Sunday, August 30, 2009

As Fine a Pitching Performance As You Will See In the DBAP

Game 136: Bulls 4, Braves 0
Season: 78-58
Games Left in Season: 8; Home Games: 5
Wrap, Box

What an extraordinary two nights this has been. First, last night’s 14th inning come-from-behind victory and then a simply masterful pitching performance tonight by Jeremy Hellickson.

As a fan sitting near me said tonight, “This kid’s the real thing.” And he is. The numbers for tonight are truly exceptional. He faced only 26 batters over 8 innings, gave up only one hit (in the 6th) and two walks. He struck out 12 and let me tell you, the Braves were just flailing at the ball when they weren’t just watching it go by. He never seemed to lose his composure. Heck, in the 7th he struck out the side. In the 8th he got 2 strikeouts. And he did it on 107 pitches. Someone on the radio said that this was as fine a pitching performance as you will see in the DBAP, and he’s pretty close to being right (although I’ve seen a tag-team no-hitter here, and Wade Davis’ 1-0 shutout back in May was a pretty darn good game too).

Hellickson’s first game for the Bulls was just July 24th and he’s put up some impressive numbers. He’s started 8 games and won five of them. His Opponent’s On Base Percentage is a stellar .240, the best among our starters, and his ERA is 2.86 the second best after Jason Cromer.

He got some fans back in Montgomery, too. As the game was going on, Stacy Long was keeping track.

As important was the help that he gave the team. Last night when the Rays pulled our starter from the lineup and the game went 14 innings, we went through six of our relievers (and a 3rd baseman). Tonight Dale Thayer came on in the 9th (he pitched two innings last night) and gave up a hit, but still finished it out very nicely. So everyone else got a bit of rest.

Timely hitting got us our four runs. A sac fly by Joe Dillon, Jon Weber’s 46th double, a timely single by Elliott Johnson drove in three of the runs; and Matt Joyce drew a base-loaded walk for the fourth one.

The one mildly sour note was Reid Brignac getting ejected in the 6th for arguing a third strike call. Didn’t need to happen. Shouldn’t have happened.

Transaction Tidbit — Joey Gathright

The Red Sox have acquired former Durham Bull Joey Gathright from Baltimore (Norfolk Tides) and assigned him to Pawtucket. I’m guessing the Sox want some speed for September.

For us it means that we won’t have to worry about Gathright when the Tides show up next week.

Pitchers Coming From the Biscuits

Stacy Long is reporting that Montgomery Biscuits starter Rayner Oliveros and reliever Heath Rollins are being sent to Durham.

Raynor Oliveros is a fairly young (23) right hander from Venezuela. He’s been with the Biscuits for much of the year, accumulating a 5-3 record and an ERA of 3.25. Not sure from the stats, but looks like he’s been both a starter and reliever in his time in Montgomery. Two of his wins are as a reliever, he’s 3-3 as a starter.

Heath Rollins apparently began the year as a starter and has been switched to relief duties in recent weeks. Decent ERA as a reliever (2.53). Could be some very welcome help.

Fourteen Innings, Five Hours, Seven Pitchers, First Place

Game 135: Bulls 10, Braves 9
Season: 77-58
Games Left in Season: 9; Home Games: 6
Wrap, Box, Indy Week

A baseball player’s (and fan’s) dream moment: Two runs down, two outs, bases-loaded, bottom of the last inning, three balls, two strikes. Young guy on the mound, experienced guy at the plate. About midnight last night that’s what happened in the bottom of the 14th. Jon Weber hit a double to deep right-center field, cleared the bases, and three runs scored. The Durham Bulls won their sixth straight game and took over first place in the South Division of the International League.

To be honest, except for two moments, it really was a very tedious game. So tedious that the first 6 innings took well over two hours to play. At the end of the 6th Gwinnett was up 6-2 and we were into our third pitcher of the night. I was writing a rant in my head about how Tampa Bay had really done a number on us by pulling Andy Sonnanstine out of his rotation here to have him ready for a game in their jukebox in St Pete next week. We’ve only got four starters as it is, and they just pulled one of those so we’re going to eat up the bullpen, again. Halama, the Braves starter, is not only old (37) he’s slow, and crafty to boot. The game was just creeping along.

So we left and listened to the game on the radio on the way home. Got home, turned on the TV just to watch the 9th and refine my rant against the Tampa Bay Rays. But then one of the two actual exciting moments of the game occurred (the first being the Weber double already recounted): Reid Brignac homered off of the Braves fifth pitcher and closer Luis Valdez to tie the game at 7-all. By this time we’ve gone through four pitchers: Joe Bateman, Julio DePaula, Joe Nelson, and Dale Thayer. Winston Abreu pitched the 10th and 11th. Jason Childers pitched the 12th. Shutout ball, but we’re out of pitchers.

Third baseman Ray Olmedo takes the mound for the 13th inning. What an odd sight to see a guy with a dirty uniform and a glove that looked like it had actually been used out there on the mound. Imagine that, a baseball player pitching! Not only that, he gets a ground out, walks a guy (X. comes out to talk, I think maybe to tell Ray how to pitch from a stretch.), and the next guy gets handled by a nifty double play initiated by Chris Richard at first. The 14th inning doesn’t go as well for Ray with a homer, double, and a combination sac fly and error, scoring two runs.

But Ray gets to be part of the drama in the 14th by following Reid Brignac’s single with a single of his own, followed by a walk to Michel Hernandez. An earlier out by Fernando Perez and a strikeout by Elliot Johnson set the stage for Jon Weber’s heroics.

Click on the video box on the Bulls website to see the key plays (and listen to Neil Solondz go nuts).

By the way, the big deal announced through the Bulls tweet was something of a big deal, but it had to do with 2010 and beyond. I was expecting something about players and roster changes, so it took me a while to adjust. The press release is here, and Adam Sobsey gives a good account here. To summarize, the 2010 schedule is out; the Bulls will play the Rays in an exhibition game in early April in the DBAP (that should be cool, and we’ll get a Bulls roster early); the Bulls will play the Mud Hens in the refurbished DAP for one game; and the Bulls extended their affiliation with the Rays for a bunch more years.

Regarding roster changes: other than gutting our starting rotation as mentioned above, no news on that front.

I’m hoping our guys can recover from last night and that Hellickson can go a lot of innings this evening. In the meantime, we’re in first place, all is right with the world.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Durham Bulls Are Home! Bring On the Braves!

Game 134: Bulls 11, Tides 2
Season: 76-58
Games Left in Season: 10; Home Games: 7
Wrap, Box, Indy Week

What a road trip the Durham Bulls have had. Seven games, six wins, who could ask for more? And they closed it out with possibly the finest hitting/pitching performance of the season. Bulls pitching only gave up 5 hits and 0 (!) walks. Bulls hitters got 16 hits and collected 8 walks. I missed most of the game, so check out the links for more details.

Chris Richard appears to be back in form. More than that, last night he set the AAA Bulls record for home runs with his 63rd home run as a Durham Bull.

I’m no Bulls historian, but I’m betting this was one of the best road trips in their history. Going in we were 3 games behind Gwinnett in the South Division race and had a tenuous lead in the wild card of 1½ games over Syracuse and 3 over Norfolk. Look where we are now. (Actually, don’t look at the standings on the website, they’re wrong. Click the “expanded standings” link for the right numbers.) [Fixed now, 1315] We’re tied for first in the Division. In the wild card we’ve got a 5 game lead over Syracuse and an 8 game lead over Norfolk. That’s simply an incredible performance over the seven games. Of course, it helps that Charlotte beat up on Gwinnett for several games.

The Rays webworld lit up like a Christmas tree starting at about 4 o’clock yesterday. Now the deal is done and Scott Kazmir is going to the LA Angels. According to the Bulls twitter feed (Thanks, Sue) the Bulls are to have a major press conference at 2:00 pm today for “multiple exciting announcements.” Obviously at least one Bull is off to Tampa Bay, but I’m guessing that since the September call-ups are upon us, they might just announce a couple of them now.

In the next few days the 2009 Durham Bulls will be a shadow of their former selves. They will be a new team going into these last few games. In all probability there will be a core of position players on hand, but my guess is that the pitching staff will be a really motley crew. I haven’t watched Montgomery much this year, so I don’t know what may be down there, or even further down the Rays chain. We’ll see a few come up, I’m sure. If it’s any consolation, Gwinnett, Charlotte, and Norfolk are likely to be in the same condition.

So let’s go (weather permitting, forecast for the weekend isn’t good) to the DBAP and take a last look at the team we’ve watched all year. They’ve been great. And Gwinnett is the team we have to figure out how to beat now, and in the near future.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Richard Drives Bulls Into Tie For First

Game 133: Bulls 3, Tides 1
Season: 75-58
Games Left in Season: 11; Home Games: 7
Wrap, Box

The game went on and on and on with a thirty-minute rain delay in the middle of it. Could have been worse. If the game had been called when the rains came, and it could have been, we would have lost 0-1.

One way to put it the rest of the game in perspective: They bet Joey Gathright, we saw that bet with Fernando Perez and raised them Justin Ruggiano and Chris Richard.

In the bottom of the 8th, Joe Nelson came on in relief of Jason Cromer. He promptly walked Joey Gathright. Not a good way to start the inning. A sacrifice bunt sent Gathright to second base. Intentional walk to Norfolk’s Jeff Fiorentino. Then a double steal, so men on second and third, one out. But Brandon Snyder hit the ball to Joe Dillon at third, and Dillon threw to Riggans at home who put the tag on Gathright (the second time Gathright had been put out heading for home in the game). The next batter popped out to Chris Richard.

In the ninth, with one out, Fernando Perez pinch ran for Jon Weber. Justin Ruggiano got a hit, but Perez didn’t get past second. With Chris Richard at the plate, Perez and Ruggiano pulled off a double steal. Richard had a masterful at-bat, working his way back from 0-2 to 2-2 fouling off 3 more pitches along the way. Then he cracked one over the right field wall, scoring Perez and Ruggiano. So the double steal didn’t really matter except that it may have rattled Norfolk pitcher Bob McCrory. At least he seemed rattled since he brushed back Shawn Riggans after the Richard homer.

Who you gonna call for the bottom of the 9th? Winston Abreu, of course. He started the 9th with three K’s. Unfortunately, the ball got away from Riggans on the third strike of the third K and the runner made it to first. No matter. The next batter flied out to right.

Four days ago we were 13 games above .500 and Gwinnett was 21 above .500. Since that time Gwinnett has lost 4 games (Thank You Charlotte!) and the Bulls have won 4 games. We’re 17 games above .500 for the first time this year and tied for first.

About Jon Weber and Jason Childers:

They will be with the Bulls until August 31st. That means we’ll get to see them Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Team USA trains over in Cary and they start training there the 2nd of September. Not much of a drive from the DBAP. As soon as I’m able to learn more about how that works, I’ll put something up here. Don’t know if practice is open to the public, but I think they've got a tune-up game early on. I’ve never seen the facility, but hope to take a look soon.

Weber and Childers to Team USA

I heard a rumor about this a couple of days ago, but no one would answer my emails. Well, here it is.

The Bulls press release, the Team USA article, and the roster.

What I know about the World Cup could be put into a teaspoon, so if anyone out there has some good links that gives some background, please send them on.

In the meantime, the roster looks like there’s some solid AAA talent on it. Players from LeHigh Valley, Memphis, Charlotte, Fresno, Omaha, Indianapolis, Rochester, Gwinnett, and Oklahoma City. Assuming that this is Olympic-caliber play, the Cup should be quite a challenge to Jon and Jason. And a feather in their caps if the team does well.

Guess I’m going to have to learn a lot more about the World Cup before I can comment on the Cup itself. Also no hint on when they would be leaving the Bulls, but practice starts on September 2nd.

Boy I sure hate to see Jon and Jason go. It has been so much fun watching them this year. Maybe we’ll see them this weekend. I hope so.

Bateman Does a Bateman

Game 131: Bulls 4, Tides 2
Season: 74-58
Games Left in Season: 12; Home Games: 7
Wrap, Box

Joe Bateman’s appeared in 41 games for the Durham Bulls this season, so we should be used to this by now. But we aren’t. At least I’m not. Last night he did it again. The Bulls were up 4-2 going into the bottom of the 9th. Both Thayer and Abreu had pitched in Syracuse the night before, so Bateman was up. Now what usually happens whenever he comes in is that Joe gives up a hit or two, or a walk or two, or hits a batter or two (he’s hit 8 so far this season, and leads Bulls pitching in that category). Last night he started out with a fly out to center and a pop up to the catcher. Two outs, bases empty, but this is Joe Bateman on the mound.

Norfolk’s Freddy Guzman hit a single and then stole second. Joey Gathright hit a single sending Guzman to third. Then Gathright stole second. Tying runs on base, the winning run, Justin Turner, at the plate.

Turner hits one back to Bateman who tosses it to first. Game over. Heart rate goes back down to semi-normal.

Interesting game for several reasons. First of all, it made for three in a row taking us to 16 above .500 and, with their loss to Charlotte, one game back of Gwinnett.

New guy Jeff Bennett got his second start (still not sure if he’s supposed to be a starter or reliever) and his first win for the Bulls. Looked pretty good. Chris Richard was back in the lineup for the first time in a week. He got on base twice with a walk and hit by pitch.

Fernando Perez scored on a Joe Dillon single in the first. We picked up two runs in the fourth on a bases-loaded single by Ray Olmedo and a bases-loaded walk to Perez. Then Jon Weber hit his 14th homer in the 5th.

Joe Dillon again demonstrated that sometimes smarts are as important as speed. He stole his third base since coming back to Durham.

Rhyne Hughes tried to make someone regret trading him (The Bulls didn’t have anything to do with it Rhyne!) by hitting a two-run homer in the 6th for Norfolk’s only runs.

Elliott Johnson came off the DL, but did not play. Henry Mateo went on the DL for a hurt hand.

  • Over at RaysIndex there’s a poll on what outfielder should be called up in September. Note that Jon Weber is not on the list. Grumble, grumble, grumble.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Let’s Talk About Getting To The Playoffs — 2

(click chart for larger view)

Here’s where we are as the Durham Bulls go to Norfolk for three games.

Durham Bulls schedule:
  • Norfolk: 6 games, 3 away, 3 home
  • Gwinnett: 4 games home
  • Charlotte: 3 games away

Gwinnett Braves schedule:
  • Charlotte: 6 games, 3 home, 3 away
  • Durham: 4 games, away
  • Norfolk: 3 games, away

So the circumstance of having much of our playoff destiny in the hands of the Charlotte Knights is still true. But we can do a lot by keeping our focus on Norfolk. Taking 3 of 4 from Syracuse really made a difference. Now to take on the Tides.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Abreu Again

Game 131: Bulls 9, Chiefs 6
Season: 73-58
Games Left in Season: 13; Home Games: 7
Wrap, Box

Jeremy Hellickson looked really, really good until the 7th. He gave up a bunt single and his first walk, but they were followed by two strikeouts and it looked like he had it in hand (90 pitches or so at the time). Unfortunately, Syracuse’s Seth Bynum hit a home run and the game got really tight (5-3). A slick play by Olmedo on a Justin Maxwell grounder ended the inning (and led to Maxwell getting tossed from the game for arguing with the ump Al Porter, as was the manager, Tim Foley).

We got a run in top of the 8th (6-3) and Jason Childers came on in relief. Syracuse got four straight hits off of Jason, a triple, double, a single, and a single. What a mess! Two runs in, men on first and third, nobody out. Durham 6, Syracuse 5. Dale Thayer comes in. Sac fly ties the game. Two more fly outs. Game tied 6-6 going into the 9th.

Syracuse brought in Zack Segovia. Akinori Iwamura doubled and Dillon sent him to third on a ground out. But now Fernando Perez, who’d been put in the game for Jon Weber as part of his rehab routine, drew a walk. Matt Joyce, who’d hit a grand slam in the 1st inning came up to bat. Perez stole second base, so Joyce was intentionally walked, loading the bases and bringing up DH Shawn Riggans. Riggans had two hits earlier in the night and he continued the streak with a two-run double! Still men on second and third and one out. Sac fly scores a run. Riggans thrown out at third on the play ending Bulls’ half of the inning, but we go into the bottom of the 9th up 9-6.

Winston Abreu came in for Thayer. The first batter he faced was Seth Bynum, the guy who homered off Hellickson to put the game into contention in the 7th. Bynum grounded out, Brignac to Dillon at first. Abreu walked the next batter but a double play ends the game.


Winston does it again! Thayer gets a blown save and a win. How weird is that? Hellickson pitches a terrific game but gets a no-decision. Shawn Riggans gets the winning hit. Michel Hernandez gets his third sac fly RBI in two games. Matt Joyce gets a grand slam. Great game, but tough on the ol’ heart.

We close in a bit on Gwinnett and head off to Norfolk for three games.

Winning this series 3-1 is a really big deal. Things are looking up.

Winston and Michel Close It Out

Game 128: Bulls 9, Chiefs 2
Wrap, Box

Game 129: Bulls 2, Chiefs 3
Wrap, Box, Indy Week

Game 130: Bulls 3, Chiefs 2
Season: 72-58
Games Left in Season: 14; Home Games: 7
Wrap, Box

I didn't tune in until the 6th inning of the game so I missed most of what must have been a very pretty game by Andy Sonnanstine. Instead I heard Joe Dillon scoring on a Shawn Riggins single and Justin Ruggiano scoring on Hernandez’s sacrifice fly, tying the game. At the top of the 8th, and after quite a bit of drama, Hernandez hit another sacrifice fly, scoring Ruggiano again. Sonnanstine gave up a one-out triple in the bottom of the 8th, but Abreu came in and shut things down: strikeout, fly out in 8th; fly out, strike out, strike out in the 9th. That’s the Abreu we remember and it is really great to see him back.

Shawn Riggans started the game at first base because Henry Mateo hurt a finger sliding into a base Sunday and it was Iwamura’s day to be dh. So we had Joe Dillon at third and Ray Olmedo at second. Chris Richard, who has been out for several games, took over first in the bottom of the 8th. Not quite sure why. Probably missed something in the broadcast.

The Gwinnett Braves lost both games of a double-header to Charlotte, Norfolk lost to Rochester. So we’ve picked up some ground on the Braves. Hoorah!


Killer photograph from George Habel’s blog, take a look to get the story behind the photo.

It’s early (you think?), but Rays Party took a look at the 2010 Rays’ pitching situation.

Noticed buried in this item the comment that the Rays “off days are sparse.” Whimper, whimper, whimper. The Rays have played 124 games since April 7th, the Bulls have played 130 games since April 9th. Somehow I don’t have a lot a sympathy. Nevertheless, the drift of the article is that they’re going to pull a pitcher up for at least one start.

Marc Lancaster down Tampa way speculates about September call-ups.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Let’s Talk About Getting To The Playoffs

(click chart for larger view)

Here’s where we are as the Durham Bulls go to Syracuse for four games. I’ve added Syracuse’s standings to help me think about the way things might go over our remaining 17 games. Here are the current overall standings. Louisville seems a lock for the West Division and the number 2 team is well out of contention for a wild card spot.

Every team in the South, except Charlotte, is in contention for a playoff spot. Syracuse is only 2½ back of Scranton for the division title, and 1½ behind the Bulls for the wild card. The Bulls are 3 back of Gwinnett for the title and lead in the wild card. Norfolk is 3 back of the Bulls in the wild card. If Syracuse gets hot they could push Scranton out of the top spot in the Northern Division. Then Scranton gets into the wild card mix. That’s why it is so important for the Bulls to go for the Division title.

Durham Bulls schedule:
  • Syracuse: 4 games away
  • Norfolk: 6 games, 3 away, 3 home
  • Gwinnett: 4 games home
  • Charlotte: 3 games away

Gwinnett’s schedule:
  • Charlotte: 10 games, 7 home, 3 away
  • Durham: 4 games, away
  • Norfolk: 3 games, away

So we have this very weird circumstance of having much of our playoff destiny in the hands of the Charlotte Knights. Not sure that I really want to think too much about that. Still, it seems to me that if the team can keep it’s focus we’re OK.

However, the teams we’re playing next week are not the teams we’ll be playing the week after that, and we won’t be the same team either. I don’t mean that Norfolk won’t be Gwinnett, I mean that Norfolk won’t be Norfolk; that the Charlotte we played this week won’t be the Charlotte we play in September. Once the September call-ups start, every team is going to start changing. I’ll do my best to keep you informed on changes on the Bulls roster. As far as the other teams go, this is where Neil Solondz comes into his own. I am sure he will give it his best shot to track the changes. So listening to the first ten minutes of his show before the game and as the game starts is about the only way I know of to track what is going on with the rosters.

How the playoffs work (a cut-and-paste from the International League’s website):

The International League Playoffs will begin on September 9 in the home ballparks of the South Division Champion and the Wild Card club. In the IL’s predetermined format, the Wild Card club will face the North Division Winner while the South Champion will face the West Division Champion in a best-of-five first round series. Following a pair of games hosted by the Wild Card club and South Division winning clubs, the series will shift to the opponents’ stadiums for the final three games as necessary.

The survivors of the two first round battles will advance to the best-of-five Governors’ Cup Championship Series to begin on September 15 in the city of either the South or West Division Champion. After two games, the series will resume at the home of either the North Division Champion or Wild Card club on September 17 for the final three games as necessary.
For what it’s worth that means that, if we’re in the playoffs, we’ve got a home game on September 9th. Otherwise our last trip to the DBAP will be for a Monday afternoon day game on September 7th (How dumb is that? The last game of the year a Monday day game? There won’t be many of us there to say thank you and good bye to the team.)


About that last game on September 7th. It's Labor Day. Ooops! So the dumbness is mine. Instead, what I should have said, and will go ahead and say now, is:

What a great idea for the Bulls to have their last game on Labor Day when all the schools are closed and everyone can celebrate by coming to the DBAP for a day game.

And it is a great thing. So, my apologies to the schedulers who, this time at least, did a fine thing for the Durham Bulls. If not before, see you on Labor Day!

Not Quite Enough

Game 127: Bulls 3, Knights 4
Season: 70-57
Games Left in Season: 17; Home Games: 7
Wrap, Box, Indy Week

The Durham Bulls 29th pitcher of the year, Jeff Bennett, started the game last night. If that sounds like we’ve had a lot of pitchers, we have. To be fair (not that being fair is my forte), three of the 29 were position players thrown to the wolves when we’d run out of relievers. Three more were rehabbing Rays. Nevertheless, 29 is more than we had in 2008 (27) and we had a couple of rehabbers last year as well. The Rays have used 20 pitchers this year.

At any rate, Bennett had a shaky start, giving up two runs in the first two innings. But the next two innings were just fine. Is Bennett a starter or reliever? Darned if I know. Guess we’ll find out.

Two big disappointments in the game for me was the performance of two of my favorite Bulls, Jon Weber and Jason Childers. Weber had the bases full in the 1st and hit into an inning-ending double play. He struck out with a runner on second in the 3rd. He hit into another inning-ending double-play with runners on first and second in the 5th. On the other hand, his single with Mateo on first in the 7th, moved Mateo to third and set up the go-ahead run when Mateo scored on Dillon’s ground out. So, he redeemed himself. Unfortunately, Jason Childers gave up a walk and then a home run in the 8th. And this coming just after he was profiled on the Bulls website.

Scary moment:
  • Akinori Iwamura, bad knee and all, being waved home in the 3rd. It was always going to be a close play and, as it turned out, the ball got there well before he did. By the way, Iwamura drew three more walks last night. He’s got a stunning OBP of .600 since he’s been here.

Fun moments:
  • The phrase, “baserunner caught in a run-down” was demonstrated in the 6th. Charlotte’s Josh Fields got way too far off second base and our pitcher, Julio DePaula, came off the mound and literally ran him down and tagged him out.
  • In the 8th Michel Hernandez was coming to bat and I was ranting about who was available to pinch hit (Michel hasn’t had a hit since he came back). Michel comes to the plate and gets a leadoff single. Didn’t pay off, unfortunately, since like so many others last night, pinch runner Fernando Perez got stranded on second.

Bulls hit the road. Plan to do a post about that later in the day.

Only seven more games at home!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Now That’s Better

(click on chart for larger image)

Game 126: Bulls 10, Knights 2
Season: 70-56
Games Left in Season: 18; Home Games: 8
Wrap, Box, Indy Week

After all my complaining yesterday, seems only fair to try to make a picture out of last night. The purpose of the chart is to show the sharp ups and downs during this series. Remembering that the shorter the blue line the better, pitching was great last night, even better than Tuesday, and so was the hitting (although the OPS includes all the walks given up by Charlotte, and there were a bunch of them, 9 to be precise).

I wasn’t able to get to the game, so watched it on cable. That perhaps made the exceptional length of the game more endurable, but I certainly don’t want to sound like I’m complaining about such a decisive win. Everybody got on base except for Fernando Perez, and he got a RBI and made a brilliant running catch in the 6th. Aki Iwamura got a startling three walks and a single as dh. John Jaso got four RBIs, one on a bases-loaded walk, and three when he hit a bases-loaded double. Like Adam Sobsey over at Indy Week and Neil Solandz on the radio/tv, when I watched Weber’s home run go over the monster, I was thinking another double would be nice. On the other hand, 2 RBIs is a good thing at any time. And a trot around the bases in front of your family is a really good thing. About that bat that went in the direction of the dugout though …

Between them Hellickson, Bateman, and Abreu only faced 33 batters, struck out 17 (!), and gave up only 3 hits and 3 walks. Now that’s some pitching.

Tonight the new guy from Tampa Bay, Jeff Bennett is starting. Not sure what role he’s going to assume with the Bulls, since this is Carlos Henandez’s spot in the rotation and the last two times Montoyo has gone with his “committee” approach. Guess that we’ll see.


  • The Rays Party takes a look at the Bulls employing a bunch of those sabermetrics that I don’t quite have a handle on. And, as is usual with Rays blogs, focuses on “prospects” when it comes to individuals.
  • The Bulls site has an interesting article on Jeremy Hellickson.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Time To Make a Run?

Game 125: Bulls 1, Knights 8
Season: 69-56
Games Left in Season: 19; Home Games: 9
Wrap, Box

Life got in the way of baseball today so I wasn’t going to say anything about last night’s game. Then I got to thinking about it. After such a beautiful game on Tuesday, how could it be such a mess on Wednesday? The pitching, of course, was most of it.

I’m guessing that Andy Sonnanstine and Joe Nelson see their visit to Durham as just a brief sojourn, a place to while away a few games before they are back in the big leagues. Sure doesn’t look that way to me. Sonnanstine is now our worst starter and Nelson remains the worst reliever on the roster. Sonnanstine’s ERA over his 8 starts and 50 innings is 4.68. Nelson has had six appearances, and only 9 innings work, but holds an ERA of 9.00. Between them last night they gave up seven of the eight runs scored by the team on the bottom of the Southern Division of the International League. That’s no way to get back to Tampa Bay. Help Durham and help yourselves the next time out guys.

Charlie Montoyo is, according to various reports through the Indy Week and Durham Herald-Sun articles in past weeks, unconcerned with how the Bulls are doing in the International League playoff race. I just want to say that there are some of us who do care. Admittedly not very many are watching the standings that closely, maybe only a couple thousand. Most fans at a game are just there for an interesting night out.

Nevertheless, Mr. Montoyo, there are a few of us who think the Durham Bulls can, and should, be in first place in the Southern Division, not just chasing Gwinnett (née Richmond) to the end of the season. We have less than 20 games left and as much as your players may be wondering what’s going to happen to them at the beginning of next month, and as little as getting into the Governor’s Cup may mean to either you or many of them, let’s see if the team can get back on track. Something like that pretty run that you made starting back on June 25th that ran up past the 4th of July. That would be really nice.

About two weeks ago we hit 16 games above .500 (for the third time this year), but it begins to look like that isn’t going to be good enough to win this division. Time to focus on each game and all of each game. We’ve been second place for the last two years. We’re good enough to be first place this year.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Brignac Back, Johnson On DL, and More

Reid Brignac is coming back to Durham since the Rays activated one of their rehabbers (Chad Bradford). Reid did not do well at the plate last night.

Contrary to what was mentioned yesterday at the park, Craig Albernaz was not put on the 7-day DL, but Elliot Johnson was.

  • Rays Index not pleased with Brignac approach at the plate last night.
  • Triangle Offense takes a closer look at the Jake Peavey/Wade Davis matchup last night (apparently Peavey didn’t consider it a matchup).
  • Rhyne Hughes went 0-5 for Norfolk last night.
  • We have Bulls fans in Bagdad.

(photo courtesy of Durham Herald-Sun)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Hit Bull, Win Steak

Game 124: Bulls 5, Knights 2
Season: 69-55
Games Left in Season: 20; Home Games: 10
Wrap, Box

If you love baseball then this was your night at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. If you missed the game then it’s really too bad, because this is the kind of night we live for. It had it all: Superb pitching, a couple of brilliant plays in the field, terrific at-bats, exciting base running. This was what a night at the park is all about.

Wade Davis pitched no-hit ball into the 6th inning when two doubles and a single got two runs across. But then he got a 1-2-3 7th and two outs in the 8th before he was pulled after walk and 111 pitches. Davis had two hit batsmen, which I take as a good thing. They appeared from my seat not to be loss of control, just letting a batter know who owned the inside of the plate. Also, in that last at-bat that went at least 8 pitches, his fastball was clocking 94 mph. Not bad. Dale Thayer got the last out of the 8th and worked through a small spot of trouble in the 9th, but got his 17th save. Dale seems to be back on track.

Pretty, pretty plays backing up the Davis and Thayer. In the 4th Chris Richard snatched a nasty hopping grounder out of the air and casually tossed it to Davis for the last out of the inning. Top of the 5th Ray Olmedo playing short went deep behind second to grab the ball and took that tiny fraction of a second he needed to balance himself and made a perfect throw to first base. For the last out of the inning Matt Joyce stretched himself out to pick a line drive off just above the ground. And at the top of the 9th Henry Mateo at second made a very tricky hop nearly into center field look like a routine grounder.

Lots of very cool stuff happened at the plate and on the base paths as well. Jon Weber got his 44th double (Trivia alert! The real Crash Davis, an infielder for the Carolina League Durham Bulls in 1948, set the team record of 50 doubles. Guess what’s going to happen in this blog if Jon hits 50 this year?), two singles, and one more bat into the stands, this one landing on the concourse just below my seat.

Fernando Perez led off the 5th with what for an ordinary human being would be a single landing in front of the Charlotte center fielder. I leaned over to the guy sitting next to me (not a regular at Bulls games, who didn’t know who Perez was). “Watch this,” I said. Sure enough, Perez didn’t even slow down rounding first base and slid into second with a double. This was after he he hit a grounder in the 2nd inning with men on first and second that should have been an easy double play ball, but Perez blew past the pitcher, who let the throw get past him and the runner on second scored on the error. Oh, yeah. He stole second after that.

And Joe Dillon hit the Bull to start the 4th inning! The first time that’s happened this year. Hope he enjoys his steak!

In all Bulls hitters got 5 hits and 4 runs off of rehabbing Cy Young winner Peavy and 6 hits and 1 run off of the other Knights starter who followed Peavey, Carlos Torres.

As I said at the top. A great night at the park.


I said that Crash Davis held the all-time Durham Bulls record for doubles. I was wrong. Woody Fair holds the record at 51 doubles. Record set in 1946 for the Carolina League Durham Bulls. . At the age of 32 and with 10 years minor league experience (missed 1944 and 45), Fair hit .348 in 139 games that year. Fair apparently never got above AA in the minors, but played for 17 seasons. Crash Davis’ 50 doubles in 1948 is a tie for second in the all-time list, with Frank Tauby (1930).

Tough Night For The Durham Bulls

Game 123: Bulls 3, Yankees 9
Season: 68-55
Games Left in Season: 21; Home Games: 11
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

I like to think that I’ve been reasonable in my attitude towards the Tampa Bay Rays this year. I routinely genuflect in their direction. After all, without the Rays we wouldn’t have the Bulls. And I like to think that our manager is doing a pretty good job given the challenges he’s faced.

However (had to be a ‘however’ in this), here we are with 21 games left in the season. We’ve got one fragile pitcher who shows up for games from time to time and pitches well from time to time (Carlos Hernandez). With the arrival of Fernando Perez we’ll have three rehabbers bloating the lineup (I count Riggans as a rehabber) and have to be played. I’ve got to think it’s a Rays dictat that puts Joyce in left, where he boots a ball, and Ruggiano in right, where he gets blinded by the lights, making two players look like amateurs. We’ve gone all season long without a third baseman (don’t get me wrong, I like Joe Dillon. I just don’t think that third base is his forte). And we’ve got a reliever who has taken several days just to show up for work (Jeff Bennett).

What does it have to do with last night? To be honest not much. We could have done better. Cromer could have done a lot better. But I just wanted to complain. It was that kind of evening at the park.

Jason Cromer ran out of steam before the first inning was over yesterday, but he stayed through the early part of the 5th. Did I mention that we’re limping along with four starters? And wearing out our bullpen? Those that show up for the game? The guy Tampa Bay sent down has spent a couple of days getting here. Guess that’s a perk of being a big leaguer who gets dumped. A guy from here who gets called up sometimes plays on the same day. The guy from Tampa Bay who gets sent down gets to take three or four days off on the way. Fragile egos, I suppose.

I left at the stretch, so I missed probably the best moment of the night. Craig Albernaz, who has frequently demonstrated that he can snap the ball from home to first or second or back to the pitcher, took the mound for the bottom of the 9th. So what’s Jaso going to say to him if he trots out to talk to his pitcher (other than maybe notice that it may be the first time he’s looked up to Albernaz all season)? Well, he took the mound and set down the Yankees one-two-three. Sorry I missed it.

OK, he’s back. So it’s time to see if I can figure out how to embed a video in a blog. If this works you’ll see one of the better moments of last season. In addition, if you’re wondering what Fernando did to train for those moments, check out the first minute or so of this clip.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Attorney Supports Weber Call-Up

Regular readers of WDBB will recall that we have had occasional interactions with a local law firm with offices in the Diamond View II building, most recently in a copy of a letter they sent Jon Weber. Today they wrote directly to us referring to our recent posts, here and here, regarding a September call-up for Weber.

Farfaleaux, Foghart, & Bloviate, L.L.C.
Attorneys-at-Law & Media Relations Consultants
Diamond View II Bldg
Durham, NC

August 17, 2009

Dear sir/madam:

We have noted with some interest your recent commentary on behalf of Mr. Jon Weber, an individual who’s career this firm has been following closely for some time. We appreciate that the tone of your comments have shifted somewhat from your maudlin remarks concerning the glove he loaned to Carl Crawford and your rather more intemperate commentary on his propensity to launch bats into the stands behind the dugout and his “haircut” (I use the term advisedly). We whole-heartedly endorse your effort to see him in a Tampa Bay Rays uniform this September.

More than that, we are pleased to see that you have at last recognized his exceptional competence as a ballplayer. Better late than never, as they say.

It might interest you to know that the advertising campaign for Get-A-Grip Pine Tar, for which Mr. Weber was to have been the spokesman, has been temporarily put into abeyance. Not, mind you, due to any reluctance on the part of Mr. Weber. It would appear that archival video of the events in question is not readily available. Therefore, we would have to stage the event for the cameras. As you might imagine, the fees for liability insurance during the filming appear at this moment to be prohibitive.

On the other hand, if Mr. Weber does get called up, especially for a game in Boston’s Fenway Park, and he lets a bat fly in to the stands there, and we get it on film; well, that would be rather a win-win for Tampa Bay fans wouldn’t it? In itself a strong argument for his call-up.

Lastly, we would note that it appears that every right-thinking American male has the fantasy of roaming in the outfield of a major league ballpark and of coming to the plate against the best the game has to offer. Unfortunately, almost none of them have the talent or the opportunity to do so. It is our fervent belief that Mr. Weber has that talent and should be given that opportunity, even if it is in that juke box between the beach and the bay down there in St. Petersburg.

Respectfully yours,

Armstrong Farfaleaux
Sr. Partner, FF&B

Starters? Who Needs Starters?

Game 122: Bulls 5, Yankees 2
Season: 68-54
Games Left in Season: 22; Home Games: 12
Wrap, Box, Indy Week

I want to start out with something absolutely unrelated to last night’s game. Regular readers will know that I have a fondness (that may be the wrong word) for a young pitcher named Chris Mason who pitched several innings for the Bulls last year and 4 innings this year before going back to the Montgomery Biscuits. It looks as if Stacy Long over at the Montgomery Advertiser and who covers the Montgomery Biscuits shares that fondness. Mason recently was released by the Rays organization, signed on with the Mets and is pitching for their AA team. I’ll just quote Stacy for the rest of the story (Long has some good quotes from Rhyne Hughes as well):
Mason doubles his fun with Binghamton

Departed Biscuits pitcher Chris Mason allowed three hits over five shutout innings to pick up his first win for the Binghamton Mets tonight . He also doubled, scored a run and has a .500 slugging percentage, which means the world will end in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...

On a more serious note, how about them pitchers? Odd that without a “starter” we used just about as many as we do on a night when we have a starter start. ’Splain to me the difference between a starter and a reliever again? In the end, three out of four pitchers did just fine accumulating 12 strikeouts and giving up only two walks and one earned run. Nice work, mostly. I remain worried about Joe Nelson. About 40% of the batters he faces are getting on base. On the other hand last night we saw the Winston Abreu we know and love: seven batters, no hits, 3 K’s, not a baserunner. Well done.

On the offensive side, one story is Joe Dillon. He just doesn’t look like a third baseman to me and that rainbow-like near palm ball for the third out in the 4th just barely beat the runner to the bag. At the plate, however, bang, bang, bang, three singles his first three at bats.

I liked the balance in the offense last night. Almost everyone got a hit.

Desmond Jennings showed off for us leading off in the 6th. He drew a walk, was wild pitched to 2nd, stole 3rd base and came home when the catcher’s throw went wide of the base. The Yankee’s pitcher, Edwar Ramirez, looked sort of like one of those screech owls you see on the Nature Channel as he watched Jennings go around the bases. He did strike out the batter of the moment, Matt Joyce, and three others in his stint, but left with his team one more run down. .

About leaving the bases loaded two innings in a row …

Lastly, Ray Olmedo needs some time with Jon Weber to hone his bat tossing skills. The one he let go weakly flopped into the netting. His follow-through needs some work.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

DBAP Welcomes Fans

Game 121: Bulls 5, Yankees 4
Season: 67-54
Games Left in Season: 23; Home Games: 13
Wrap, Box

Jeremy Hellickson looked really, really good last night. What a future this guy has. He only gave up two hits in 8+ innings. Unfortunately for his ERA they were both home runs, but that’s OK. In the 8th inning he gave up the second home run to the first batter and then got a popup to Mateo on the next batter. What made that great was that the fans were able to give him the applause he deserved for a fine outing.

Jason Childers managed to scare the hell out of us in the 9th, but Dale Thayer did his fireman thing with great skill. He came in with one out and men on second and third. He closed it out with a popup to short and a grounder to short.

We had an interesting lineup last night. Almost like last April in a way. Going around the horn, we had Michel Hernandez at catcher, Joe Dillon at third, Ray Olmedo at short, Henry Mateo at second, Chris Richard at first, Jon Weber in left, Desmond Jennings in center, and Matt Joyce in right. Aki Iwamura dh’d.

All of our offense was in the 3rd inning, and it was a treat to watch the home runs, single and double as the team batted around.

But the big, big, really big deal of the night was the fans. Not the 9,483 people in the stands (including some noisy Yankee fans). I mean the great big, honking, airplane propeller, Oklahoma plains windmill, turbo-prop FANS. Guy behind me was telling his son, “Heck of a wind tonight, but it’s funny, I can’t tell the direction from the flags out there.” I pointed straight up.

I’m here to tell you those things are big, and they move some serious air around. I’m thinking about bringing some rope and a couple of carabiners to hook myself up to the railing. How big are they? I’m thinking that if they really crank them up they’ll take the entire roof of the DBAP off and fly it away. In the meantime I’m looking through my novels placed in the age of sail for the appropriate quote, something about reefing a stays’l, or battening hatches.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. Just wish that John and Andrea, Bulls fans who’ve now moved away to the swamps of coastal South Carolina, were here to see their dream come true (they’d been pestering Bulls management for fans for years). They’re cool, actually cool, and will be a huge help on the summer nights. Now if they could tweak them just a little bit slower.

Adam Sobsey gives us a rundown on some of the health woes and other locker-room insights over at Triangle Offense. Quick summary: Justin Ruggiano “hyperextended” his elbow. He’s day-to-day. Elliot Johnson has a strained muscle, also day-to-day. Carlos Hernandez has a problem with his wrist, so he won’t make his scheduled start today so we will again do the “committee” thing with bullpen pitchers (really don’t like that, but doubt that Charlie Montoyo does either).

So far we’ve dumped two starters (DeSalvo and Houser) this year, one went on the disabled list back in May (Talbot), and Hernandez has missed a bunch of starts. Time to find out where Jeremy Cummings went to this year?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hughes to Baltimore

Sure didn’t see this one coming.

Rhyne Hughes has become the “player to be named later” in the Gregg Zaun deal.

If this means he could end up playing for Norfolk, which is only two games behind us, and he happens to get on one of his streaks, I gotta hope that Zaun was worth it. Could mean trouble for the Durham Bulls.

Brignac to Tampa Bay

According to the St. Pete Times, Reid Brignac has been called up. The cited reason was DH Pat Burrell going on the disabled list. Reid has been doing a fine, even exceptional, job here in Durham this year, so on one level his choice makes sense. I wish him all the best. Don’t take this wrong Reid, unless it’s to help us win the Governor’s Cup, I don’t want to see you back here again. On the other hand, if we need a shortstop early next month, how about stopping by?

The move also brings up what may be my third management/executive issue up (down?) there on the Gulf Coast. I mentioned two in my post about Jon Weber yesterday. Here’s the third — Pat Burrell.

If you buy the idea that the key stat you’re looking for in a DH is OPS, Burrell’s is .699. The rest: BA .220, OBP .324, SLG .375.

Down here in Durham we’ve got 8, count ‘em, 8 regulars with better OPSs. Mateo (.712), Ruggiano (.734), Brignac (.775), Johnson (.797), Joyce (.819), Richard (.885), Weber (.886), and Hughes (.894). Ruggiano, Brignac, Johnson, and Joyce are on the 40-man.

So, does it make sense to bring Reid up for a while? Sure it does. Even though Jason Bartlett is having a career year, this adds even more flexibility and keeps some decent bats in the Longoria, Bartlett, Aybar, Brignac, Zobrist combination of 2nd, SS, 3rd, and DH. Even when Iwamura returns, I’m not sure it makes sense for Burrell to hang around — but that gets into the the business of baseball and not the winning of games.

It’s a good move. And it shows what a bad move the original multi-million dollar deal for Burrell has turned out to be.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Shoulda Stayed Home

Game 120: Bulls 5, Yankees 9
Season: 66-54
Games Left in Season: 24; Home Games: 14
Wrap, Box

There are nights when I’m thinking the pitcher wishes he’d had stayed home. Tonight was that kind of night for Andy Sonnanstine. Take the 3rd inning: Liner to 2nd (one of two balls that rehabbing Iwamura handled), single, single, double (2 RBIs), single (RBI), K, double (RBI), single (RBI), flyout to left. Seven runs by the 5th inning (6 earned), and you’re finally out of there at the end of the 5th. Not a good night. Everything he put up there, they hit.

Winston Abreu gave up a two-run homer in the 9th. That kind of game.

Not that the Bulls didn’t try. Two runs in the 1st, another in the 4th, two more in the 5th. But not enough, not enough. Weber, Richard, Brignac, and Jaso had decent nights. Weber got his 42nd double.

Montoyo took an interesting approach to dealing with the need to give Iwamura five innings. He sat Ruggiano, Joyce, and Johnson to start the game, then slipped Joyce into the game in the 6th with a complicated shuffle of players (Mateo from left to second, Joyce to right, Weber from left to right). I suppose we can expect more of the same for the next several games. Hard to guess what will happen when Joe Dillon shows up.

Tomorrow’s another day.

  • Rays reliever Jeff Bennett has been optioned to the Bulls to make room for reliever Chad Bradford who’s coming off the disabled list. DRaysBay was not impressed with his performance as a Ray. Maybe he’ll do better for us. Hard to guess who’ll be slipped off to Montgomery or Hudson Valley to make room, maybe Julio DePaula even if it should be Joe Nelson if pure numbers mattered.


September Call-Up — Jon Weber — Part Two

I don’t pay real close attention to the Tampa Bay Rays which may explain why two features of their approach this year escaped me until I started to try to martial my arguments for a Jon Weber call-up. The first conclusion I came to was that their “platooning” of right fielders has not done them much good. Matt Joyce’s overall numbers are better than either of the Rays’ right fielders. The second is that they have not figured out how to coach/manage B.J. Upton. What does the status of Matt Joyce and Fernando Perez have to do with the call-up of Jon Weber? Read on.

These two aspects of the Rays matter because of how the 40-man roster works and because if Jon is to go up to the Rays, someone is going to have to get pushed off the Rays 40-man. (Note: if it turns out I really don’t understand all the intricacies of the 40-man, waivers, DFA’ing, etc., here’s hoping someone will straighten me out.)

The basic rule for September call-ups is that a major league team can expand their “active” roster from 25 to 40 men. Said another way, anyone on the 40-man can come “up” to the Rays. However, the 40-man limit to a team’s roster is still in effect. If they want to call up someone who isn’t on the 40-man they have to make room.

The current TB 40-man is here. You will note that, oddly enough, there are 43 men on the page that has the 40-man roster. That’s because a players on the 60 day disabled list don’t count. Taking those players out, I count 39 on the current list. I’m guessing that the opening is in anticipation of either Aki Iwamura or Fernando Perez coming off the 60-day disabled list. If both come off soon, that will push them over 40 and someone will have to go. You can also see that several current Bulls are on the 40-man.

So at least one of those players, probably two, will have to be put on waivers before anyone from outside the list (Weber) can be added. I have my candidates for those who could be waivered at reasonable risk to the Rays, namely Riggans and Montgomery Catcher Lebaton. Your candidates welcome.

In addition to pushing someone off the 40-man, the purpose of a call-up to Tampa Bay in September has to be considered. That is, are they going to be in the hunt for a playoff spot, or not? If they are in the hunt, then clearly they want to add people to the 40-man that will make a difference in that effort. If they are not in the hunt, then probably they want to look at their “prospects” and consider options for 2010.

I boil it down to this: If the Rays are in the hunt and they see the issues in right and center field the way I do, then first they need Joyce in right and Perez available to play center. Both of them are already on the 40 man so no action will be required (beyond the one who has to be pushed off to make room for Iwamura/Perez).

In a perfect world, of course, the fact that Weber’s numbers are better than either Joyce’s or Perez’ would make a difference. But somehow I doubt that it does.

That leaves the only good reason to bring Jon up is to spell Carl Crawford in left (and/or as a designated hitter -- the Rays' dh isn't very good either). Again, if the Rays are seriously in the hunt, that’s a very good reason to bring Jon up and one that might be persuasive. In fact, it’s a pretty good argument even if they are not in the hunt, since none of the current prospects are being touted as up and coming left fielders.

I’ve left out of this three important considerations:
  • What about the playoffs and the Governor’s Cup?
  • What about Justin Ruggiano (on the 40-man) and Chris Richard (not on the 40-man)?
  • What about all the great comments the first posting received, particularly the one that reminded me that it was LaLoosh, not Crash Davis who got called up?
I’ll try to deal with those in another post.

Durham Bulls, Come on Home!

Game 119: Bulls 9, Braves 5
Season: 66-53
Games Left in Season: 25; Home Games: 15
Wrap, Box, Indy Week, Gwinnett Daily Post

I’ve never met Elliot Johnson, so I don’t know if he’s really a nice guy or not. That’s a fan’s perspective. I’m guessing that if you’re an opposing team catcher you are firmly in the “not a nice guy” camp. Take Gwinnett’s Clint Sammons’ experience in the 9th last night. The Bulls were down 3-4 when Elliot led off the inning with a single to right. Rhyne Hughes struck out. Then Henry Mateo whacked a line drive to deep center. As Neil Solondz told the story, Elliot didn’t even slow down coming around third. Sammon’s did get the ball a moment or so before Elliot ran him down — he just couldn’t hold on. Jubilation in the dugout as the score was tied. Enough jubilation that 5 of the next 6 batters got hits, 4 singles and a double. Johnson, in his second at-bat of the inning, made the last out.

So, six runs in the top of the 9th and enough of a cushion to withstand most anything. No sweep in Gwinnett, a glimpse of the real Durham Bulls at last.

Other game notes:

When Joe Nelson came down from Tampa Bay, I thought it was probably a good deal for the Bulls. Now I’m not so sure. I know it’s a really small sample size, but things are not looking good. He’s appeared in only four games, pitching six innings. On the other hand, he’s had to face 32 batters in those six innings, giving up 6 earned runs on 9 hits and 4 walks with five strikeouts,. Weirdly enough, with last night’s potentially game-losing effort, his ERA actually improved (from 11.25 to 9.00). I appreciate that he’s searching for something, let’s hope he finds it real soon now.

Chris Richard got four RBIs last night, moving him up to a tie with Jon Weber (who got 2) at 59 and three behind Justin Ruggiano (1 more last night) at 62. Jon Weber cracked the .300 barrier and is now hitting .302. With a double and a homer he remains comfortably in the lead in the IL’s doubles and extra base hit categories.

Tomorrow the old Durham Athletic Park re-opens. I don’t think I’ll be able to make it to the ceremony, but it’s a good idea to bring it back into shape. Here’s hoping it prospers.

Really, really pleased to see a good, old-fashioned Durham Bulls rally last night. Keep it up!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What’s Going On?

Game 116: Bulls 3, Braves 6
Wrap, Box, Indy Week

Game 117: Bulls 4, Braves 5
Wrap, Box, Indy Week

Game 118, Bulls 1, Braves 2
Wrap, Box
Season: 67-51

I’ve just been able to catch bits and pieces of games the last couple of days. The parts I’ve caught early in a game were interesting, such as Ruggiano getting tossed out for looking at an umpire last night or the lightning and thunder the night before. The bits I’ve caught late, unfortunately I was listening in the bottom of the 9th on both nights, have been painful.

Just to summarize: We went into the bottom of the 9th of Tuesday’s game leading 4-3. Winston Abreu gave up two home runs to the first two batters. We went into the bottom of the 9th last night with a 1-0 lead. Dale Thayer got to two outs, but also let two on base. Walked a man on a 3-2 pitch, and gave up a two-run hit on a 3-2 pitch. Two blown saves by two accomplished relief pitchers.

Now that we’re past these games (and the fact that we left an awful lot of guys on base), here’s hoping that things can get back on track. We can take some cold comfort in the fact that the stands were virtually empty for both games (paid attendance was 3,800 for one game and 3,300 for another, which means maybe 2,500-3,000 actually at the games).

DRR in a recent comment and Adam Sobsey are reporting that Michel Hernandez is heading back to the Bulls. Good news.

Other reporting indicates that Joe Dillon is coming back as well. That’s gonna make a crowd at second base: Aki Iwamura on his rehab assignment, Henry Mateo, Elliot Johnson, and now Joe Dillon (although it’s hard to say what “position” Dillon played at TB). Plus the Bulls will have to make some roster adjustments to account for Hernandez and Dillon.

As usual, when the Bulls make it home, it will be a different team. Is there a pattern here? Make sure the Bulls are on the road and then change the team?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Transaction/Roster Update

A couple of days ago I put out a list of Rays transactions that were up in the air. Two of those have been resolved. According to the St. Pete Times, pitcher John Meloan has been claimed by Pittsburgh and pitcher R.J. Swindle has been claimed by Cleveland. That leaves unresolved the question of catcher Michel Hernandez and infielder Joe Dillon.

In addition, The Tampa Tribune is reporting that rehabbing Rays infielder Akinori Iwamura is scheduled to report to Durham for as much as a two-week assignment beginning this Friday.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

September Call-up — Jon Weber — Part One

Watching Durham Bulls Baseball is going to step away from its usual monomaniacal focus on the Durham Bulls and how they are doing as a team. Instead I want talk about a September call-up for one of the members of the team, Jon Weber. Our usual focus is on whatever it takes to win games and get into the playoffs. Obviously Weber staying with the Bulls would make a difference in that effort. Nevertheless, we want to make an exception for this gifted ballplayer. We will try to do that by convincing our readers (and fellow bloggers) why it should be done (Part One) and with some help, I hope, figure out how it can be done (Part Two, sometime in the future).

First of all, let’s talk about the kind of career year that Jon Weber is having. As of August 11th, he has played in 100 of the Bulls’ 116 games. Most of his starts were in the outfield (51) or as the designated hitter (39). The majority of his outfield starts were in left field where his is a master of the DBAP’s Blue Monster. He has 83 put outs and 7 assists (the foolish batter trying to stretch a wall ball into a double).

At the plate his batting average is .293, second on the team behind Rhyne Hughes (a fairly recent call-up from AA Montgomery who has been in 52 games and is batting .325).

Jon’s On Base Percentage is .376 drawing 48 walks and 6 hits by a pitch in his 382 plate appearances. He is tied for the team lead in OBP with Hughes.

He’s second to Ruggiano in RBIs with 57 to Ruggiano’s 61, and third in OPS at .861, third to Rhyne Hugh’s .934 and Chris Richard’s .877.

His most startling stat is his doubles — 40 — the best in the International League (he also leads the International League in extra base hits).

I first saw Weber when he came to the Bulls in 2007. What struck me then was his sheer energy and aggressiveness. By that time he was in this eighth year as a pro including a year in the PCL. What he seemed to bring to the team (as best as I could tell from my distant seat in the stands) was humor, leadership, and a real grasp of the basics of working an at-bat, smart, agressive base running and considerable power and discipline at the plate. I think he can take a lot of the credit for the Bulls winning the Southern Division and getting into the playoffs in both years.

I have written quite a bit about Jon since starting WDBB this year. Some of it was effort at humor regarding his hair (or lack thereof) and his unfortunate tendancy to inadvertently launch bats in the general direction of my seat at the DBAP. But I have also pointed out on numerous occasions, starting with his non-roster invitation to Spring Training, the contributions he is making this year's team.

I appreciate how rare it is for a veteran AAA ballplayer to get a shot at the majors after his “prospect” years, but I am convinced he would make a difference to this year’s Rays.

To that end, I’d like for my fellow bloggers over at Triangle Offense, Rays Index, RaysProspects, The Rays Party, Stacy Long over at The Montgomery Advertiser, and others to take a look at Jon’s record this year and his profile.

In my next post I’ll talk some about the how of making this happen: stuff like the 40-man roster, an appreciation of what the Rays need in September, and some of the other Bulls who might also have a shot.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Durham Bulls Hit the Road

(click for larger image)

The Bulls are only on the road for four games, but you can see that they are important games. Gwinnett has been on a heck of a run in recent weeks and the old Richmond-Durham rivalry is alive and well. Too bad our parent clubs don’t play each other to make it even more fun. If Norfolk fell off for a while there, they are back in the hunt now. These four games at Gwinnett are not make or break for the Bulls, we’ll play them four more times at the end of the month. But we want to come out of this at least as good as we go in.

Gwinnett has not been as popular as other new ballpark clubs have been (averaging 5,800 per game). Not quite sure why that would be. I suppose that maybe there are some disadvantages to being so close to your parent club.

One difference, I hope, is that we’ll see a different umpiring crew. The Bulls had the same crew for 17 games starting with a 9-game stretch in early July and this 8-game stretch. I wonder if you’ve got the same crew all the time you start adjusting your pitching to the umpire?

Keeping score

I suppose a few of you who read this also keep scorecards during the game. For the last couple of days I’ve been giving the “Reisner” scorecard a try. I’m finding it a very interesting and useful way to track a game. In some ways it is an improvement over a traditional scorecard, particularly when it comes to recording what happens to players after they get on base. The scorekeeping system is apparently a variant of something called “Project Scoresheet.” I don’t know much about that at all.

What is interesting in this approach is that every time a batter comes to bat I can see (and later remember) exactly what he’s facing and what he did the last time he came to bat. It does a good job of giving me a feel for the flow of the game as well. I’ve also found it fairly useful for tracking pitchers. I don’t do pitch count, so I can’t comment on that; however, the card does seem to make that easier to do than other approaches. You can download a sample card from the link above. The instructions are reasonably clear (also on the site), although I had to go back to them after I tried the card for the first time.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hot, Hot, Hot

Game 115: Bulls 11, Chiefs 5
Season: 65-50
Wrap, Box

How do you figure a night like this? After one of the worst nights of the season yesterday with only 4 hits, the Bulls have their best hitting night of the year with 18 hits. (Note: On the scoreboard when I left the park, and on my scoresheet, the Bulls had 17 hits. However, the box score shows Weber with 4 hits and the Bulls with 18. So someone must have prevailed upon the official scorer — yet another errant bat, Jon? — to change that 8th inning E-1 to an infield hit, as it should have been scored in the first place.) One home run (Chris Richard), 3 doubles (Mateo, Weber, and Johnson), and 14 singles. Every Bull got on base, except for Albernaz who came on in the 8th for Jaso and only had one at-bat. And no blowout inning, just a steady drumbeat of 1, 2, and 3-run innings. Pretty, pretty, pretty.

Hot it was. I made the mistake of checking the weather about an hour into the game and got one of those “feels like” numbers — over 100.

I can’t honestly say that Andy Sonnanstine looked all that good, although he did get the win. Sure seemed like he was working really hard and he did run up to 96 pitches in six innings. Abreu was Abreu. It sure is great to see him and his nasty slider back. Maybe the big guys can hit it, but these guys sure can’t. Keep it up Winston. Dale Thayer had a bit of trouble when he came on in the 8th giving up a double, two singles, and a run before he settled down. By the way, it looks like he’s growing his famous ’stache back.

Something like 50 years ago the psychologist B. F. Skinner pretty much nailed down where superstitious behavior comes from and put it off to what became known as operant conditioning. That may be. On the other hand, players (and fans) know that if they wear their hats a certain way, do just the right things in the on-deck circle, scratch this and wiggle that, then good things happen. The trick is to make sure that you keep doing the right things. So, whatever it was, just keep it up.

A Forlorn Plea Goes Unanswered

Game 114: Bulls 2, Chiefs 3
Season: 64-50
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Indy Week

My route to the DBAP goes by the Durham County Correctional Center, better known as a the county jail. As we drove by yesterday a poignant scene was taking place on the sidewalk outside that slit-windowed monstrosity. A lady was looking up, shading her eyes with one hand, and forlornly waving with the other. Sad, very sad.

I was reminded of the scene as our hitters trudged to the plate and trudged back to the dugout while we in the stands were, like the lady on the sidewalk, waving our hands, asking for a hit, any kind of hit, just get on base. Elliot Johnson got a single, Chris Richard got two doubles (nice to see Chris hitting), Jon Weber got a double. That’s it. Oh, two walks (Joyce and Albernaz) and Ruggiano reached on an error. That’s six, count ’em, six base runners. The two runs we got were after Joyce’s walk, Ruggiano’s reaching on an error, and the Chief’s pitcher throwing the ball into centerfield in a pickoff attempt, letting them get to second and third. Weber hit a double (what else?) and drove in our only runs.

Davis pitched a decent game, but his wild pitch in the 7th allowed runners to get to second and third and set up a two-run single. In the next inning if Matt Joyce had played the shot into the right field corner just a little better, the batter would have been on second instead of third and the next fly ball would have been just an out instead of the game-winning sac fly.

By the way, Daniel Price in the Herald-Sun gets the the IL standings wrong and doesn’t accurately describe what happened in the 4th inning in his story linked above.


I’ve read this article in Wikipedia about being “designated for assignment” a couple of times and, although it is certainly much clearer that than baseball’s balk rule, it doesn’t tell me what’s going to happen here in Durham. So I’ll just make a list of names “DFA’d” the last couple of days. Any, all, or none of these players could end up playing for (or continue playing with) the Bulls.
  • Catcher Michel Hernandez
  • Infielder Joe Dillon
  • RHP John Meloan (fairly sure that in this case he’s gone from the Bulls)
  • LHP R.J. Swindle

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Looking At the Changes

(click on chart for larger view)

First, here’s an updated chart on the pitching with additions (Abreu) and deletions (Julio and DeSalvo). Nelson really jumped up, but that is surely for the short term.

The Rays acquired a catcher (Gregg Zaun from the Orioles) and Michel Hernandez has been designated for assignment. That means that if no one claims him he could come to Durham. I sure hope so, because I really like Hernandez and I think our pitchers could use an experienced catcher. By the way, catcher Shawn Riggans is on the 15-day disabled list.

Marc Lancaster of the Tampa Tribune reports that the Rays have claimed a left hand relief pitcher from Milwaukee named R. J. Swindle. Terrific season in Nashville (AAA, Pacific Coast League), but not good (terrible) numbers when he went up to Milwaukee in July (appeared in 3 games, 4 innings, gave up 8 runs). Swindle could be coming to Durham, which would complicate our pitching situation a bit.

Friday, August 7, 2009

That’s No Way to Lose a Game

Game 113: Bulls 7, Chiefs 9
Season: 64-49

A lot of interesting things happened in tonight’s game, but the only one I’ll remember is the blown call of a foul ball as a three run home run in the top of the 9th. Hope readers don’t mind finding the usual Herald-Sun, Bulls wrap, and Indy Week links on your own (they aren’t up yet) .

Think I’ll just plug in the numbers from the box score and call it a day.

Well, maybe I’ll just mention the umps: HP: Fran Burke. 1B: Kevin Causey. 2B: . 3B: Al Porter. Odd that the 1B umpire tossed Charlie. Maybe he’s the crew chief.

DeSalvo & Julio Released

DRR reported it in a comment and here is the twitter link that he mentioned. So far today I haven’t seen it anywhere else, but I was told last night that there would be some news today. If you check the chart from yesterday, DeSalvo and Julio were the two obvious guys to go. I’ll update that pitching chart in a day or so.

To go over the current list, then:

  • Davis
  • Hernandez
  • Sonnanstine
  • Cromer
  • Hellickson

  • Childers
  • DePaula
  • Medlock
  • Thayer
  • Bateman
  • Meloan
  • Nelson
  • Abreu

I think that the Bulls prefer 5 starters and 7 relievers, so they may be considered one over at the moment. Plus, Mitch Talbot pitched 4 innings for the Gulf Coast Rays on Tuesday. So he will be back eventually. Looks like at least one, possibly two, pitchers more will be going before we get more than a couple of weeks along.

Jason Cromer on tonight! See you there.

Update (8/7 - 15:45):
I've received an email from Bulls front office that verifies DeSalvo's and Julio's release.

Clean-up Cleans-up

Game 112: Bulls 5, Chiefs 3
Season: 64-48
Wrap, Box

A couple of days ago I began to assemble an answer to the question, Why is Justin Ruggiano batting cleanup? Instead, I’ll just report what happened because he was batting cleanup last night. The first time he came to bat Desmond Jennings was on third base, having had a single, stolen second base (he’s really fast), and moved to third on Matt Joyce’s single. Ruggiano singled and Jennings came home. In the 5th inning Justin came to bat with the bases loaded and hit a double. Three runs scored. So four out of the Bulls’ five runs by the number four batter (the fifth on yet another double by Jon Weber).

Carlos Hernandez had a lot of trouble in the first inning, but settled down after that. Nevertheless, since the Rays have him on a really low pitch count, he only lasted four innings. An oddity of the game is that he was pulled while throwing a no-hitter through those innings. Joe Bateman (who got the win), Jason Childers (how come, with all our relievers, two days in a row?), and Dale Thayer followed. Thayer gave up three singles in the 8th. Not like him.

  • Additional thoughts on Winston Abreu coming back to the Bulls are over at The Rays Party and Indy Week.
  • Rays Index speculates that David Price is nearing his limit on innings pitched and that it could lead to him going to the bullpen and Andy Sonnanstine being recalled to Tampa Bay.
  • Baseball America takes a look at Wade Davis’ start against Indianapolis.
  • Jeff Neimann tells a story about a 2007 experience in Durham that made a difference in his career in the Bradenton Herald.
  • Flip-Flop Fly Ball’s latest graphic takes us to Turner, Montana.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Abreu Coming Back to Durham

File this under the strange news category, but here it is from Joe Smith of the St. Petersburg Times:
The Tampa Bay Rays signed RHP Winston Abreu to a minor league contract. He will report to Triple-A Durham Friday.
Abreu was designated for assignment on Aug 1 by the Indians, who had acquired him from the Rays earlier this season.
I really liked Abreu when he was here April, May, and early June. He had some terrific numbers for us, leaving here with a 1.41 ERA. Not sure what happened in Tampa or Cleveland, but happy to have him back.

Just remembered that the Rays traded Abreu to Cleveland for John Meloan, which makes it even more weird. Gotta wonder what they're going to talk about out there in the bullpen.


(click on chart for larger image)

The Bulls had a day off yesterday, so I thought it would be a good time to update my charts.

The “performance” chart is for the last 20 games. The green columns are the team OPS (on base percentage + slugging percentage) for the games. I use that as a measure of hitting. The last column which is the season OPS. The blue columns are the opponents’ OPS as a negative number, which I take to be a measure of how well all of our pitchers did in the game. Basically, the taller the green column, the better; the shorter the blue column, the better. The trend lines are 5-game moving averages. So, how are we doing? We won 11 and lost 9 of the games. Both hitting and pitching trends are below the season numbers even though we won 3 of the last 5. That’s worrisome. The hitting seems to be moving upwards; that’s good. The pitching seems to be moving downwards; that’s not good.

The pitching chart combines OBA, the opponent’s On Base Percentage, and the ERAs of the current crop of pitchers. As mentioned yesterday, we’ve had 27 pitchers for the Bulls this year. These are the ones who are here right now. Also, this is a few more than the roster rules allow, hence the transfers back and forth between Hudson Valley

We need to be somewhat careful with this chart since the sample size is really small for a couple of the pitchers, especially Meloan, Hellickson, and Nelson. An interesting feature is how well our starters are coming along. Note that all of them, except DeSalvo, are below or very close to the team OBA and ERA. Interesting that a reliever, Jason Childers, has the best won-loss record, but no surprise that he has the most appearances. I was a bit surprised to notice how many starts and innings that Wade Davis has had while keeping both his OBA and ERA at a respectable level. He is a good one that I doubt we’ll see much of next year. Pretty obvious who’s on the chopping block if Mitch Talbot comes back or the Rays want to look at another pitcher coming up through the system.