The Bisons' rotation has been in a world of hurt all month and there's nowhere to hide when the starter isn't giving you innings. The Bisons know that feeling as their 8-11 May record is largely rooted in the ghastly 7.96 ERA for the month from the rotation.
The spotlight will be particularly bright tonight in Coca-Cola Field as downtrodden former Toronto all-star Ricky Romero (right) makes his home debut. Romero is 0-2 with a 9.82 ERA in two starts for the Herd so far -- allowing 14 hits and 11 walks in 7 1/3 innings while striking out just one.
"His stuff has been really good coming out of his hand," Bisons pitching coach Bob Stanley said. "It's just sometimes he fights himself. If he can avoid doing that, he definitely has the stuff. It's not like he's been really hurt out there. He's in a big rut. Everyone has been there. I've been there."
Stanley, remember, threw the historic wild pitch to Mookie Wilson and got the groundball that Bill Buckner booted to end Game Six of the 1986 World Series for the Red Sox at Shea Stadium. The next year, the Red Sox turned him into a starter and he had a nightmarish 4-15 season.
"But then the next year I bounced back out of the bullpen where I should have been," said Stanley, who went 6-4, 3.19 in 57 relief outings in 1988. What did he tell Romero about that experience?
"You just try to block everything out. Don't read the papers," he said. "Don't listen to what other people say. Do your thing. Sorry about the not-reading-the-paper part. You can read it when it's good. He's had some great years. He is in a rut. He has to fight himself out of it."
(Yes, Stanley really apologized for the don't-read-the-paper line! Great stuff).
Stanley was pleased that Dave Bush gave the Bisons six good innings in Monday's 5-1 loss to Charlotte. Bush was coming off a nine-run blowup last week at Indianapolis, one of a string of poor starts from the Buffalo rotation.
"Just a couple mistakes," Stanley said. "He threw a lot better than the last time. He didn't locate well that day and Indianapolis was a pretty good hitting team. It kind of gets contagious but I have all the confidence in the world in these guys. They'll be fine. Right now when you make a mistake, hitters aren't missing it. But that's what happens when things aren't going right."
The biggest positive on the Buffalo staff right now is clearly closer Neil Wagner -- who is 11 for 11 in save opportunities and has a 1.02 ERA in 16 games. He's given up just nine hits in 17 2/3 innings while striking out 28 and walking only seven.
"He's got a great arm and he hides the ball real well," Stanley said. "It's regularly 97 [mph] and it was 101 one time on the road. He's a very hard-working kid. Writes down everything in a book. Watches the game, watches the hitters. He'll get his chance."
Wagner won't close with Casey Janssen in Toronto so he sometimes has to throw two innings here to be able to pitch middle or setup in the big leagues.
"His name has been ready to go. That's why we pitch him two," Stanley said. "Sometimes we pitch him two innings here. We did that last year with Chad Beck and he went up there and he threw three."
(Romero photo: Getty Images)