Friday, April 30, 2010

Bison Baffles Bulls

Game 22: Durham Bulls 0, Buffalo Bisons 4
Season: 15-7
Wrap, Box

At roughly 6:05 last night Fernando Perez stepped to the plate in Coca Cola Field in Buffalo, New York and chipped a grounder to right field off of Bison knuckleballer R. A. Dickey. At approximately 7:45 (just in time to watch Survivor if he could get to a TV) Fernando again stepped to the plate and struck out. Those at bats neatly bookended a brilliant bit of pitching by Dickey. One hit, no walks, 28 batters faced. Can’t ask for anything more than that.

Bison’s blogger/broadcaster has interviews with Dickey and other comments on the game here.

In the meantime, I need to get a sling for my arm. I pulled something in my shoulder while patting myself on the back for predicting that Joe Dillon would catch for the Bulls. He made his first professional start as a catcher last night, and did just fine. In the first inning he started a caught stealing rundown that eventually would be scored 2364652, which meant that he was covering first,exactly as he should have been. Jose Lobaton should be back by now, so unlikely Joe will get another chance any time soon, but who knows.

Heath Phillips had a much better outing than last time, and gets credit for a complete game.

On the bench: Jennings (8), D. Johnson (1), Ruggiano (1), Lobaton (3).

Pre-game interview of newcomer Mike Ekstrom is interesting.

Benoit’s arrival in St. Petersburg covered.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

No-Hitter in the IL

Sunday a week ago the Bulls blew Chris Tillman of the Norfolk Tides off the mound in the 1st inning. That was his third loss in three starts and the four runs in one inning pushed his ERA up to 8.38.

Times change.

Tillman went 8 innings (letting three runs in) for a win on April 23 at Charlotte.

Yesterday at Gwinnett he really caught fire. He threw a complete game no-hitter. Here’s the write-up and the box score. Congrats to Tillman and the Tides. By the way, his ERA is now 4.05.

Buffaloes Buffaloed in Buffalo

Game 21: Durham Bulls 9, Buffalo Bisons 2
Season: 15 - 6
Wrap, Box

Must be getting used to the cold, because the weather was only a little bit warmer, but the Bulls pulled out their bats and Jeremy Hellickson re-asserted himself.

Hellickson did a very credible 5 ⅓ innings, followed by visiting Tampa Bay reliever Mike Eckstrom. Winston Abreu got in an inning (his ERA remains at 0.00) and Dale Thayer closed it out.

Meanwhile Chris Richard and Angel Chavez got home runs. As did Rashad Eldridge after a long stay on the bench. Fernando Perez and Joe Dillon had disappointing at bats, but the rest of the team did more than fine. Notable was Justin Ruggiano’s three hits. Is Justin having a breakout year? Here’s hoping so.

So, let’s get to the interesting, trivial part of yesterday.

The Bulls’ parent club, the Tampa Bay Rays is having a great start as well, even better than the Bulls. They are 16-5. You will notice that both teams have played 21 games. But, you may also note, the Rays started the season a couple of days before the Bulls did. How could it be that they have only played 21 games? That’s because AAA ballplayers work harder than major league ballplayers. That is, they play more games in a shorter period of time. The Bulls first day off will be next Wednesday.

More trivia:

The starting lineup last night for the Bulls was, on average, older than the starting lineup last night for the Rays. The Bulls’ spread was from Jeremy Hellickson and Fernando Perez (23 & 24) to Joe Dillon and Chris Richard (34 & 35). Down on the shores of Tampa Bay the spread went from Evan Longoria and B. J. Upton (24 & 25) to Carlos Pena and Gabe Kapler (31 and 34). The average last night for the Bulls was 28.7, for the Rays 28.2. So the youth movement is not going to start in Durham.

To that end, however, reliever Joaquin Benoit (32) is heading for Tampa Bay in exchange for Jose Lobaton’s (25) return. So we will be measurably younger by day’s end.

I’ve decided to start tracking our bench sitter and DL’ers. We know that Montoyo really prefers a steady rotation of players on the field, so you have to think that when someone spends a good bit of time on the bench it’s because he needs to.

On the bench last night: Jennings (7 days), E. Johnson, (1), Shealy (1). Others on our roster but not around are: Virgil Vasquez, Infielder J.J. Furmaniak, and pitcher Jason Cromer.

I’m a huge fan of Craig Robinson’s “infographics”. He’s got a new one up depicting time allocation for a baseball fan. Worth a look, as are all the others on his site.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Buffaloed by Buffaloes in Buffalo

Game 20: Durham Bulls 5, Buffalo Bisons 9
Season: 14-6
Wrap, Box

At game time it was 45° and wind blowing at 18 mph; at game’s end the temperature was 43° and wind still blowing (i.e., 35° with wind chill). That is not baseball weather. It hurts just to imagine what hitting a ball with a bat felt like last night.

Nevertheless …

Hernandez, Benoit, and Baker had basically crummy nights on the mound. Why did Benoit pitch for just one inning (the 5th)? Rumor has it he may be going to Tampa Bay (oh, for a seat in that birthday cake on the Bay last night).

Chris Richard got his third homer but made an error playing left field (left field?).

For the second game in a row we got more hits than our opponents, but lost the game.

Just try to get warm, guys. This ain’t baseball weather. You know it. They know it. Just stay warm.

Re: headline. By the end of this visit, DRR is gonna regret giving me that link.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lobaton to Tampa Bay; Ekstrom to the Bulls; and More

Last Friday Tampa Bay Rays catcher Dioner Navarro bumped da ump [story & video]. Major League baseball, moving with awesome swiftness meditated for a while, then suspended him for two days. Why should we Durham Bulls fans care? Because one of our two catchers, Jose Lobaton has been “recalled” to Tampa Bay (how do you recall someone who’s never been called?). In return, we will get Tampa Bay reliever Mike Ekstrom. That might be helpful over the next couple of days. [Thanks for the heads up, DRR]

Joe Dillon made some noise in spring training about becoming a catcher. Will this be his big chance?

As long as I’m putting a post together, here are a few more tidbits.
  • Rashad Eldridge is officially off the disabled list.
  • John Jaso is really getting some love down in the jukebox on the Bay.
  • Cuban defector Leslie Anderson, is very likely to show up in Durham this season. Thus making six Bulls with credentials at first base (Richard, Shealy, Blalock, Dillon, and Dan Johnson).
  • Bartending at a Durham nightspot did not go well for a Bulls wife.
  • And a further note about yesterday’s game: Angel Chavez at 28 was the youngest player in the infield of Blalock (29), Dillon (34), and Richard (35). Who says baseball is a young man’s game?

Early One Morning

Game 19: Durham Bulls 3, Gwinnett Braves 4
Season: 14-5
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Indy Week

During the break before the home half of the 8th inning I scribbled out what I expected to be my lead sentence for this post — Teams that live by the home run, die by the (lack of) home run(s). At that point the Bulls were down by three runs. We had put eleven runners on base, but all through singles and walks. We’d hit into two double plays. And, obviously, left all but one man on base. Then Hank Blalock opened the 8th with a single and Dan Johnson hit a chip shot over the Blue Monster and we were back in the game down by only one run. But a third double play later that inning put an end to that. So maybe I was right after all.

There were some great-to-be-at-the-ballpark moments, though. Worth dealing with screaming kids and the oddity of an eleven in the morning start time.

  • Richard De Los Santos must have had a Road to Montgomery moment. The young reliever was back (having not made an appearance with the Biscuits) and pitched an exceptional five innings of no hit baseball starting in the 5th. That was pretty to watch. He only let one guy on base, a hit batter to start the 6th, but that was it. So we’ve got two young pitchers who may be stepping out of the shadows, De Los Santos and Rodriguez. Will be fun to watch.
  • Beautiful throw to home from Elliot Johnson in left to Jose Lobaton guarding the plate in the 4th. Run prevented.
  • Angel Chavez really isn’t a flashy infielder — which might be why he’s been with four different AAA teams in four years — but, playing shortstop yesterday morning, he opened the 7th inning with two effortless and very clean plays that were a joy to watch. His .345 batting average isn’t anything to sneeze at either.

Dan Johnson seems to have made himself available for interviews yesterday. Check out the Herald-Sun and Indy Week links.

So far, our starting pitcher problem is not solved. Carlos Hernandez goes tonight and I’m guessing we’re OK until the rotation comes back around to Vasquez’ slot. And then?

The Bulls play the Buffalo Buffaloes tonight. This will be their only visit to that city this year. Buffalo, the Mets’ AAA team, is off to a decent start at 10-8. Like the Bulls, they’ve been playing entirely within their own division so far. The only former Bull I recognized on their roster is Jason Pridie who came up through the Rays system and played for us in 2007. He spent 2008 and 2009 in the Twins system, mostly at AAA level and now is with the Mets. Pretty dangerous batter. Not sure why he hasn’t made it to the big league team.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rodriguez IL Pitcher of the Week

From the International League:


In his first two starts at the Triple-A level, Aneury Rodriguez could hardly have been more impressive. After looking sharp in two starts at Double-A Montgomery, Rodriguez was promoted to Durham where he was given the ball for Tuesday’s game at Charlotte. In 7.0 innings, Rodriguez did not allow a runner past second base. He gave up just a walk and four hits while striking out six as Durham cruised to an 11-0 victory. Last night against Gwinnett, he was just as dominant. Once again going 7.0 innings, Rodriguez surrendered just one hit and two walks while striking out four. In two starts so far at the Triple-A level, Rodriguez has allowed five hits and three walks in 14.0 innings for an amazing WHIP of 0.57. Opposing batters are hitting just .109 against him. Rodriguez and teammate Jeremy Hellickson are the first ever pair of Durham Bulls to bring home IL Pitcher of the Week awards in consecutive weeks. The last team to accomplish the feat was Indianapolis with Eric Hacker and Daniel McCutchen in August of 2009.

22-year-old Aneury Rodriguez is in his sixth year as a professional pitcher. Originally signed by the Rockies, Rodriguez was dealt to Tampa Bay last April in exchange for pitcher Jason Hammel. He spent all of 2009 with Double-A Montgomery, going 9-11 with a 4.50 ERA. Rodriguez is a native of Higuey, Dominican Republic.

Very cool.

Vasquez, Jennings, & Eldridge

Very pleased to see Adam Sobsey over at Indy Week dig out the info on Virgil Vasquez I was whimpering about yesterday. Here are some key quotes:

Virgil Vasquez was placed on the 7-day disabled list, but he’ll be out a while. Vasquez was riding his scooter to the park on Friday—he lives near the DBAP—and was in a traffic accident. Both of his wrists are fractured. Fortunately, his throwing hand took less of the impact. He will fly to Florida on Monday for diagnosis and rehab, and isn’t expected back for at least three weeks.

Desmond Jennings hasn’t started a game since Thursday. He is nursing a shoulder ouchie, according to Charlie Montoyo. Jennings was out of the clubhouse quickly after Sunday’s game, so there was no time to ask him what happened. He’s still young—and awesome—but one thing you can’t help noticing about Jennings is that he seems to be easily and frequently hurt. Say whatever you want about bad luck, about the physical grind of baseball; the fact is that there is a skill, a talent for staying healthy, and Jennings is still mastering it. Elliot Johnson, who has played in every single Bulls game this season, started in left field. He may have to do it again for a while until Jennings or Rashad Eldridge, who is days away from returning from his own shoulder problems, returns.
The rest of Adam's story is well done. Worth a look.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunday Evening At the Park With the Bulls

Game 18: Durham Bulls 9, Gwinnett Braves 1
Season: 14-4
Wrap, Box

“[In] Triple-A it’s the best lineup I’ve seen. Not just played with, but seen.”
Chris Richard, Durham Bulls First Baseman

I don’t know if Aneury Rodriguez is the real deal, but he’s doing one heck of a job so far. In his second start in AAA he went another seven innings allowing only one hit (the first batter), two walks, and no runs. So that’s two games, 14 innings, two wins, no runs. Nothing like the numbers he was putting together in Montgomery. Fingers crossed.

In the meantime, the Bulls lineup is just crushing the ball. For the first time this season we had a bit of wind at the DBAP and it seemed to help. Four home runs, including one off the Bull by Joe Dillon. Dillon has two on the season, Ruggiano hit his fourth, Richard his second, and Colina his second. Should mention here that Colina, whom I criticized this morning, had a double, homer, single and a walk, 3 RBIs. So guess I should shut up about him.

Since the Bulls are doing so well, let me indulge in a bit complaining.

I realize that I’m just a fan blogging about a team I like a lot. I am not a member of the press, nor do I want to be. Nevertheless, when I queried the Bulls about a story out of Montgomery, Alabama regarding one of our pitchers I figured that since the story was already out it would be confirmed. So I asked if Virgil Vazquez had broken his wrist in a car accident. To my surprise the answer was, “I don't have any details on an accident. He does have a wrist injury, but they haven't told me how severe it is.”

I really hope that the real reporters (Joe Johnson and Briana Gorman at the Herald-Sun, Mike Potter and Adam Sobsey at Indy Week) chase this down.

While they are at it, maybe they can find out why (except for an appearance as a pinch runner on Saturday night) Desmond Jennings hasn’t played for three days. I had figured that it was part of Montoyo sharing the load, but three days off is a lot.

While they are at it, maybe they could find out why we don’t have Sunday afternoon games. That would be nice.

And when Rashad Eldridge will be back, and what was wrong with him in the first place.

Guess we’ll find out how Charlie Montoyo plans to deal with the pitcher problem tomorrow morning. We are short one starter. By the way, tomorrow’s game is going to be on the MLB network. A chance to set your DVR, go to the game, and then come home and see the game again!

Interesting interview of Chris Richard here.

A baseball game at 11 in the morning! Pancakes and coffee at the DBAP?

Blalock Interviewed; Vasquez Explained; See Safe For Yourself

  • Hank Blalock has an interesting interview on local TV. [WRAL]
  • Stacey Long is reporting that Virgil Vasquez broke his wrist in a car accident. [Montgomery Advertiser]
  • Video of controversial play last night. [WRAL]

Safe! Safe! Safe!

Game 17: Durham Bulls 7, Gwinnett Braves 8
Season: 13-4
Wrap, Box, Durham Herald-Sun, Indy Week

When Jennings came in to run for Blalock in the 9th, I was watching the game from up on the Blue Monster. Pleased to see Jennings come in because that would mean that he was not out of the lineup for the last couple of days with a physical problem. But it also meant that I could not get a really good look at umpire Manny Gonzalez’s call on Jennings’ attempted steal. I will defer to broadcaster Neil Solondz, the reporters from the Herald-Sun and Indy Week (who saw the in-booth replay), and Charlie Montoyo — he was SAFE!!

I muttered to myself all the way home, but it was about something else. Scanned the papers/websites this morning for quotes/questions. No joy. Since baseball is a game of the moment, dwelling on the past does not have much merit. Nevertheless …

Why in the world were Dan Johnson, Chris Richard, and Desmond Jennings benched? Why was catcher Alvin Colina put in the lineup in the designated hitter spot? I like Alvin Colina a lot as a catcher, but he’s batting well below .200. Last night he struck out with men on 1st and 2nd, struck out with a man on first, hit an RBI single with men on 1st and 3rd, and grounded out with men on 2nd and 3rd. Gotta think that one of the other three might have done better. And then there was the problem of warming up pitchers. Was that Rashad Eldridge I saw in catcher’s tools warming up Winston Abreu?

Oh well, life is getting in the way of baseball this morning. So a few more bits of trivia from the game and let’s look forward.
  • Two of the Bulls runs were scored on passed balls/wild pitches.
  • A bruiser of a night for both teams — two Bulls and two Braves hit by pitches.
  • The Braves’ Craig Kimbrel can really chunk the ball. Seemed like everything he was throwing was in the 94 to 95 mph range. He was, however, one of the guys who hit a Bull and who let a run score on a wild pitch.
  • Joe Bateman’s luck ran out on him. Often Joe just scares us with his propensity to let guys get on base. Last night he went two innings, hit one batter per inning, walked one, gave up 4 singles, and two runs. And this was with the defense getting two double plays behind him.
  • Winston Abreu looked terrific for his one inning.
Other notes:
  • Virgil Vasquez is going on the disabled list. That’s two Durham Bulls starters who have gone on the DL in between their starts. What’s afoot? Since Montgomery appears to be short of pitchers as well, this is going to create some problems for us. Baker as a starter?
  • Bull John Jaso got his first big league home run yesterday and is impressing folks with his defense (apparently he made some changes to his stance in spring training). (RaysIndex and St Pete Times)
  • Interesting interview with Elliot Johnson

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Game 16: Durham Bulls 5, Gwinnett Braves 4
Season: 13-3
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Indy Week

That’s eight wins in a row. Can’t ask for more than that.

All the links lead with Jeremy Hellickson’s woes in his 3+ innings, so let’s skip that and jump right to Justin Ruggiano and the 7th inning. By that time the Bulls were behind 1 to 4. The Braves were on their third pitcher, Scott Proctor, and he’d gotten two quick outs before giving up a single to Elliot Johnson. By my count Ruggiano stood in for at least seven pitches, with Johnson stealing second base somewhere along the way. Then he whacked one off the pitch speed sign in left center. That two-run homer got us to 3-4 and cracked Procter. It was followed by a Blalock single, a Dan Johnson walk, a Joe Dillon single, and a RBI Chris Richard single. If Dan Johnson hadn’t tried to score, we might still be playing. But the game was tied. In the next inning Justin was back at bat with Alvin Colina and Elliot Johnson on base. A double scored Colina, and that was enough.

Did I mention Justin’s throw to the plate that cut off a run in the 3rd? Should have. Five Braves were put out after they got on base last night. In addition to Ruggiano’s peg, Colina threw out two who were trying to steal, one was called out on interference when he couldn’t dodge a ground ball, and a fifth over-ran second and was tagged out.

This is one tough team to beat. A truly awful start didn’t hurt the Bulls nearly as much as it could have because good defense kept us in the game. Then we got 4+ terrific innings from Brian Baker to keep the Braves in check. Finally we just hammered Scott Proctor in the 7th with some solid batting. Nevertheless, Gwinnett looks to be our competition in the Southern Division. I’m betting at the end of the season it will be the Braves and the Bulls who are in contention for the title.

Almost left out Joaquin Benoit and his save. His pitch speed was up to 94 and he looked really, really good. Possibly ready for prime time.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Describing Durham Bulls Team Performance

click on chart to enlarge

This morning I put up a chart that was somewhat legitimized by the Pythagorean idea from Sabermetrics. With this chart I invite you to follow me on a true statistical leap of faith. Leaps sometimes have difficult endings, but maybe not this time. We’ll see how it goes this year.

Step-by-step, so you can watch me approach the cliff, here’s where these curves come from.

I started with the idea of the Weighted On Base Average, or wOBA, a measure that is popular among the sabermetrics crowd. Basically, with the wOBA you take every kind of way a batter can get on base (singles, doubles, triples, home runs, walks, hit by pitch, errors), weight each one, and then divide it by the number of times he comes to the plate. Think batting average, but with a better appreciation of overall contribution made.

So far, so good.

But wOBA is mostly used to measure individual performance. My interest is in getting a handle on team performance. And drawing a picture of that performance.

So, I put together numbers for the Bulls team wOBA. Some sites publish team batting averages and there’s at least one site that publishes team wOBAs, but these are my own computations, so any errors are my fault. Note that one of the reasons the curves wobble around a bit at first is simply that the numbers are very small, the sample size problem is alive and well at this point in the season. But that should not keep me from getting over there close to the edge of the cliff.

Next I built a spreadsheet that recomputed the team wOBA at the end of each game. So game one was .346, then wOBA was recomputed for games 1 and 2 combined and that was .367. Then game 1, 2 and 3 were added together and team wOBA was .347. Thus, each point on the chart for the green line is the team wOBA up through that game. As of April 22, the Bulls team wOBA is .382.

So far I don’t think that I’ve violated any major statistical principle (other than the small sample size problem mentioned earlier). But maybe this does. It seems to me that if team wOBA tells me how the Bulls are doing on the offensive side of things, wouldn’t our opponents’ team wOBA tell us something about how the Bulls are doing on the pitching/defense side? I computed Opponent Team wOBA and those data points are the red line. (Cautionary note: We have only played three other teams so far this year.)

Just as the Bulls team wOBA is changing, and their opponents’ team wOBAs are changing, so is the gap between them. As of today we see a gap of .097 in the Bulls’ favor. It’s been as low as .000 back on April 12.

Is this charting going to be of any use as the season goes on? I’m not sure. All I can say now is that this could be a nifty way to separate out offensive and defensive trends. For example, it looks like our pitching has mostly held its own and our offense has gone nuts over the last several games. Also, as the year goes on we can surely expect less and less variation. Nevertheless, if the gap correlates with other measures (won-loss, games above/below .500, etc) then we might have something really interesting to keep track of over time.

At any rate, if I haven't gone off the edge of a cliff, the view is beautiful from here.


click on chart for larger image

Game 15: Durham Bulls 10, Charlotte Knights 2
Season: 12-3, Streak: W 7
Wrap, Box, Indy Week

These numbers are certainly unlike any I’ve ever seen before. We’re obviously off to a much, much better start than in recent years, quite likely the best in Bulls history. I suppose there’s a chance that we’ve started a year at 12 and 3, but I doubt that we’ve ever started a year with a +46 run differential, 98 to 52, after just 15 games. Just a few days ago the differential was 17 runs, now it’s 46. Amazing, just amazing.

In addition to scoring runs with three doubles, a triple, and a home run, other interesting things were going on last night. Elliot Johnson showed us his comfort at 2nd base by participating in three double plays. Desmond Jennings and Justin Ruggiano stole two bases each, bringing the team’s total up to 28 on the year. Desmond Jennings made two over-the-shoulder catches in center field look easy. Plate discipline for the year has been exceptional. The Bulls have drawn 67 walks this year.

The Gwinnett Braves are in town tonight for a four day run. We took 3 of 3 in Gwinnett earlier in the month. They took three out of four in Norfolk earlier this week.

Relief pitcher Richard De Los Santos is off to the Montgomery Biscuits. No reason has been given, but that makes for one fewer pitcher in the bullpen than we’ve had all season. Not sure what’s up.

The Bulls parent club, the Tampa Bay Rays, are off to a fair-to-middling start as well. They are 12-4, a half-game behind our 12-3, and have the best record in (major league) baseball. The Bulls have the best record in AAA. If the Rays were charted as above, the runs would be a + 39 differential, 93 runs scored to 54 allowed.

Matt Joyce, last seen hanging out in the Bulls dugout, is in St Petersburg resting after seeing a doctor.

Wickedness: You may have noticed a number of folks out on the streets last night who clearly were not dressed for a ball game. That’s because the Durham Performing Arts Center (the fancy cube with the laser light on the other side of the Diamond II building) is putting on a the musical Wicked to very large audiences. Unlike Bulls games regulars, the folks coming to the DPAC don’t really know their way around the railroad tracks, one-way streets, or how to get to/from the Durham Freeway. Just be careful out there. Fortunately the shows start at 8 pm, when we are all comfortably in our seats. And end around 11 pm, when we should all be safe at home; however …

Mom’s like the Bulls, too.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lonely Are the Brave

Game 14: Durham Bulls 6, Charlotte Knights 5 (12 innings)
Season: 11-3
Wrap, Box

Not only a terrific movie, but a good description of the seriously die-hard (or maybe there’s another adjective?) Bulls fan. Those who know where I usually sit will notice that I am not in the picture. Note that Wool E. Bull stuck it out, though.

Did I miss anything by leaving in the middle of the 8th after the rain had been pouring for a while and the temperature had dropped at least 15°? As a matter of fact, I did. But I would have had to wait a couple of hours until the bottom of the 12th when, instead of the sheer power of the last five games, the Bulls won their sixth game in a row through guile, speed, stubbornness, and a bit of ineptitude on the part of the Knights.

The Bulls opened up with what has become a signature power display: a three-run homer by Hank Blalock in the first and a two-run homer by Dan Johnson in the 3rd. Then things got awful quiet to the bottom of the 8th, a 1 ½ hr rain delay, and another four innings before Fernando Perez singled his way on to first, then scrambled second and on to third, and then came home when the Charlotte shortstop let Hank Blalock get on base.

We used six pitchers. The starter, Virgil Vasquez, simply wore himself out. He threw 98 pitches in only 4 ⅔ innings and that’s just too many. Joe Bateman had a fine two innings. Joaquin Benoit got through 1 ⅓ without giving up a home run. Winston Abreu, Dale Thayer, and Brian Baker kept us in the game. Baker got the win. We really need Carlos Hernandez to go deep tomorrow, though.

A win.

Here’s hoping none of the Bulls got the chilblains.

As for the dedicated fans, I raise my cup of Irish coffee to you!

Rain and the DBAP

Or, how to plan your trip to the game.

With the new webcam at the park, things have gotten a bit easier.

The key variables are: driving time and tarp-removal-to-play time.

In my case it takes me about 30 minutes to get to the DBAP.

In general, the time from when they start taking the tarp off until play starts/resumes is about 30 minutes.

So, on a rainy day just fire up the webcam and see if the tarp is on the field. In my case I can wait until I see them start pulling the tarp. If all goes well, I’ll be there in time for the first pitch or a few minutes after.

For example, at this moment (10:15 on a gloomy Wednesday when a 1:00 PM game is scheduled) the tarp has been pulled, but coverings remain on the mound and home plate areas. So it looks like we’re good to go.

One downside of that new webcam: You can zoom right down individual seats. So if you told someone you’re off to a Bulls game, and s/he knows where you usually sit, I’d suggest actually going to the game and waving in the direction of the camera from time to time.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Crushing Knights By Day

Game 13: Durham Bulls 11, Charlotte Knights 0
Season: 10-3
Wrap, Box

This is some kind of extraordinary, probably record-breaking, streak the the Bulls are on. Just a couple of days ago I wrote about the great home stand. Now it’s two days later and the Bulls have scored 22 more runs on 27 hits and driven the ERAs of Charlotte’s pitchers through the roof. Simply extraordinary.

Aneury Rodriguez may be a sleeper in the Rays system. For his Triple A debut he pitched seven scoreless innings, only allowing four hits and a walk. He only threw 86 pitches. Pretty darn good at any time. For your first time at AAA, that’s really something. Dale Thayer and Richard De Los Santos wrapped up the first Bulls shutout of the year.

About time to call attention to Dan Johnson. He hit his sixth home run today and now leads the team with 12 RBIs. He leads the entire International League in homers and is 4th in the RBI category. He has started games at first, third, left field and as dh this year.

Dan is forever famous within the ranks of the Tampa Bay Rays faithful for his September 9, 2008 heroics. On the day he was called up to the Ray in Boston, he went in to the game as a pinch hitter in the 9th inning to hit a game tying home run. That game the Rays went on to win.

But what Bulls fans remember about 2008 was his stellar year with us. He played in 113 games; hit 25 home runs, 83 RBIs, and a batting line of .307/.424/.980. Dan was our player of the year for 2008. For a really hard core Bulls fan, as much as we admire his heroics for the Rays that Fall, we have this wistful feeling that maybe the Governors’ Cup would have been ours if he’d stayed with the Bulls through all of the playoffs.

We’ve got some numbers about his 2009 stint in Japan. He hit .215 with 35 homers and 57 RBI, but really haven’t heard too much about that year. Some more stats are here.

My point is that it looks like Dan is in 2008 form and seeing the ball very, very well. I hope he’s having fun being part of the ball-crushing phenomenon we’ve got going on here.

Day game tomorrow! Here’s hoping the rain holds off.

Staying On A Roll

Game 12: Durham Bulls 11, Charlotte Knights 2
Season: 9-3
Wrap, Box, Charlotte Observer

Last night was our first game of the season against the Charlotte Knights. Time to point out that the Charlotte Knights don’t play baseball in Charlotte, they don’t even play in North Carolina. The park is in Fort Mill, South Carolina.

I’m guessing with football and basketball, Charlotte doesn't think they need baseball. Turnout last night (it was a Monday, though) was a dismal 1,333. And all they got to watch was a beat down by the Bulls.

Moments (from the box score, didn’t get to listen to the game):

Angel Chavez hit a three-run homer. I went digging into his stats expecting to find that this was a rare occurrence only to discover that he’s hit 43 homers in AAA. Pretty darn good, especially for a pure middle infielder.

We stole two more bases, Desmond Jennings (his first) and Fernando Perez (his sixth).

Jose Lobaton is making his mark. Only two games so far, but 4 hits and 3 walks. Good start.

Heath Phillips had a basically sound outing, keeping the Knights honest by hitting two of them.

Odds and Ends:

  • The Bulls got a new umpiring crew last night after having the same three umpires for seven games in a row (three at Gwinnett and four at Durham). Do you start gaming the umpires after a while? Impossible for a fan to tell about that.
  • Jeremy Hellickson won the International League Pitcher of the Week award for last week. Here’s the write-up from the IL’s site:

Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson won a pair of starts during the past week, allowing just two runs and leading the IL with 14.0 innings pitched and 15 strikeouts. In the process, he pushed his 2010 record to 3-0, with all three victories coming against intradivisional foes. Tuesday night at Gwinnett, Hellickson surrendered just four hits and one run in 6.1 innings while walking one and striking out seven to lead the Bulls to a 3-1 win. Last night he defeated Norfolk for the second time this season, going two outs deep into the 8th inning while again allowing four hits, one run, and one walk. He struck out eight Tides as Durham cruised to a 10-1 victory. For the season, Hellickson leads the League with three wins, 21 strikeouts, and 19.0 innings pitched. He has won 9 of his 12 starts for the Bulls since being promoted to Triple-A late last season. His 7.2 innings pitched Sunday represents his longest outing at this classification.

Jeremy Hellickson, who turned 23 on Opening Day, is in his fifth full season as a professional player. In late July of 2009, Hellickson was promoted from Double-A Montgomery to Durham. He went 6-1 with a 2.51 ERA for the Bulls down the stretch, and was named Most Valuable Player of the 2009 Triple-A Baseball National Championship Game. Hellickson is a native of Des Moines, Iowa.

  • Aneury Rodriguez should get the start tonight. This will be his first AAA start in a career that started in Caspar, Wyoming when he was 17 years old (he’s 22 now). And a return to North Carolina. He pitched for the Asheville Tourists in 2007. Stats. Take a look at what RaysProspects had to say back in January.
  • RaysIndex picked up on our comments regarding left-handed relievers and went them one better, suggesting that perhaps the Rays should take a look at Heath Phillips or Carlos Hernandez as a reliever.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Early Durham Bull Numbers

click on chart for larger image

OK, I know that it is way, way too earlier to be looking at stats. But this is just too pretty to pass up. This is simply the cumulative number of runs scored by the Bulls minus the number of runs they have allowed, on a game-by-game basis. That is, as of today, the good guys (that would be the Durham Bulls) have scored 17 more runs than the bad guys (that would be everyone else).

What is the point? Well, the curves are right pretty ... as we would say down here. And then there is the oddity that there is a spooky match between the general curve of runs scored-runs allowed and games above/below .500.

But mostly, at the moment, it is just a pretty set of curves.

Great Days At the DBAP

Game 11: Durham Bulls 10, Norfolk Tides 1
Season: 8-3
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

No matter how long you’ve been a Durham Bulls fan, you will not have seen many home stands like this one. The sheer numbers are amazing.
  • Won 3 games out of 4.
  • Scored 35 runs while allowing 16.
  • 55 hits for 82 total bases: 40 singles, 9 doubles, and 6 home runs.
  • 11 stolen bases.
  • Norfolk helped out by letting seven of our guys reach on errors.
  • One bad inning, 1st inning of first game (4 runs, Bennett).
  • Pretty darn good pitching all around.
Last night’s performance by Jeremy Hellickson was simply icing on the cake. My guess is that he’s going to stay here for quite a while, but there’s no doubt that he’s major league caliber. Here’s hoping that he’s having fun here in Durham and is continuing to learn his craft.

If Jeremy’s having fun, I’m not entirely sure about our outfielders. There we were last night with what is probably the speediest outfield in Durham Bulls history: Justin Ruggiano in left, Desmond Jennings in center, and Fernando Perez in right and what happens? Not much. Justin got to catch one fly ball in the 1st inning and two in the 9th (off Baker); Desmond got to catch one in the 6th and two in the 7th, Perez caught one in the 5th. Boring … But boring can be good.

Desmond Jennings was back in the lineup for the first time since the championship game last year. Good to see him back. As leadoff he had a double and two walks. Pretty good. Fernando Perez was moved down to the number two spot. Up until last night Elliot Johnson, who is really on a hot streak, had been batting second. He got dropped all the way to eighth and responded with two singles, his seventh stolen base, an RBI, and he scored a run.

Alvin Colina has broken out of his slump in style with two more doubles and an RBI.

Both Herald-Sun and Indy Week articles have some good player and manager quotes. Worth checking out.

Odds and Ends:
  • Adam Sobsey over at Indy Week reports that Rays prospect Aneury Rodriguez will take Jeff Bennett’s place in the rotation for at least one start. That would be Wednesday’s day game against Charlotte. I’ll try to dig up some links, but surely RaysProspects has something on him.
  • We don’t see the Tides again until after the 4th of July. I’m betting it will be a very different team then.
  • Interesting interview with Fernando Perez in a Neil Solondz podcast. “It’s like I’m back in low A trying to learn it all over again.” Perez is, for the time being, going back to exclusively right-handed hitting.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Jennings Off DL

Per the Bulls’ front office:

Outfielder Desmond Jennings has been activated off the disabled list. Don’t know when he will be showing up in Durham, but probably any day now. If you thought the Bulls were running a lot (and they were), wait till you see this guy.

Jeff Bennett has been assigned to Hudson Valley. That is surely a “paper” transaction until various Rays’ rosters can be sorted out.

Running With the Bulls

Game 10: Durham Bulls 7, Norfolk Tides 2
Season: 7-3
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Indy Week

Another terrific game on a wonderful afternoon. I know we’re going to get tired of seeing the Tides, but we did see some good baseball yesterday.

Carlos Hernandez did not look dominating; however, at the end of six innings he had five strikeouts, had only given up one walk and one run — pretty darn good. Elliot Johnson and Justin Ruggiano continued their improvement at the plate, Johnson with a double and a homer, Ruggiano with two singles and a homer.

I know Durham ain’t Pamplona, but we’ve sure got some Bulls running this year. In just ten games the Bulls have stolen 15 bases — Eight of them in the last two games. Hard to tell if Charlie is just being aggressive, if Tampa Bay (who is also running a lot) wants this to happen, or if we are just taking advantage of the talent we have this year. One interesting feature is that the guy you’d expect to be leading the pack, Fernando Perez, has only 4 of them. Of course, you’ve got to get on base first, and Fernando hasn’t been doing too good a job of that, yet. Elliot Johnson has 6, Perez 4, Angel Chavez has 2, and Matt Joyce, Justin Ruggiano, and Rashad Eldridge have 1 each.

Gotta say something about the human bobbleheads at bat. I know that a good batting helmet protects the players and their future, but don’t these new ones look really awful? For what it’s worth, the new helmet isn’t required in the major leagues, just the minors. Guess if your making millions you gotta look really studly. And you sure won’t in one of those hats. Wonder what would happen if a couple of players wanted to wear them? I mean, if you're making millions, wouldn't you want to protect them? To see just how awful they look, check out the photo of Elliot Johnson over at Indy Week.

Who says I don't occasionally come up with a blinding glimpse of the obvious? Another interesting feature of the 2010 Bulls jumped out at me last night. You know the scene where the manager steps up out of the dugout and taps either his left or right forearm to indicate whether he wants a righty or a lefty to come in? Montoyo doesn’t have to bother with that this year. He doesn’t have any choices. He doesn’t have any lefties in the bullpen.

Not only that, there’s only one on the Tampa Bay active roster, and only one on the Biscuits roster. Two lefties are on the disabled list, one for the Rays and one for the Bulls (Howell and Swindle), but you have to think that the Rays front office is in the hunt for left-handed relievers.

Jose Lobaton’s debut was pretty good. I will display my ignorance of the business of baseball and speculate on how he got here. Lobaton was on San Diego’s 40-man last year. When they put him on waivers to move him back to Portland (their AAA team) the Rays grabbed him. But I think when you claim off waivers you have to keep the player on your 40-man. The Rays did that, but sent him to Montgomery, where’s he’s been until last night. How good is he? I guess we’ll find out. The Rays’ system isn’t quite as short of catchers as it is left-handed relievers, but they aren’t in really good shape either.

As I speculated earlier, Tampa Bay newspapers are now reporting that the Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach may be out for a while and Jaso might stay up there longer than expected. He sure had a good start last night with two doubles, a walk, and a RBI.

Note: Video board is back.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Bashing By the Bulls

Game 9: Durham Bulls 14, Norfolk Tides 7
Season: 6-3
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

A few days back I said our pitching was OK, but the bats hadn’t come around. Now it looks almost the opposite. The pitching has been off the last two days, but no one should doubt that the bats are there, not after last night. Twenty hits (and 32 total bases) might not be a team record, but if my records are right you have to go back to April 22, 2008 to do better (22 hits, 40 bases). The team OPS for the night was 1.206. Very, very special.

Every Bull got at least one hit — Alvin Colina got his first of the year. Seven got RBIs. Angel Chavez raised his batting average to .400. Dan Johnson, Ryan Shealy, and Joe Dillon all got home runs and all the homers came with men on base.

Justin Ruggiano, playing right field, lost a fly ball in the sun in the first inning, but made up with a brilliant catch in the 5th. Elliot Johnson at short made a nifty bare-handed play in the 4th, and was 3 for 6 at bat. Johnson, Ruggiano, and Perez all stole bases.

A lot to like, so let’s enjoy it.

Former Bull Mitch Talbot got his first major league win yesterday, and a complete game to boot. Mitch was on the disabled list most of last year, but is also the owner of my favorite 2009 season trivia (he won the first and last games of the season).

About the DBAP —

  • As we all know, the video board is not working well. It looked like folks were trying to get it sorted out. Hope they do by tonight.
  • What’s with the lights in the concourse? Given the electricity bill for the whole place, saving a couple of bucks by keeping lights off in the concession area doesn’t make much sense.
  • The field looks great! Here’s hoping we make it through the rye/bermuda transition better this year.
  • Suggest a conversation between management and some of your concessionaires. I know it’s only the second game of the season, but a bit of training on how to draw a beer, make change, work a cash register is in order.

Friday, April 16, 2010

It’s My Fault

Someone in the Rays’ front office must be among WDBB’s vast readership. I am ready to take full credit (if it works out) for today’s player move. If it does not work out, then you did not read it here.

As careful readers of WDBB will have noted, we have twice mentioned that the Montgomery Biscuits, the Rays’ AA team, are in the area playing the Carolina Mudcats. A bean counter in St Pete must’ve noticed and said, “Hey, we’ve got a catcher on the 40-man playing for Montgomery. We just pulled Jaso out of Durham. How about we put Craig Albernaz in a taxi to Zebulon and have the same taxi pick up Jose Lobaton and bring him back here?”

To say it a bit more plainly, Craig Albernaz has been sent to Montgomery. Jose Lobaton has been called up to Durham.

This move makes no sense to me unless the Rays Kelly Shoppach is going to be out much longer than originally thought, so Jaso won’t be coming back any time soon. Or, maybe it really was just convenience and Jose and Craig really are just swapping out for a couple of days.

On the other hand, Alvin Colina has yet to get a hit in 17 at bats. Craig’s only played in one game (1 for 4). And Lobaton is 6 for 24 with 4 walks.

Opening Day

Game 8: Durham Bulls 4, Norfolk Tides 6
Season: 5-3
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Indy Week, N&O, N&O Photos

Fun start to the season at home until the first Tides batter came to the plate. Eight pitches and two walks later Jeff Bennett was out of there and we were digging deep into our bullpen.

When the trainer walks out with the pitching coach you know something’s wrong and the commentary after the game said that Bennett was “tight”, whatever that might mean. Just got to wonder what happened between warmups and the start of the game? Can we blame it on the hoopla? (groan)

Good things
  • Boy it was great to be back at the DBAP on a perfect Spring evening.
  • Brian Baker probably should have taken a few more warmup throws, but he did a very creditable job of protecting the bullpen for another night. Same for Richard De Los Santos.
  • Hank Blalock, whom I was beginning to think of as a candidate for this year's Moonlight Graham Award, played third and did a decent job at the plate with two hits and 2 RBIs.
  • Elliot Johnson, possibly showing off for his new baby boy, got a couple of hits. By the way, Elliot, child was not impressed — sound asleep.
  • Justin Ruggiano, also possibly showing off for his new baby boy, picked up two hits, a walk, and a RBI. So maybe he’s getting back into his game as well.
  • A very exciting ninth inning.

Not so good things
  • You know, I wish we’d won, but hey I’m just happy to be going to the ballpark and seeing the guys play, aren’t you?

Meanwhile, over in Zebulon, the Biscuits beat the Mudcats 8-4. If you know what that is all about you’re spending way too much time following Rays and/or local baseball. (Wait a minute! Too much time following baseball? How is that possible?)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Opening Day, At Last!

Game 6: Durham Bulls 3, Gwinnett Braves 1
Wrap, Box
Game 7: Durham Bulls 3, Gwinnett Braves 1 (10 Innings)
Wrap, Box
Season: 5-2

The Durham Bulls come home and at last the season begins!

What can we say about this team as they come off a really successful road trip?

First, the pitching looks pretty darn good. Granted they’ve only been through the rotation this one time, but the team ERA is a decent 3.77 and its FIP is 3.14. Not the best in the IL, but pretty good. The small sample size and the awful 10 April loss (12-3) at Norfolk skews things a lot. Hellickson is certainly living up to his promise and we should get a chance to see him on Sunday. Heath Phillips had a superb game last night, but we won’t see him this home stand (only four days). Jeff Bennett got beat up on in his first game. He’s pitching tonight and we’ll see how he comes back.

I only caught the last couple of innings last night, but it was really, really great to listen to Bateman and Abreu team up to shut down the Braves. By the way, it was a sweep! Did you notice that?

Second, the hitting proves the old cliche that hitting takes a while to get on track. Our team batting average is a nothing special (actually pretty dismal) .226 and wOBA is .306, also nothing special. Individually, Chris Richard, Joe Dillon, Dan Johnson and Angel Chavez are off to decent starts. At the other end are Elliot Johnson, Matt Joyce, Alvin Colina, and Justin Ruggiano (although his game-winning double last night bodes well).

Thirdly, even this early in the season the Montoyo Merry-Go-Round is whirling right along. In just seven games we’ve seen three different players catching, three at 1B, three at 2B, three at 3B, two at SS, four in left, three in center and four in right. Particularly interesting to my eye is Chris Richard’s three games in left field. Otherwise, it doesn’t look like anyone has really staked a claim to any one location on the field.

Note for the Rays fanatics in the area: I haven’t met one, but maybe there is one. Out in the far, far eastern reaches of Wake County the Montgomery Biscuits (the AA team of the Rays) are one game into a four game set with the Mudcats. Uber-prospects Alex Torres (pitcher) and Jose Lobaton (catcher) did well over there in Zebulon last night. So, if you want to split your attention, you can see the next several generations of the Tampa Rays within an easy commute over the next couple of days.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Jaso To Rays

Marc Topkin is reporting that John Jaso has been called up to the Rays to fill in for injured Rays catcher Kelly Shopach. [St Petersburg Times] [Thanks, DRR]

Jaso is the only Bulls catcher on the Rays 40-man, so they can't take any more. We are left with just one catcher.

On the other hand, one of our favorite Bulls has not been heard from since spring training, Craig Albernaz. As close watchers of the Bulls will know, Craig is often in the dugout at Bulls games and has been known to appear (and disappear) from the Bulls rosters on a moment’s notice. Of course, since we have not been to any of Bulls games yet, and the Bulls website is notoriously slow in updating the roster, so we have no way to know if Craig is even in the Rays system any more. Hope that he is and that he gets in a few games before Jaso gets back.

And good luck to John while he’s in Baltimore (and Boston, and Chicago).

Breaking News

Some would say that I can be monomaniacal about the Durham Bulls.

I really don’t think that is the case.

For example, just today I learned that there is another national championship team in the Raleigh-Durham-Cary-Apex-Morrisville-Chapel Hill Triangle region. That is, a team other than the Durham Bulls. Of course, I may be forgiven since this particular team doesn’t play baseball, and has a coach with a name you can either say or spell — take your pick — but you can’t do both.

But it looks like we’re gonna have to share opening day with ‘em whether I like it or not. [Durham Bulls] For what it’s worth, if you think baseball players wear funny outfits, how ‘bout them baggy shorts.

Actually, what could be a better way to celebrate the opening of the season than to recognize both of Durham’s championship teams (and Charlie Montoyo’s Manager of Year Award)?

A Fan’s Lament

Game 5: Durham Bulls 4, Gwinnett Braves 2
Season: 3-2
Wrap, Box

I wasn’t able to listen to the game last night, so hadn’t planned to say anything about it. But a closer look at the box score led me to put these comments together — more for those who may be new to either the Bulls or minor league ball than to say anything special about the game.

Just to set the stage: The Bulls scored four runs in the top of the seventh inning to go ahead 4-2. Brian Baker, in his first appearance of the season, had a 1-2-3 6th and followed it up with a 1-2-single-3 bottom of the 7th. (Baker got the win.) Joe Bateman came on for the bottom of the 8th, his second appearance of the season. A single, a double play, and a ground out, and he’s out of the inning.

Joaquin Benoit came on to close it out in the 9th. Where’s the logic in that you may ask? The night before Benoit came on for the last out of the 6th inning and pitched all the 7th inning. So why would he come on in the 9th inning on the next night in a 4-2 ballgame?

Well, we have not way of knowing for sure. We don’t have access to Charlie Montoyo’s cellphone records or his email accounts. However, it sure looks like Tampa Bay isn’t very happy with their relievers. [Tampa Tribune] So the guess has got to be that the only reason Benoit was in the game was because the Rays want to see if he could go back-to-back.

Gotta tell you that, as a Bulls fan, I would much prefer to see if Joe Bateman can go two innings than find out if Joaquin Benoit can go back to back, particularly in a close game where the outcome is obviously not a sure thing.

But that’s the way it goes. Charlie doesn’t always have a choice and, mostly, the last couple of years the Bulls have been able to win games even with the occasional not-very-helpful dictat from St. Petersburg.

It was a near thing. men were on first and third with one out before a shallow fly-out and a ground out finished the game with the Bulls still ahead.

Grumble, grumble, grumble ...

Elsewhere: Stacy Long brings his unique (some might say somewhat bent) sense of humor to the Biscuits Monday night game. [Stacy Long]

Monday, April 12, 2010

War Stories

A very, very, very long time ago a young second lieutenant took his equally young wife off to Columbus, Georgia. There he found her a palatial one-room efficiency apartment in a decidedly scruffy part of town. Every morning he drove off to Fort Benning in their only car. It could not have been (was not) a good life for those couple of months. I’m not sure she ever forgave me, but she hasn’t left me either, and that was 40+ years ago.

I tell that story because I’m beginning to see some similarities between the life of a soldier’s wife and the life of a baseball player’s wife. And the reason I beginning to see those similarities is because there’s a fascinating new blog out there telling stories about that life. Even better, two of the first authors are wives of our very own Durham Bulls: Elliot Johnson and Justin Ruggiano.

Take a look at The Life of a Baseball Wife, and check back often. According to Nicole Johnson, several ladies with deep connections to the Durham Bulls (and the Rays) will be writing. This could be a great ride!

By the way, Elliot, I at least left my wife with a functioning television, even if it was a black and white and only got one channel.

Coolray Field & the Gwinnett Braves

The Durham Bulls should be arriving soon (that’s if they didn’t drive all last night). Three games there and then, finally, home.

The Gwinnett Braves have renamed their field since the last time I looked, but Google still hasn’t gotten around to getting an overhead shot. It’s only a few miles from downtown Atlanta. Rumor has it that the Braves have a truck with a really long bed that’s got a pitching mound at one end. That way they can have a reliever from Gwinnett warming up on the back of the truck while they are getting the paperwork done to officially call him up. A really forward-looking prospect can just rent an apartment midway and plan on staying there the entire season.

In the meantime, Brian Merzbach doesn’t think much of the park.[ballparkreviews] Here’s a link to some photos. [GwinnettBraves]

The Braves split their opening games with the Charlotte Knights: 8-6, 1-3, 5-1, 2-8. The Braves are apparently starting out with a 4-man rotation since the listed starter is the same pitcher who pitched on 8 April.

Update: Well, I got that wrong. Venters is the Braves fifth starter. I figured that since he got the win that he had started the game on 8 Apr. Not so. He came in for a couple of innings in relief, just to keep sharp, and ended up with the win.

Something of a homecoming for our catcher, Alvin Colina, who played for the Braves last year.

Here’s the IL’s preview commentary on the Gwinnett Braves:

Probable Starters: 1B – Barbaro Canizares; 2B – J.C. Holt; SS – Brandon Hicks; 3B – Wes Timmons; C – Clint Sammons; LF – Matt Young, CF – Gregor Blanco; RF – Brent Clevlen; DH – Mitch Jones.

Key Pitchers: Starters – RH Todd Redmond, RH James Parr, LH Scott Diamond, RH Kyle Cofield, RH Ryne Reynoso. Relievers – RH Craig Kimbrel, LH Mariano Gomez, LH Mike Dunn, RH Jeff Lyman, RH Vladimir Nunez. RH Luis Valdez, who led the IL last year with 27 saves, is still home in the Dominican Republic because of visa problems. He is expected to miss at least the first month of the season.

Strengths of the Club: The bullpen again looks strong even without Valdez to start the season and the team should be better offensively with the addition of Jones, who hit 35 homers last season for Albuquerque. A key will be how quickly CF Jordan Schafer and SS Diory Hernandez get into the lineup. Schafer is recovering from wrist surgery and Hernandez from shoulder surgery.

Weaknesses of the Club: The rotation, the team’s strength at the start of last season, goes into 2010 as a question mark. Three of the potential starters are up from Double-A and none are considered prime prospects.

Top Prospects: RHP Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta’s closer of the future, is making a bid to stick in Atlanta...... RF Jason Heyward, who played three games for Gwinnett towards the end of spring training, made it impossible this spring for the Braves to send him back to the minors. He will be opening the season with Atlanta.

Other Organizational Prospects: 1B Freddie Freeman may start the season at Double-A Mississippi, but he is sure to make it to Gwinnett by mid-season. He may be Atlanta’s first baseman as soon as 2011.

Veterans to Watch: 3B/2B Joe Thurston, who spent all last season with St. Louis, was battling Brooks Conrad for the final roster spot in Atlanta. It is likely one or the other will open the year with the G-Braves...... C/1B J.R. House, who has MLB time with Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Houston, was signed as a free agent, as was former New York Yankees first-round pick (and former SWB Yankee) 3B/1B Eric Duncan and 2B/SS Luis Bolivar, who played at Louisville last year...... 1B/DH Barbaro Canizares has been an All-Star in the International League in each of the last two seasons. In 2009 he was 3rd in the League with 149 hits, 4th with 79 RBI, and 6th with 130 games played.

Items of Interest: North Johnson takes over as General Manager, replacing Bruce Baldwin, who retired after a tenure of 23 seasons with the organization. Johnson arrives from Myrtle Beach of the Carolina League. Previous to Myrtle Beach he was General Manager of Kinston in the Carolina League and Rancho Cucamonga in the California League...... The home of the Gwinnett Braves, formerly known as Gwinnett Stadium, is now known as Coolray Field. Coolray Heating and Cooling signed a 16-year agreement with the Braves.


At least one writing thinks the Rays need Durham reliever Joaquin Benoit right now. [RaysIndex]

Goerge F. Will waxes philosophical about baseball and democracy. [Wall Street Journal]

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Thayer Does a Bateman, But It’s OK

Game 4: Durham Bulls 4, Norfolk Tides 3
Wrap, Box

OK, thanks to Joe Dillon and Angel Chavez, that is. Who got the double and the sac fly that made the difference.

Only four hits for the Bulls. That’s gotta be some kind of record. Nevertheless, a win is a win.

Virgil Vasquez just might be a real asset. Sure sounded good.

About the Joe Bateman thing. Let’s just let Neil Solondz tell it (I assume Neil writes the wraps when the Bulls are on the road) — bottom of the 9th inning:

Thayer got to two strikes on the first two batters, Luis Montanez and Scott Moore, but both singled. A pair of groundouts put runners at the corners with two away. Michael Aubrey then singled to center to cut the Durham lead to 3-2. Rhyne Hughes, a former Bull, then walked, loading the bases. Thayer bounced back to strike out number nine hitter Adam Donachie to end the game and even Durham’s record at 2-2.

If that isn’t a “Joe Bateman” I don’t know what is.

The Bulls are back to .500 and on their way to Laurenceville, Gawja. And they will be back home in time for Infernal Revenue day.

Tidal Wave

Game 3: Durham Bulls 3, Norfolk Tides 12
Wrap, Box

Boy, I’d like to find something good to say about yesterday’s game. How about this? “If you look beyond his problems in the bottom of the third inning (5 runs scored), Jeff Bennett looked OK.” Or how about? “ Young Richard De Los Santos, who has had an erratic career, had a tough couple of innings (6 runs).”

Work for you?

Me either.

Let’s just skip it, except to note Chris Richard’s homer and Fernando Perez’ triple.

Matt Joyce was hit by a pitch in the left elbow area in the first inning and left the game. Today was to have been a day off for him, so unless we hear something different in today’s broadcast, here’s hoping he’s back in the Gwinnett game on Monday.

Speaking of today’s game, the start time is 1:15. Does anyone know why the Bulls never play Sunday day games? That sure would be nice. Seems like almost everywhere else we see day games on the weekends, why not in Durham?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Other Starters

OK, three out of five ain’t too bad. I am now confident that Hellickson, Phillips, Hernandez, Bennett, and Vasquez are the Durham Bulls started rotation, so let’s finish this out.

Jeff Bennett, RHP, 30
Basics, stats
Jeff’s had a good bit of major league time, almost all as a reliever, so I guess that’s why I didn’t expect to see him in a starting role. On the other hand, the three appearances he had with us last August were all as a starter. Oft-injured. Maybe this is his year.

Virgil Vasquez, RHP, 27
Basics, stats, more stats
DRR had it right a couple of days ago. Vasquez has been mostly a starter in his career. Should have seen that when I was making up my earlier list. Lots of Triple A time in the International League with Toledo and Indianapolis. He’s got some interesting stats. He might be a real asset this year. Has done well against the Bulls. Here’s hoping he can do something for us.

Tides Stroll In

Tides shortstop Scott Moore tags out Durham’s Justin Ruggiano, right, during Norfolk’s win at Harbor Park. (Hyunsoo Leo Kim | The Virginian-Pilot)

Game 2: Durham Bulls 4, Norfolk Tides 6
Season: 1-1
Wrap, Box

Bulls pitching walked in two runs in the 5th inning to let the Tides get ahead 3-0, but then we got back two in the 6th and two more in the 7th to go ahead 4-3. The bottom of that inning, however, was a lesson on how quickly things can change in the game of baseball. With two outs, a single was followed by a triple, and then a potential third out became the winning run when a run-down between 3rd and home got botched. That happens. These guys are pros, but that is the sort of thing that happens when they really haven't played any games together as a team.

On the other hand, Joe Bateman got up to some of his 2009 tricks in the 8th. He struck out the first batter. Then hit the next batter. Walked the next. Gives up a single. Runner on second scores. Runner on first goes to third. Walks the next batter, so bases are loaded. Next batter grounds into a force out at home. Bases still loaded. Next batter grounds out.

So, Joe, who was my leading candidate last year as a substitute for a cardiac stress test — just take some readings before he comes in and monitor — is on track to keep the EMTs in business this year. In fact, if it’s at the DBAP just bring the defibrillator on up to 208 while Joe’s on his way to the mound.

Turns out I was wrong in a couple of my guesses about the starting rotation (that’s happened before — why once back during the Reagan administration …). Heath Rollins isn’t going to be a starter. That leads to Heath and Heath sequences such as last night. Jeff Bennett to start tonight. That leaves Carlos Hernandez and someone else. I’m sure that Neil Solondz has mentioned it, but I’ve missed it. If it’s Vasquez, then the tweet reported a while back must’ve gotten in right. You’d think the Bulls would put this kind of information out.

Justin Ruggiano got tossed out of the game last night. Let’s see if Charlie sticks with his rule of benching a player for a game if he gets tossed.

For what it’s worth, last night’s game is one of those where the numbers say we should have won, but didn’t. Aggregate OBP, OPS, wOBA, and FIP were all better than Norfolk’s. But then there’s that other one — runs scored — that sort of messes things up. Oh well, back to the spreadsheet.

For Rays fans: I think, but never trust Time-Warner, that there's a Rays-Yankees game on this afternoon.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Good Start

Game 1: Durham Bulls 5, Norfolk Tides 3
Season: 1-0
Wrap, Box

Update: I've gotten so used to none of the local media covering a Bulls road game that I didn't even bother to check the Herald-Sun. But here it is, and it's a good story. Lesson: check the Herald-Sun every day.

Take a look at that box score and reflect on that lineup. That’s as good a team as I’ve ever seen the Bulls put on the field. And we’ve got a ton of talent on the disabled list including outfielder Desmond Jennings, infielder J. J. Furmaniak and pitchers Cromer and Swindle. So this could be a really good season and we’re going to see some interesting baseball.

Good game last night and great to start the season with a win. Sounded like Hellickson did a fine job.

Really, really great to see Winston Abreu back on the mound for the Bulls.

I was surprised to see Blalock start at third base until I dug around and realized that he’d been a terrific third baseman for most of his major league career. So made sense.

As for the details of the game, kudos to Joe Dillon, who starts the year as strong as he finished last year.

Dale Thayer got a save the hard way, by loading up the bases, letting a run in, and only then closing it out.

I wasn’t able to listen to entire game and not too happy with 620 reception at my house. Over the internet the audio was OK, but erratic at first. Gameday was hard to find. For those interested, here’s one way:

Go to the International League Scoreboard page, find the Bulls game, click on the little icon that looks like a ball field.

If the Bulls homepage gets a scoreboard up (it didn’t last night), then you can click on gameday right there. Watching gameday and listening to audio feed is a pretty good way to experience a game.

The webcam at the DBAP has gone live and it is pretty cool. You can zoom in on your seat, clip images out, and other stuff. For me the main use will checking out the status of the field tarp on rainy days.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Opening Night & Starting Pitchers

Lots of good links at the Bulls website. Take a look. To my great surprise, an article in the News & Observer. Also, looks like long-time Herald-Sun sports writer Mike Potter will be working over at Indy Week. Suggest all the links be checked out.

In another item, looks like Matt Joyce will be back with the Durham Bulls for a while. No telling what will happen with him once his rehab is done.

So, while we wait for tonight’s game, let’s start going through the roster.

Starting with, what else, the starters. Opinions, additions, comments, etc. most welcome.

Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, 23
Basics, RaysProspects, stats, more stats
Jeremy’s coming off a terrific year. Great things are expected.

Carlos Hernandez, LHP, 30
Basics, stats, more stats
What more can you ask for than 112 innings and a 3.29 ERA from a 29 year old left hander coming off surgeries and injuries? Will this be the year he makes it back to the big time? I hope so, but only after winning a bunch of games for the Bulls.

Brian Baker, RHP, 27
Basics, stats, more stats
Coming to Durham off a decent year with the Biscuits, Baker has been pretty much off the radar. Looks like he was converted from a starter to a reliever while with Montgomery last year. At 27 it’s time for him to make his mark. Have to say that he looked pretty good last Saturday.

Heath Rollins, RHP, 25
Basics, RaysProspects, stats, more stats
Also a decent year with the Biscuits, and he lent a hand in our championship run last year with a relief appearance and two starts, one no-decisions and a win. He had 22 starts with the Biscuits and six relief appearances. So I don’t know which role he’ll be in this year. RaysProspects seems to think he will be a reliever.

Heath Phillips, LHP, 28
Basics, stats, more stats
I gotta be honest and say that I don’t remember much about Heath from his stint with the Bulls in 2008. I’ve got some stats that show that he started a couple of games, but mostly pitched in relief.

Jason Cromer, LHP, 29
Basics, stats, more stats
Since the President of the Jason Cromer Fan Club is a close associate of WDBB, we will be inviting him to make some comments once Jason comes off the DL. For some of his previous comments, do a search on the blog or click on Cromer on the cloud.