The Buffalo Bisons entered the weekend leading the International League in home runs. On Saturday, they extended that lead through the unexpected power surge of Vinny Rottino.
The Major League veteran slammed a career-high three homers and plated five runs to lead the Bisons to an 11-5 romp over the visiting Indianapolis Indians.
The last time Rottino had a multi-homer game?
"Back in A-ball in '04 maybe? I know I had never hit more than two in a game and I don't think I'd hit two since then," he said.
"When I try to stay within my approach, I can drive the ball out of the ballpark. I'm a line drive hitter, but if I stay consistent with my mechanics, I can maybe hit more out."
Rottino homered to left-center field off starter Justin Wilson in the third inning, then connected for a two-run shot off Bryan Morris with two outs in the sixth. Making his second start of the season behind the plate, he took Kris Johnson deep for another two-run blast in the eighth.
"[Wilson] was throwing hard and moving it around," Rottino said of his first homer. "It was a two-strike count and I got a slider that he hung a little bit and I was able to put a good swing on it."
Rottino, who signed with the Mets as a Minor League free agent last November, was just as aggressive the rest of the night.
"[Morris] had a hard slider," he said. "He threw two sliders to get to 1-1, and when someone is throwing that hard you're looking for a fastball. It was up just a tick and I hit that to left-center, too.
"[The third] was a changeup with a runner on third with less than two outs, so I was trying to drive him home. [Johnson] left a changeup out a little bit and I caught it out in front."
The 32-year-old Wisconsin native quadrupled his home run tally for the season while raising his Triple-A average to .316. His other longball this year came in a 4-3 loss to Lehigh Valley on April 24, 10 days before he was called up to New York.
The five RBIs fell one shy of a career high, set last season in the Venezuelan Winter League.
Rottino became the fourth player to hit three homers at Coca-Cola Field, joining Jeff Manto (1997), Dusty Wathan (2005) and current teammate Valentino Pascucci (2010). It was the second three-homer game in the International League this season. Toledo's Brad Eldred accomplished the feat on April 24 at Columbus.
The career night came 24 hours after Rottino went 0-for-5 to end a 20-game hitting streak. But he said he felt much better Saturday than he did throughout the streak.
"I've been working with hitting coach George Greer and just trying to stay with my approach and not do too much," said Rottino, who has seen time in left field, right field and behind the plate. "I was trying not to do too much, stay short to the baseball and not muscle up. That's when my swing breaks down ... and the big muscles take over.
"That 20-game streak, I was not swinging the bat that well. The mechanical changes with George came together tonight. The night before, my mechanics broke down a little bit and that resulted in the 0-for-5."
Pascucci, Matt Tuiasosopo and Jordany Valdespin also went yard for the Bisons, whose 53 homers are nine more than Columbus and more than twice the total of seven other IL teams. The six homers on Saturday were one shy of the team record.
Rottino has hit 77 homers in 1,079 games over 10 Minor League seasons. He slugged 17 with Class A Beloit in 2004, his first year of full-season ball, but has not eclipsed 12 since then and has reached double figures only twice.
Rottino has hit .176 with four RBIs in 29 big league games with the Brewers, Marlins and Mets. In his most recent stint with the Mets, he was 0-for-4 in three games.
Justin Hampson (2-1) allowed a hit and a walk over 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to earn the win. Bisons starter Jeurys Familia allowed four runs -- three earned -- on five hits over 3 2/3 innings. The Mets' No. 3 prospect walked four and struck out three.