With no starting pitcher properly rested and ready for Saturday night’s’ game, the Durham Bulls were forced into a bullpen game.
It would take six pitchers for the Bulls to cover the game’s nine innings.
By rule, only one pitcher -- Diego Moreno -- was credited with a save in Durham’s 6-3 International League win over Buffalo before a crowd of 9,351 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
But two others, sinkerballing lefty Adam Kolarek and hard-throwing righty Jeff Ames, also turned in work worth of accolades for preserving the win.
Kolarek escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the seventh inning as the Bulls clung to a 4-2 lead.
In the eighth inning, with Durham up 5-3, Ames entered the game with runners on second and third. He proceeded to retire the next three batters without allowing a run to score as the ball never left the infield.
“I don’t even know what superlative to use,” Bulls manager Jared Sandberg said. “That was fantastic.”
Andrew Kittredge, normally a reliever, started for Durham and pitched three innings, allowing just one run. Having joined the Bulls earlier this month, Yoel Espinal took over in the fourth inning and allowed just one unearned run over his first three innings.
But in the seventh inning, Espinal surrendered two singles before walking Alex Monslave to load the bases with no outs.
Sandberg called on Kolarek, whose first three pitches to the left-handed swinging Roemon Fields were out of the strike zone.
But after a called strike, Fields swung and missed at a pair of Kolarek sinkers to strike out.
“In that situation, even when you fall behind, you don’t want to give them something they can drive,” Kolarek said. “For me, I trust my sinker to get ground balls. When you come in in that situation, all I want to do is get a ground ball and get a double play.”
The next batter, another lefty in Buffalo lead-off man Darrell Ceciliani, worked the count full against Kolarek before striking out on a sinker.
Christian Lopes, a right-handed batter, ripped a hard-hit groundball but it was right at Bulls third baseman Patrick Leonard who fielded it cleanly and threw to first to end the threat.
“To make the pitches to get out of that,” Sandberg said. “That was impressive.”
The Bulls added another run in the seventh inning, aided by two walks, a hit batter and a wild pitch, to lead 5-2.
Kyle Winkler started the eighth inning by hitting Dwight Smith with a pitch before walking Jason Leblebijian. When Rowdy Tellez lined a double into the right field corner, Smith scored and the Bisons had runners at second and third with no outs in a 5-3 game.
Ames replaced Winkler to strike out Jake Elmore and Shane Obitz before pinch-hitter Mike Ohlman’s groundout to third ended the threat.
Pitching for the second night in a row, Moreno hurled a perfect ninth inning to pick up his team-leading fourth save of the season.
On a bullpen night, that group stood out.
“The bullpen continues to impress,” Sandberg said.