(bisons.com)-The Buffalo Bisons proved Saturday night that even the best have off-nights.
The top-hitting team in the International League was held to just five hits in an 11-6 defeat in the opening game of a four-game series with the Charlotte Knights at Coca-Cola Field. Buffalo was able to get plenty of runners on base, drawing nine total walks from four pitchers. But finishing 2 of 12 with runners in scoring position ultimately deterred them from keeping pace with the Knights.
After each team started the game with a run in the first, the Knights broke the game open in the third. They struck for six runs on five hits, chasing Bisons starter Claudio Vargas from the game at inning's end in the process.
Charlotte sent nine batters to the plate in the frame, with Carlos Sanchez driving in the first run on a sacrifice fly after consecutive singles got the rally started. Jordan Danks doubled to right after a Gordon Beckham walk to drive in the next run. Bryan Anderson provided the exclamation point, plating the final runs of the inning with a two-run home run to make it 7-1.
Exiting after three innings of work ends a streak of six straight starts of going at least six innings for Vargas. He gave up seven total runs, six of them earned.
"The last few times out he's been getting us six innings," manager Marty Brown said. "Last time out he pounded the zone with his fastball, pitched ahead in the count. Second time through in that third inning he got some balls up out over the plate and pitched a little more behind in the count. Maybe he has to regroup and figure out exactly what he has to do to get that command back that he had the four, five starts before that."
Though starting pitching hasn't been great as of late, the Herd's bullpen has put together a string of strong outings. They pitched six innings in relief Saturday, allowing four runs on five hits in six innings.
"Overall, I think our bullpen has done a pretty fair job," Brown said. "... There are a lot of positives in our bullpen, it's a matter of our starters going out and having that game plan and following through it, and being able to understand that they need to stick with it."
The bullpen was bolstered even more Saturday in the form of former Toronto Blue Jays first-round pick Dustin McGowan, who was on rehab assignment after missing all of 2012 with a foot injury. He threw a perfect 11-pitch eighth inning with a strikeout, and hit 95 MPH on the radar in his Bisons' debut.
"It's been quite a process," McGowan said of rehabbing his injury this season and the last few years. "This year I had to find that way to bounce back after each outing. I felt good when I pitched, but not so good two, three days after."
John Danks, also on a rehab assignment from the Chicago White Sox, had an up-and-down outing. Though he didn't surrender a hit until the fourth inning and had five strikeouts, Danks struggled with his control. He threw 44 balls on 94 pitches in 4 2/3 innings.
The wildness started early, as Danks plunked Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra in consecutive at-bats in the first and issued three straight free passes in the fifth that led to a pair of Buffalo runs. Luis Jimenez drove in two of the walked batters with a liner to left, cutting the deficit to 7-3.
Anderson's second blast of the night in the ensuing half inning got the runs back, and the Knights' bullpen shut the door the rest of the way.
The series continues with a single game Sunday afternoon at Coca Cola Field. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 pm.