Maybe the kids can change the Bisons' fortune. The Herd has dropped five straight overall and the first two games in this series. Indy, meanwhile, is trying to climb to .500. With a win today, the Indians would be 31-31 -- a big accomplishment considering they were once 11-23.
Here's today's Buffalo lineup:
Luis Figueroa, ss Michael Fisher, 3b Lucas Duda, lf Fernando Martinez, rf Valentino Pascucci, 1b Kirk Nieuwenhuis, cf Luis Hernandez, 2b Raul Chavez, c Pat Misch, p
I was looking forward to seeing Indianapolis pitcher Brad Lincoln work tonight against the Bisons, but the Pittsburgh Pirates' No. 1 pick in 2006 and the fourth overall that season is a scratch due to a sore neck.
Lincoln, who got a $2.75 million bonus but didn't make his big-league debut until last season, is just 5-5 with a 4.34 ERA but pitched seven shutout innings against Buffalo in Indy on May 18. Lincoln was taken one pick behind Evan Longoria and ahead of fellow first-round names such as Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Max Scherzer, Kyle Drabek, Daniel Bard, Joba Chamberlain and Chris Perez.
Lefty Garrett Olson will make a spot start tonight for Lincoln. Bad new for the Bisons: They're just 5-13 this year against left-handed starters. D.J. Carrasco (2-3) goes for Buffalo.
The Bisons are just 1-4 against Indy this year and have been outscored, 33-13, in the five games. Oddly enough, the Herd is 54-54 against Indy since the teams left the American Association and joined the International League together in 1998.
Here's tonight's Buffalo lineup:
Luis Figueroa, ss Kirk Nieuwenhuis, cf Lucas Duda, 1b Jason Botts, lf Fernando Martinez, rf Michael Fisher, 3b Luis Hernandez, 2b Mike Nickeas, c D.J. Carrasco, p
An eight-game homestand starts in just about a half hour at the downtown ballpark as the Buffalo Bisons are back home. They'll kick off a four-game set with the Indianapolis Indians at 7:05 p.m. It's perfect baseball weather here at Coca-Cola Field, with just a gentle breeze and temperatures in the 70s.
For the Bisons, right-hander Josh Stinson will oppose southpaw Justin Wilson on the mound. Stinson is 3-4 with a 5.04 earned-run average. The Bisons wrapped up a 3-5 road trip last night and are 26-33 on the season, 11 games out in the International League North.
Stinson, who has won his last two decisions, will look to help reverse that tonight against the Indians. He's 3-1 with a 2.40 ERA at home this year.
At the plate, Valentino Pascucci has driven in 29 runs for the Herd since May 10, leading the IL. Pascucci is hitting .317 with eight doubles, five homers and 12 runs during that 26-game stretch. He has a team-high 34 RBIs.
The Bisons' bullpen has been better of late and hard-throwing Manny Acosta is a big reason. Acosta, the native of Panama, got the call to New York today as the Mets have returned Mike O'Connor to Buffalo.
Acosta has recovered from a couple of disastrous April outings to get on a quite a run for himself with the Herd. He's 1-0 with four saves and a 1.77 ERA in 20 games this season and has 27 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings. But he also has 17 walks and that's been a problem.
Of late, however, Acosta has posted an 0.64 ERA over his last 13 appearances, allowing just one run in 14 1/3 innings.
O'Connor had a great season in Buffalo last year (5-2, 2.67, 6 saves in 51 games) and was off to a decent start this year (2-1, 3.31 in 10 games) before going to New York (0-1, 2.70 in 9 games).
The Bisons are in Gwinnett tonight to open a four-game series against the Braves.
Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has covered the Buffalo Bisons since 1992 and Major League Baseball since 1995. A member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Harrington has reported on more than 30 MLB postseason series — including every game of the World Series in this century — and all three of the Bisons' championship runs in their modern era. He is a connoisseur of the famous Stadium Mustard at Cleveland's Progressive Field.
Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered the Bisons for The Buffalo News since 2002. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.