Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rays Roster Expansion Begins

Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times is reporting that Desmond Jennings, Dioner Navarro, Rocco Baldelli and Jose Lobaton are headed to the Rays. Part of that report (Lobaton) really makes no sense at all, but will probably be sorted out eventually.

I’m of two minds about how to put this out in the blog, but seems like most of the readers of WDBB understand the uncertainties. And I will make every effort to keep my focus on the Bulls, not the Rays.

Here’s what’s up.

Tomorrow the Rays can “expand” to have with the team in St. Pete up to 40 players (from the usual 25). Those players are listed on the Tampa Bay “40-man roster.” Current Bulls on the 40-man are:
  • Desmond Jennings
  • Dioner Navarro
  • Jose Lobaton
  • Leslie Anderson
  • Justin Ruggiano
  • Fernando Perez
  • Mike Ekstrom
  • Jake McGee
  • Dale Thayer

Rocco Baldelli is not on the 40-man, which means the Rays will have to do some bookkeeping razzle-dazzle (if Topkin is right) before Rocco gets to St. Pete.


The Durham Bulls dominated the International League All-Star/MVP roster. Take a look at this:

Most Valuable Player — Dan Johnson
Most Valuable Pitcher — Jeremy Hellickson
Manager of the Year — Charlie Montoyo


Third Base — Dan Johnson
Utility Player — Elliot Johnson
Starting Pitcher — Jeremy Hellickson

Here’s to the stars! Great season!

He's Outa There!

Game 136: Durham Bulls 4; Charlotte Knights 8
Season: 84-52; Home Games Remaining: 7
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Triangle Offense

Since I am temporarily on the disabled list I had to suffer through the game in front of the TV at home, so if I missed any particular nuance, please let me know. You can be reasonably sure that I didn’t get it from the broadcast (more later).

Charlotte essentially gave the Bulls three runs in the 2nd to go with Justin Ruggiano’s home run in the 1st.The Bulls were cruising along very nicely until Charlotte got three of the runs back in the 5th as Ramon Ortiz began to look really shaky giving up a walk, two singles, a double and a sac fly.

In the 6th things really came unraveled. Charlotte third baseman Dayan Viciedo (it’s Viciedo, not Vicideo, Rich) got a single to center field. Ortiz worked catcher Tyler Flowers to a 3-2 count and then ...

Ortiz got thrown out of the game!

I’ve never seen that before — a pitcher getting tossed, apparently for arguing balls and strikes. Throwing at a batter, sure, but for arguing with the ump? Must’ve said something really ugly.

Brian Shouse came in and for a brief moment things looked OK, since Flowers grounded into a double play. But Shouse did not make it through the inning either. Two walks, a single, a double, and three runs later Shouse is out of there and the Bulls are behind 6 to 4. Joe Bateman came in for the last out, but the damage was done.

The Bulls could put nothing together after that. In fact, Charlotte got two more runs. So on to my rants for the day.

Rant #1: Brian Shouse has made seven appearances (9 innings) in a Bulls uniform. Results? Two blown saves (and losses) and an ERA of 9.00. I know we’re short on pitchers, but surely there’s someone downstream in the Rays system who is worthy of spending some time with the Bulls.

Rant #2: Rich Herrera (sp?) on the radio/TV. This comes in the form of advice. I doubt that he will be reading this blog, but maybe.

The job of a play by play guy is to paint a picture of the game. When a player comes to bat I want to know how he’s doing on the season, what he did in his last at bat, what he looks like, which side of the plate he bats from, etc. When/if he gets on base I want to be reminded that he’s there and which base he’s on. When the pitchers get changed I’d like to know that it happened and maybe use your expertise regarding why (why did Bateman just face one batter? Downs had pitched to two batters before you mentioned he was even in the game). My fellow Arkansas alum Scott Pose kept trying to help, but to no avail. So here’s my big tip:

Remind yourself every 30 seconds — It’s radio. They can’t see. It’s my job to help them see the game. What can I tell them now?

Odds and Ends
  • More background on Nevin Ashley from DRaysBay
  • Nice piece on Dan Johnson at The Process Report
  • Steve Wiseman at The Herald-Sun quotes Fernando Perez on potential for callups and effect on the game.
“I think we’re doing a pretty good job playing hard,” Bulls right fielder Fernando Perez said, “considering that all these games don’t really matter and our team is probably going to look drastically different in a couple of days.”
  • Adam Sobsey at Triangle Offense quotes Charlie Montoyo on the same topic.
Montoyo was asked whether he thought that [callup possibility] was on some players’ minds, distracting them from the Bulls’ business at hand: They’ve lost five of their last six games. Montoyo, normally even-keeled and calm-voiced, replied, “Of course! If I was one of them, I’d be thinking the same thing: Is it gonna be me?”

Monday, August 30, 2010

Win; Come Home

Game 135: Durham Bulls 8; Charlotte Knights 5
Season: 84-51; Home Games Remaining: 8
Wrap, Box

An afternoon game. Get on the bus. Come back home to stay for a week or so. And on a win. Not just a win, but the most wins ever in a Triple A Durham Bulls season (84) with eight games to go.

The heroes of the game were Chris Richard with four RBI off of a double and a home run. And Nevin Ashley with a two-run homer. Nevin Ashley? He’s a catcher who was just called up from Montgomery. The party line is that Jose Lobaton has gone on the disabled list for his foot that was hurt in a game in Norfolk a couple of days ago. As likely is the probability of Dioner Navarro being called to Tampa Bay in the next couple of days. (OK, I was wrong. Craig Albernaz did not get the call. With my track record you thought I’d be right?)

The 25 year-old Ashley has some decent numbers and can obviously hit the ball (although Knights Stadium isn’t a good test). Looking forward to seeing him on the field today.

On the other side of the coin, Mike Ekstrom may have gotten the win, but only after taking it away from Richard De Los Santos. His four-run 4th inning, even with the three K’s, sounded really ugly.

Neil Solondz has a couple of interesting interviews up on the Bulls website. From Saturday he has a chat with Rocco Baldelli, who has nice things to say about Charlie Montoyo and the Bulls and notes a few differences between the 2008 and 2010 Rays. From Sunday there’s a chat with new guy Bobby Livingston, who talks about his at bat. Note: I think he was the first Bulls pitcher to go to bat this year, in fact the first pitcher in a very long time.

Speaking of pitchers, here’s an updated chart. For all the new guys — McGee, Shouse, Ortiz, Livingston — we have small sample size problems, much like the beginning of the year. On the other hand, the turmoil in the pitching ranks is not going to get any better. In fact, it’s likely to get worse. Three of these guys are on the Rays’ 40-man, which means they could easily get called up. And the Rays have some room to add a couple to their 40-man.

click on chart for larger view

Speaking of call-ups, here’s a quote from a Joe Smith item in the St. Petersburg Times:
Maddon said the first wave of September callups will include 4-5 players, with a third catcher (Dioner Navarro) likely. One intriguing name under consideration is LHP prospect Jake McGee, a former starter who has pitched 12⅔ scoreless relief innings since getting promoted to Triple-A Durham. That includes 20 strikeouts and just one walk.

“I’ve heard nothing but really good things about him,” Maddon said. “I do know that he’s got the kind of stuff that he’s not just limited to getting left-handed hitters out. He’s the kind of guy that can get a good righty out also, which makes him exciting as a left-handed relief pitcher.”
Here’s hoping that whatever happens we remain in decent shape for the playoffs.

Just to wrap with a bit of trivia: The Rays and Yankees have been in a tied for first place for the last six games.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Lost Days

Game 132: Durham Bulls 4; Gwinnett Braves 11
Wrap, Box

Game 133: Durham Bulls 3; Gwinnett Braves 4
Wrap, Box

Game 134: Durham Bulls 1; Charlotte Knights 3
Wrap, Box
Season: 83-51

Don’t want to get to upset over this trip. Counting today (Sunday) the Bulls have played 18 games in 17 days, all but two of them on the road. We’ve already done some ranting about this weird schedule, but it really is tough on the team. Fortunately, the Bulls come home for eight days at home and a day off before they go play either Louisville or Columbus.

The game stories, sad as they are, are at the links. But a few oddities are worth pointing out.
  • Angel Chavez got his first chance to shine as a pitcher in the first game against the Braves. Pitched a scoreless inning.
  • In this entire year, the Bulls have lost on a walk-off only five times, but twice in the last two days.
  • Because of some exceedingly weird lineup juggling yesterday Justin Ruggiano got in some time at third base! Just an inning, but he handled his one opportunity cleanly.
  • As part of that same weirdness, new guy pitcher Bobby Livingston got an at bat, and drew a walk.
  • All that weirdness was driven by Joe Dillon coming out of the game.
Enough. What about other stuff?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Xavier Hernandez Won’t Be Back

Stacy Long is reporting and Houston Baptist University is announcing that Xavier Hernandez, the Bulls pitching coach extraordinaire is going home to Houston to be their assistant baseball coach.

Huge loss to the Bulls and the Rays system, but sure looks like a good choice for X and his family.

Sorry to see X go. Have to think that he’s has had a lot to do with the Bulls success the last couple of years.

Update: Bulls press release here. It includes this quote:

"It's been a great run with the Tampa Bay Organization and here with the Durham Bulls," Hernandez said after Wednesday's loss to the Norfolk Tides, "While I'm somewhat saddened to be leaving, I'm very excited as are my wife and four children since I'm going back home and still doing what I love to do, coaching baseball. I'll get to spend a lot more time with my family."

End of a Beautiful Run

Game 131: Durham Bulls ; Norfolk Tides 6
Season: 83-48; Home Games Remaining: 8
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Triangle Offense

Well, all good things have to come to and end and the Bulls run against the Tides of six in a row came to an end last night.

Two of the new guys, Ramon Ortiz and Brian Shouse, made their first 2010 appearance with the Bulls at the DBAP. Mike Ekstrom was back from the Rays. The weather was not brutally hot.

But you have to think that the Bulls are really, really tired of playing this Norfolk team — seven games in a row! And three more next week! What could be worse? Well, maybe next year when the Bulls start the season with six away games (against Gwinnett and Charlotte) and finish the season with six away games (against Charlotte and Norfolk). Have to wonder if the Bulls front office gets any input into the schedule. Surely they don’t agree with something as stupid as the last couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, back at the game, new guy Ramon Ortiz had a nifty six pitch first inning, but things got ugly in the second — single, single, single, grand slam. “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” Not bad. One run on a walk and a double in the next inning. Pretty clean through the 6th.

Mike Ekstrom came on in the 7th who was, in the immortal words of Bulls broadcaster Neil Solondz, “Perhaps a little bit inconsistent.” Walk, single, single (run scored), K, single, K, K. So he escaped a base-loaded situation and was actually looking a lot better at the end of it all.

Dioner Navarro’s two perfect throws to catch runners in the 6th inning (well, maybe Chavez’ tag of Davis was a bit late) brought him to my attention as I begin to speculate about what the Bulls will look like next week. Surely Navarro is a prime candidate to return to the Rays come September 1. For a lot of reasons.
  • He’s doing quite well these days: wOBA .371.
  • His average/OBP/Slugging is .288/.393/.400.
  • At 34%, his pegs to catch baserunners is running slightly above his major league average of 30%.
  • Yesterday Rays catcher John Jaso put in some time at first base (as well as catching) which, unless it was another instance of Maddon being quirky for the sake of being quirky, implies that the Rays wouldn’t mind having another catcher around.
How important is Navarro to the Bulls? That depends on how badly Jose Lobaton hurt himself in Norfolk a couple of days ago. I didn’t watch all that closely while he was warming up pitchers last night, but he was out there. So have to guess that he’s OK.

Craig Albernaz, one of my all-time favorite Bulls who only has one game with us this year, is down in Montgomery and, I assume, available for a call up. So we would probably be OK, although hard to tell how much our pitchers might miss the more experienced Navarro.

Which brings to mind seeing Michel Hernandez chatting with guys in our dugout on his way to the coach’s box last night. Sure liked watching him play for us and the Rays last year. Wonder if he might be available for our playoff run?

Lastly, I learned a new phrase last night, "sports turf manager". That means the guy who takes care of the field, in our case, Scott Strickland, who was recognized as being the best in the International League last night. Good work, Scott.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

De Los Santos Sets New Bulls Record

Game 130: Durham Bulls 1; Norfolk Tides 0
Season: 83-47; Streak: 9-0; Home Games Remaining: 9
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Triangle Offense

By pitching yet another superb game, Richard De Los Santos’ 14th win goes in the record book as the most single season wins by a Triple-A Bulls pitcher. He was only at 87 pitches with two out and one on in the 7th when Montoyo pulled him for Jake McGee. Very likely it was to deal with a lefty on lefty match up. Or maybe he just wanted him to tuck his jersey in. But Adam Sobsey reports in the Triangle Offense blog that Montoyo told him:
“I gotta take you out, you’re a prospect now.”
Could be. Or maybe Charlie knew that the crowd would cheer him off the field if he was pulled while the inning was in progress and he wanted De Los Santos to be able to savor it. That’s what happened. We cheered. De Los Santos deserved it. Great job this year.

It was mostly a pitcher’s night for both teams. Nice defense kept the Tides off the scoreboard, particularly a strong throw from Ruggiano in right to Luna at second to Navarro guarding the plate. While two minor mistakes by Norfolk’s Troy Patton (hitting Richard and Baldelli after a Ruggiano single loaded the bases) was enough to set up Durham’s only run on a sac fly by Dioner Navarro.

Jake McGee had another impressive appearance. So far (10 2/3 innings) he has not had a run scored on him.

It has been almost exactly a year since Winston Abreu came back to the Bulls after some time in the Cleveland system. A huge piece of what the team has accomplished in that year (and it has accomplished a lot) can be put down to knowing that they’ve got someone in the pen who can finish a game off. He did it again last night, setting down the Tides in order for his 21st save.


Wall Street Journal looks at the other side of success.
Profile of Bulls pitching coach Xavier Hernandez.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Charts and More

The Bulls are home for a very short two-day visit after their 11-day/12 game trip and then off for a four day run back to Gwinnett and Charlotte. Have to think that they are really getting tired of I-85. But it’s for the last time. Then they are home to stay until the beginning of the playoffs, which will start in either Louisville or Columbus on September 8.

A good time to look at these pretty, pretty charts. The Bulls are very close to setting several all-time AAA Bulls records (if they haven’t already set them). But let’s just look at these pictures for now. Instead of resting on their laurels, with a 8-game, on the road, winning streak, the Bulls are getting better.

click on chart for larger image

The runs scored minus runs allowed chart shows the last two years, when the Bulls also won the South Division. If possible, this is an even more dramatic view of the remarkable season the Bulls have had. Unlikely we’ll see something like this again, so we (and players) should enjoy it.

Meanwhile, down in St. Petersburg (actually, they are out on the left coast at the moment), the Rays are having a pretty decent year as well. They have only played 125 games to the Bulls 129, and they are only 29 games above .500 to the Bulls 35 games above .500, nevertheless, not too bad a year. Clearly positioned for a run at the championship again.

Odds and Ends:

Dale Thayer and Mike Ekstrom are on their way back to the Bulls. Thayer did not make it into a game while with the Rays this time. Ekstrom had three appearances for 3 innings: 1 hit, 1 walk, 5 Ks.

Dan Johnson, who is not doing well with the Rays yet, still has a friend among the bloggers.

And speaking of bloggers, here are two different takes on the same data regarding Rays finances — Rays Index and DRaysBay. Why should we care? Because the financial health of the Rays has a direct impact on the Bulls' roster. Looks like they are spending a good bit on minor league operations, which is all good as far as we are concerned.

Hit Bird, Win ???

Game 128: Durham Bulls 9; Norfolk Tides 8
Wrap, Box, Virginian-Pilot

Game 129: Durham Bulls 8; Norfolk Tides 3
Season: 82-47; Road Trip: 9-3; Streak: 8-0
Wrap, Box, Virginian-Pilot

The Bulls are coming home after an exhausting and amazing road trip. I’ll get to the numbers in another post, but I’m betting that the Bulls have never had a 5-game sweep on the road in their history. Quite likely they’ve never had a five-game road series, much less a sweep. In the middle of it they won the South Division title and you’d think that they would have lost some focus. Instead, it appears that it was Norfolk who lost focus. And now they are coming here for two days. Reporter Jared Diamond for the Virginian-Pilot newspaper has two interesting articles (links above) that looks at the last two games from the Tides perspective.

The wraps cover the games quite well, so let me just jump to the really important stuff.

In the third inning Jose Lobaton’s single to left hit a bird, likely a seagull. That brought to mind a moment a couple of years ago when the Bulls were playing the Bisons in Buffalo. Neal Solondz mentioned the moment on the radio broadcast, so I went on a hunt.

Here it is. Think it was 2008. Maybe 2007. [Update: It was 2006. Thanks, N] Jason Childers pitching for Durham Bulls against Buffalo Bisons. Childers reported to have said: “Best change up I ever threw.”

Warning! Not for the faint of heart!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Baker Has a Great Start

Game 127: Durham Bulls 1; Norfolk Tides 0
Season: 80-47; Streak: 6-0
Wrap, Box

How about Brian Baker? He goes head-to-head with Norfolk’s Chris Tillman and over seven innings Baker gave up only one hit while Tillman gave up two. Baker left the game with a shutout. Plus the Bulls got a run at the beginning of the next inning so he got the win.

Baker has managed to put together quite a year for himself. He’s been in 34 games (9 starts), put together an ERA of 3.34, an FIP of 4.07, and is 8-4 on the year. He came to the Bulls as a long reliever, but has been thrown into the breach as a starter fairly often (we won’t look too closely at his last two starts). Not only that, he’s fun to watch.

R. J. Swindle and Winston Abreu came in to keep the Tides in check.

Desmond Jennings singled, stole second (33, tied for league high), and was driven in with a Justin Ruggiano double (his 29th, tied for 5th). That one run was enough for the Bulls 80th win this season.

Checking my charts I was surprised to notice that almost a month has gone by since Jeremy Hellickson essentially left the ranks of the Durham Bulls after a start on July 24 (I won’t count his 3 inning appearance on July 29). Since that time the Bulls are 20-7. Says a lot about this team that we can lose our best pitcher and our best hitter and keep on keepin’ on. Great job by the team and the coaches.

Over in the West Division of the International League things are really shifting around and Buffalo is lurking in the wild card race. Columbus just dropped out of first place and is a game behind Louisville. Worth keeping an eye on.

[Update: Missed this MiLB link this morning. Good quotes from Baker. Guess the guys had some fun the night before last.]

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Bulls Win South

Image courtesy Durham Bulls

Game 126: Durham Bulls 3, Norfolk Tides 1
Season: 79-47; Road Trip: 6-3; Streak: 5-0
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

The Bulls clinched their fourth-in-a-row championship of the International League South Division last night when they beat Norfolk 3-1 and the Gwinnett Braves lost 3-4 to the Charlotte Knights. T-shirts were on sale within ten minutes after the game was over. That was a hint that the championship was not a surprise, and it wasn’t. Other than the hiccup just after the all-star break (which the Bulls followed up with an eleven-game winning streak), the Bulls have had and continue to have a great year. Video highlights at link on Bulls home page include a very nifty game-ending, championship-winning double play initiated by Justin Ruggiano.

Last night was a good example of the kind of team we have this year. It was the Bulls fifth win in a row and they have made that run with only two starters being our “regular” starters. I put regular in quotes since neither of those two (Aneury Rodriguez and Richard De Los Santos) came to the Bulls with the intent of them being starting pitchers. The other three starters in this run were Darin Downs (recently up from Montgomery to work in relief), Bobby Livingston (new guy), and Ramon Ortiz (even newer guy).

Still, what better guy to get the save than Joe Bateman? More appearances than any other Bulls pitcher this year.

I was not listening when Ortiz was on the mound last night, so didn’t get any impressions of his performance. Comments from readers welcome. Did notice that Jake McGee got the win and kept his 0.00 ERA intact.

Offensively two mature (old) guys showed the way. Chris Richard and Rocco Baldelli got Durham’s only hits, but they were enough. Pleased to see Baldelli’s first home run. Have to wonder how long he will stay with the Bulls. Would love to see him stick with the team long enough to play in Durham.

Noted that Fernando Perez started the game, first start in quite a while (0 for 3).

Joe Dillon is on the DL, apparently due to worries about hamstring, but not a re-injury.

Now the trick is going to be keeping the focus for the next couple of weeks. Charlie Montoyo and his crew appear to be really good at that, so not really very concerned.

Except that Dale Thayer is off to the Rays, so turmoil in bullpen is not going to let up.

  • Interesting podcast/interview with Charlie Montoyo from Thursday evening. Speaks to roster changes, young pitchers, Elliot Johnson and Rocco Baldelli.
  • Ramon Ortiz gets a profile over at The Process Report.
  • At the same site there’s is a review of the Rule 5 draft. Don’t understand that? Join the club. Nevertheless, one current Bull and a couple that we’ve seen are apparently affected: Anuery Rodriguez, Heath Rollins, and Emeel Salem.
  • Yesterday John Romano at the St. Petersburg Times made the argument for sending Jeremy Hellickson back to Durham for a couple of weeks. Well, after another very impressive start out in Oakland, the Rays did send him to the minors, just not to the Bulls. Stories here and here. Surely more to come on the usual Rays blogs.
  • For those interested in minor league life here’s a good, if overlong, article (cries out for an editor to whack about 2,000 words out of it).
  • Over at Flip Flop Fly Ball he takes a look at the Red Sox.
[Update: Thanks to careful reader Samantha, here's a terrific article on last night's game with some good quotes from Charlie Montoyo.]

Friday, August 20, 2010

Rockin’ Time

Game 125: Durham Bulls (Rays) 8; Norfolk Tides (Orioles) 6
Season: 78-47
Wrap, Box

Pictured above are the new furnishings being installed in the Durham Bulls bullpen.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times this year the “maturity” of the Bulls position players. With the Rays’ signing of “veterans” Ramon Ortiz and Brian Shouse we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the maturity of the pitching staff as well. Of the three new guys (Paul Phillips doesn’t count. He’s already gone back to Montgomery), Bobby Livingston at 27 is the youngster. At 37 and 41, Ortiz and Shouse are definitely at the other end of the scale.

What’s going on? Not really sure, but here’s my speculation. I think that the Rays system is simply caught up in a broader cultural/demographic phenomenon, the “half-back”. To explain that, let’s go back to my youth in Florida. In that time, St Petersburg was known to folks living elsewhere in the state as the “City of the Living Dead,” a reference to the average age of the city’s residents. Nowadays here in North Carolina we are witnessing the “half-back” phenomenon, which refers to folks who retire to Florida and then move, “half way back.” Have the Rays simply shortened the process and just retired a couple of guys directly to North Carolina early?

On the other hand, and a perspective encouraged by those of my age and appearance , what’s wrong with a “mature” approach to the game? What’s wrong with being comfortable out there on a summer evening? What’s wrong with liver spots instead of tattoos? We all know that old guys can be really sneaky. What’s wrong with tripping up a guy coming home with your cane?

Given the length of this road trip, I’m wondering how many of the new guys will still be with the Bulls by the time they get back to Durham.

Bulls Pitching Roster Sorted By Age
Couple of interesting points in last night’s game.
  • Leslie Anderson got his first home run and, in another at bat, got his first hit off a left-handed pitcher (a point of some concern to Rays Index a while back).
  • Rocco Baldelli was 0 for 5.
  • Nobody’s pitching (except for Winston Abreu, of course) was impressive. Norfolk and Durham had 14 hits apiece.
  • Bulls did not hit into a double play.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

After the Rain

Game 124: Durham Bulls 5, Charlotte Knights 1
Season: 77-47
Wrap, Box

You’d think that since we drive to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park more than sixty times a year we’d find something better to do when the Bulls are out of town. But there we were bouncing along the torn up Roxboro and Mangum Streets (what’s the deal with that Durham?) last night while the Bulls were waiting for the rain to stop in Fort Mill, South Carolina. The occasion was a show at the Durham Performing Arts Center — a first-rate venue that if you haven’t tried is worth a visit. The same parking attendants work Bulls games and DPAC events. I tried waving my Bulls pass going into the parking deck, but the attendant just smiled and held her hand out for the $5.00. I mention this all because if you have figured out how to get to the DBAP then you can get to a show at the DPAC and it’s a very nice place to spend an evening.

It was a little after 10:30 by the time we got out of the show (Lyle Lovett, terrific) and out of the garage to a point where we could get 620 on the radio. Bulls at bat at the top of the ninth, nobody out, but two K’s and a ground out later, nobody scores. It did not not sound good. But then I find out that the Bulls are ahead 5-1 going into the bottom half. So all is well.

What jumps out from the box score is the terrific night had by Bulls’ pitchers — no walks, 12 K’s, only one earned run. Aneury Rodriguez, who’s had quite few days off since his last appearance, had a terrific night. New guy Paul Phillips gave up quite a few hits, but nobody scored in his second appearance.

Elliot Johnson continued his hot streak; Chris Richard’s homer got him up to 60 RBI, but Justin Ruggiano kept his lead at 63 with an RBI single.

The Bulls are 30 games above .500, the best they’ve been all year. They are moving ever closer to clinching the playoff spot in the South Division. Louisville, after a very unfortunate series (for them) against Columbus are sneaking back into contention in the West. Norfolk, the Bulls next opponent, is one game away from elimination.

Thanks to careful reader Fritz who pointed out Adam Sobsey’s piece on Fernando Perez in this week’s Indy Week. Fans interested in Perez, or just the life of a baseball player, will find it an interesting read.

The Bulls play in Norfolk tonight. Wonder if they even stopped for a cup of coffee as the bus rolled past Durham last night.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Noticing Elliot Johnson

Game 123: Durham Bulls 6; Charlotte Knights 2
Season: 76-47
Wrap, Box

We are really late today, but I’ve been wanting to devote most of a post to one of my favorite players for 2010 — Elliot Johnson. He had a great night last night, so the time seems right.

His 4 for 4, two-homer game last night is just icing on a very good year. In fact, you can say that quite possibly the best thing that happened to the Bulls this season was for Elliot to pass through waivers and land here (not that he should have been waivered in the first place). You’ve got to think that there is a GM somewhere who’s really unhappy that he didn’t put a bid in when he could have.

There was a time (2007) when I would not have thought so. It says a lot for this young (26) man that he has had two not very stellar years and is here today with some of the best numbers in the International League.

  • Average: .318 (#2 in the IL)
  • OBP: .378 (#5 in the IL)
  • OPS: .858 (#8 in the IL)
  • Stolen bases: 24 (#7 in the IL)
  • wOBA .373, bRAA +12.1 (393 PA)

Mostly a middle infielder (53 starts at SS, 16 starts at 2B) he’s done some time in the corner outfields (16 games in left, 9 games in right).

And plenty of RBI — 50 — which is quite a few for a guy who mostly bats in the #2 spot.

If there’s a “problem” for Elliot it’s that there are a lot of guys up on the Rays roster — Bartlett, Brignac, S. Rodriguez, Zobrist to name a few — who have middle infield credentials. The Bulls fan in me thinks that is just fine — he’ll likely be with us through the playoffs. Once they are over, however, here’s hoping he finds a place in the majors.

Points of interest in last night’s game:

At thirteen wins, Richard De Los Santos tied a Bulls record. Here’s hoping he pushes on past the tie.

In a very Maddon-esque move, Montoyo put new pitcher Brian Shouse in to face one batter in the 8th. One pitch, one out. Then Winston Abreu came on in a non-save situation to close it out in the 9th. Sure there was a good reason for that, just can’t figure out what it was.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bulls Win; PPA Winner Announced

Game 122: Durham Bulls (Rays) 8; Charlotte Knights (White Sox) 7
Season: 75-47; Games Left: 21
Wrap, Box

Interesting game last night and yet more roster changes, but first let’s get to something much more important —

This year’s first winner of WDBB’s prestigious Prescient Prognosticator Award.

The PPA is given in recognition of a particularly insightful prediction (guess might be the better word). In this case it goes to Chris D for the comment yesterday, in the context of what the Rays might do now that Carlos Pena is back from the DL.
More likely there will be some sort of “hurt roster spot” injury for 15 days to get Tampa until 9/1. I’m not sure if Kapler has played recently, so that’s a possibility.
And that’s exactly what happened. Gabe Kapler is on the DL for a “sprained ankle”. See also Rays Index for other comments. Congrats to Chris D.

Coming off a volunteer shift last night I turned on the radio at 7:20 to catch up to the game. Discovered that the game had not yet started because there was only one umpire at the park. Big traffic jam out on the nearby interstate and the other two umpires were caught up in it. That gave Neil Solondz time to go over some of the changes to the Bulls lineup. We’ll do the same.

Starting pitcher was a brand new Bull, Bobby Livingston. Left-handed pitcher coming to the Bulls as a free agent. Most recently with the Albuquerque Isotopes (AAA, LA Dodgers). Gotta hand it to the Rays organization to even know that Livingston was available. I’m guessing that they have never seen a lefty they didn’t like or were at least willing to give a shot. And we really can’t gripe. They could have left us twisting in the breeze at this point in the season. Note that the Bulls have put three new pitchers on the mound in the last four days. Here's hoping that X. Hernandez, our pitching coach, can at least remember their names.

Designated Hitter, Rocco Baldelli. Last seen in a Bulls uniform in 2002. So that explains why Mr. Salem went back to Montgomery. Should have guessed about that.

Bulls’ roster now shows the sad row of guys on the DL: Phillips, Hernandez, Cromer, Colina, Perez. Vasquez not yet on the list, but he’ll show up soon. Tough, tough year for those young men.

The Game

Bulls win! The Knights got pushed into third place in the South Division and Gwinnett rose into second, 14½ games behind the Bulls.

Mr. Livingston had a bit of trouble shaking the rust out, giving up five runs in 3 ⅓ innings, including 2 home runs (always a problem in that ball park). But he also had 5 strikeouts. Joe Bateman got the win on his longest outing of the year, 2 ⅓ innings. Was also his 46th (!) game this year, the most of any Bull. The cautious approach to Jake McGee continued and he had a fine 21 pitch outing. (Note: I wholehearted agree with the Rays/Bulls caution. Mr. McGee has already had that arm operated on and he’s one hell of a pitcher. Caution is good.). R.J. Swindle got touched for a homer, but held on. Winston Abreu got his 18th save.

The Bulls loaded the bases with one out in the first inning. Does that sound familiar? This time they did push a run across on a sac fly by Rocco Baldelli. They were quiet until the 4th when they scored four runs, the highlight being J. J. Furmaniak’s first home run as a Bull. Nevertheless, the Bulls needed a two run homer by Chris Richard in the 5th to stay ahead of Charlotte.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Marching Out of Georgia

Game 121: Durham Bulls 1; Gwinnett Braves 4
Season: 74-47
Wrap, Box

First inning, bases loaded, one out, no runs scored. Does that sound a bit familiar?

Hit into three double plays. How about that?

Those two scenarios seem a bit typical for the last couple of weeks. The four errors do not. That isn’t like the Bulls at all and I’m pretty sure we won’t see that again. At least I hope not. Nor losing a series. That hasn’t happened very much, if at all, this year.

Brian Baker did a very credible job. As did new guy Paul Phillips. Only one earned run was scored against the pitching staff.

Leaving Georgia yesterday was probably a good feeling. Too bad the Bulls only get to Fort Mill, SC and the Knights. Don’t know just what the accommodations there are like, but from a distance the field does not look like a great place to play.

The overall pitching situation is not getting better. The radio reported that Virgil Vasquez has knee problems. So that puts us with three (four if you count Jason Cromer) pitchers who aren’t readily available: Heath Phillips, Carlos Hernandez, and now Virgil Vasquez. Maybe what we really need to call up are reinforcements for trainer Roger Fleming.

As a side note, the roster on the Bulls website is different from the roster on the International League website. The IL roster shows Fernando Perez on the disabled list. However, the IL’s transactions list also tells us that outfielder Emeel Salem has gone back to Montgomery. Wonder if he had to drive himself to and from Laurenceville, GA? And did he enjoy the ride? Does he get to keep the uniform? The hat and batting helmet?

Jeremy Hellickson won another game yesterday. Less and less likely we’ll see him in a Bulls uniform again. But we didn’t think that would happen anyhow. A puzzle will be the status of Dan Johnson once Carlos Pena comes of the DL. He’s played in ten games and his numbers are not good at all. Nevertheless, his wOBA of .346 is better than a bunch of other players with the Rays (Aybar, Kapler, and more). So maybe someone else will get pushed off the ledge. Likely to depend as much on perceived team dynamics and contractual arrangements as immediate value to the team. Whatever’s decided, my guess is that it will only be for a couple of weeks until the rosters expand in September.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Pitching Challenges

Game 118: Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay) 3; Gwinnett Braves (Atlanta) 4
Wrap, Box
Game 119: Durham Bulls 2; Gwinnett Braves 4 (7 innings)
Game 120: Durham Bulls 6; Gwinnett Braves 2 (7 innings)
Season: 74-46; Games Remaining: 23; Home Games: 10
Wrap, Box (119), Box (120)

To say that the Bulls’ pitching situation has been difficult over the last two days is not exactly accurate. Chaotic might be a better word. In Friday’s game Heath Phillips pitched one inning, gave up four runs, left the game, and is now reported to be on the disabled list. Carlos Hernandez (who came off the disabled list a couple of days ago) came in, pitched two innings, and is now reported to be back on the disabled list. Aneury Rodriguez came in to hold things in check for five innings, but the offense could not quite catch up. Plus, since Rodriguez was supposed to start Saturday, Montoyo and X. Hernandez had to do some scheming.

As an aside, I like watching Carlos Hernandez pitch. For those new to the Bulls, he’s been around for much of the last two years. He started 21 games last year and he’s got 18 appearances this year. And yet I also worry about him. If he’s back to the DL you’ve got to wonder if he will be around to finish the year with us. I hope so.

Outside of the pitching problems, Friday’s game also saw new outfielder over from Montgomery, Emeel Salem, take left field and hit a double in his second at bat.

Because Aneury Rodriguez pitched Friday, Charlie Montoyo had to get creative for the double-header yesterday. He started the first game with new guy Brian Shouse. I couldn’t chase down the last time he started a game. However, in 10 years in the majors (467 games) he doesn’t have a one. Unfortunately, the baseball gods don’t necessarily smile on either ingenuity or necessity. Shouse gave up four runs in the first inning and that was enough for Gwinnett to take the game. Need to mention Darin Downs. He pitched 4 innings of 1-hit baseball. Very nice performance. He’s looking better every day. Nice to see Elliot Johnson back in the lineup.

Back to Shouse — Chris Richard is no longer the “old guy” in the clubhouse. Shouse (41) has him by several years.

Which brings us to the second game of the double-header and a very nice 2-inning start by Jake McGee. Four K’s, still no walks for the left-hander. Followed by 2 innings by Dale Thayer, 2 by R.J. Swindle (who got the win), and one by Winston Abreu. Brian Baker will be starting today and, if he can hang on, the pitching situation might settle down just a little bit.

Nice to see the 13-hit performance by the offense.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Phillips Hurt; Phillips In

No more details on Heath Phillips’ departure from last night’s game, but Stacy Long is reporting that Montgomery Biscuits reliever Paul Phillips in on his way from Montgomery, Alabama to Laurenceville, Georgia.

We saw Phillips on the roster last year for three games in September, two regular season and one during the playoffs. In fact, he got the crucial win against Louisville in the final game of the first round.

Hope he gets there in time for tonight’s games.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Roster Moves

Of course, as soon as the Bulls leave town the Rays will cascade down a bunch of roster changes. It's a plot on their part to keep Bulls fans in the dark.

On the other hand, maybe they read my post yesterday and decided to do something about it.

First of all, thanks to DRR for the heads up.

As mentioned earlier, Carlos Hernandez came off the DL yesterday and may start tomorrow. Probably on a low pitch count/inning limitation.

Brian Shouse, on a Rays minor league contract, disappeared from the DL part of the Bulls roster today, but is reported to have been pitching in Charlotte, Florida and on his way to the Bulls. Left-handed, side-arming reliever. Probably a “lurker” for a September plus up for the Rays. They seem to like sidearming specialists (except for Joe Bateman whom they have been ignoring, so far).

Rocco Baldelli, in the same report, is heading for the Bulls as well. No idea whose roster he will end up on.

Stacy Long is reporting that outfielder Emeel Salem is on his way from Montgomery. If I were a betting man, I’d be betting that Fernando Perez is heading for the DL.

Welcome to August/September in Triple A. I glanced at the changes for Gwinnett and they’ve got many more than the Bulls.

On the Road Again

Game 117: Durham Bulls 6; Charlotte Knights 2
Season: 73-44; Home Stand: 5-2; Games Left in Season: 26; Home Games 10
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Indy Week

Time to give Richard De Los Santos his due. We can do that by comparing his numbers against the Bulls’ ace, Jeremy Hellickson. That may seem odd, but just look at the them.
  • Appearances: De Los Santos — 24 (19 starts), Hellickson — 21 (all starts)
  • Record: DLS 12-5, H 12-3
  • Innings pitched: DLS 127, H 117 ⅔
  • ERA: DLS 3.61, H 2.45
  • FIP: DLS 3.57, H 2.68
Not bad at all. De Los Santos obviously lets in more runs and, if watched closely, does not seem to have as much of that elusive “stuff” that Hellickson brings to the game. And yet he’s winning games.

Now, if he could just tuck his jersey in. Several times last night the ump asked him to tuck it in. Here’s where a careful reader can help me. The Bulls used to have an infielder who had a similar problem keeping his shirt in, but his name eludes me? Any help out there?

How important is De Los Santos? Very. His solid seven innings last night will make a huge difference over the next couple of days. The Bulls are still short, even with the return of Carlos Hernandez from the disabled list. We saw Hernandez warming up in the 6th inning and thought we might see him. But De Los Santos got out of the 6th and even through the 7th, giving some room for Joe Bateman’s two-inning save.

The hitters were in fine form last night. In fact, they have been in good form most of this home stand. In seven games, 75 hits, and that includes a game with only 3 hits and another with “only” 8. All this when the Bulls have been short pitchers and position players.

By now, the Bulls are in Georgia for the first time since their short, rainy visit in mid-June. This begins a round of 12 games in 11 days throughout the South — four games in Georgia, three games in South Carolina against Charlotte, five games in Virginia. This will be a time to remember that baseball’s a game and can be fun to play. I’m guessing that’s about the only way to get through this round.

Up in the northwest the news is that Louisville has had an extraordinary run and has pushed Columbus out of the lead in the West Division of the International League. Here in the South Division, the Bulls “magic number” is 11 [was 12, wrong, fixed]. Essentially, if the Bulls play .500 ball, they cannot be beaten.

Last night I turned a new page in my scorebook. I’ve been using the Reisner System and finding it very useful for the casual fan’s purposes. Worth a look if you’re one of those who takes a pencil to the ballpark.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pitchers In the Rays System

The following observations are submitted for your consideration:

If you go to the Tampa Bay Rays website and click on the 40-man roster link, something odd jumps out at you.

Of the nineteen pitchers on the list, four are on the disabled list.

Skipping over to the Durham Bulls roster you find 14 pitchers (a bit of double counting — two healthy pitchers are on both lists) with three more on the disabled list.

Then a quick glance at the Montgomery Biscuits roster shows thirteen pitchers with “only” one on the disabled list (and one healthy pitcher who is on the TB 40-man).

I submit that that ain’t good, folks. The first three layers of the Rays’ system has got eight pitchers on the DL.

Of course, just how important this may be depends on where you are sitting. If you are sitting down in the air-conditioned band box between the Bay and the Beach, Hellickson and Ekstrom almost (not quite) make up for Davis, Balfour, and Niemann.

Up here in Durham, we’re a man short from our usual twelve pitchers, but mostly lack good starting. We are still winning games and our team ERA has barely moved (3.39 ten days ago, 3.49 today). But the next several days do not look good, especially the double header coming up on Saturday and the fact that we used five relievers last night.

Over in Montgomery, they’ve got to be wondering if they are about to be ripped off.

Hot Enough?

Game 116: Durham Bulls 10; Charlotte Knights 9 (11 innings)
Season: 72-44; Games Remaining: 27; Home Games 11
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Let’s start off by acknowledging the extraordinary physical fitness of the players on the field last night. The heat index at the beginning of last night’s game was 108° and it was only slightly better at the end of the game (although a small storm was blowing in). In particular, a sip of well-iced tea to the catchers — the Bulls’ Dioner Navarro and the Knights’ Tyler Flowers — seriously tough guys to get through 188 (Navarro) and 248 (Flowers) pitches over 4 hours in catcher’s gear in that kind of heat. More than that, Navarro managed to get two singles and a double while Flowers got a single and a double.

The game ended in a bit of low comedy — two walks and a sac bunt gone awry loaded the bases. A grounder dribbled through the legs of the Charlotte shortstop and Joe Dillon came home. By that time I was at home watching on TV, drinking some ice water. Fist pump, take a shower, go to bed. The younger Bulls, of course, probably went out carousing for all hours and will be bright and chirpy tonight. Ahh, youth!

To rewind a bit, however.
  • Can’t let Desmond Jenning’s bit of lollygagging in the first inning go by. A shallow fly ball with a runner on third was followed by a poorly thrown, rainbowed toss that let a run in.
  • J. J. Furmaniak started in right field. J. J. has a wealth of experience at that position. In fact it was only a couple of years ago, in 2007, as a Sacramento River Cat in the PCL, that he had one game in right field. And he had maybe 30 minutes warning. So there really wasn’t any excuse for his deer in the headlights approach to his first two fly balls in the 2nd inning. He did, however, make his first out as a right fielder in the 5th.
  • Virgil Vasquez really got hammered. Hope it was just the heat.
  • Think that Jake McGee was on a different set of instructions last night. Instead of the fireballing we saw his first outing, this time it was a bunch of sliders/curve balls in the middle 70’s mixed with fastballs in the low 90’s. He did OK, but the stats don’t show that he came in with bases loaded and let all three runs in.
  • We mentioned yesterday that the Bulls hadn’t been hitting home runs lately. That changed last night, big time. Ruggiano, Richard, Dillon, and Chavez all homered. Nice to see.
  • In general, when Winston Abreu comes into the game, and a runner gets on, they don’t bother holding the runner on first. It hasn’t mattered all year. It did last night. In the 9th Winston gave up a leadoff single. The next batter popped up. But during the next at bat they let the runner just trot on to second base. Defensive indifference. A single brought him home. A wild pitch put that runner on second. a double brought him home and the game was tied. Abreu had his first blown save of the year. Too bad.
  • Adam Sobsey gets poetic over at Indy Week.
  • We blew up our bullpen last night. Here’s hoping Richard De Los Santos can go a bunch of innings tonight. More on that later.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Missed Chances

Game 115: Durham Bulls (Rays) 4; Charlotte Knights (White Sox) 5
Season: 71-44; Home Stand: 3-2; Games to Play: 28; Home Games: 12
Wrap, Box

Not much to say about last night, and besides it’s late in the day already. The Bulls had a couple of chances to win/go ahead in the game and didn’t.

Let’s just jump to trivia, odds and ends, etc.

  • The Bulls haven’t hit a home run in the last five games and only one (by Elliot Johnson August 3) in the last seven.
  • Speaking of Elliot Johnson, according to radio he is going to miss the next three games to attend to some family business.
  • The Bulls will be playing a double header this Saturday at Gwinnett.
  • I was wrong in my guess about last night’s starter (nothing new there). Virgil Vasquez is up tonight.
  • Couple of interesting podcasts out there: Xavier Hernandez talking about dealing with a double header; Elliot Johnson about days off and some of the technical sides to playing the middle infield.
  • J.J. Furmaniak played third base last night for only the third time this season. We were surprised to note that he has been in 52 games as a Bull. So he’s settled in.
Over in Detroit the Bulls made a big difference. Jeremy Hellickson pitched a stellar game for the Rays. Mike Ekstrom pitched a scoreless 9th inning. Dan Johnson worked out four walks. He scored after two of them, and on the last one the bases were loaded so he got an RBI. He’s managed to draw 11 walks for a .483 OBP since going up, even though he’s only hitting .176. Hard to think that they’d be pitching around him although he does have one homer. He’s already drawn a walk in today’s game, by the way, and batting lead off (who says Maddon doesn’t do quirky stuff?).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ekstrom To Tampa Bay, and More

The Rays put two of their starters on the disabled list (former Bulls Jeff Neimann and Wade Davis) and called up Mike Ekstrom to keep Jeremy Hellickson company as the Rays try to sort out some of their pitcher/pitching concerns. Why, you may ask, didn’t they just keep Dale Thayer with them? Or why didn’t they call up Ekstrom in the first place? And are they going to reach down and grab another one of our starters? Or maybe bounce Jake McGee all the way up? Or maybe call Dale back?

We’ll let Joe Henderson of the Tampa Tribune and any number of others meditate and agonize over all of that. As stated many times, this is a blog about the Durham Bulls, and where are we these days?

First, let’s settle the most urgent question before us. What about that dribbler that the Indianapolis Indians blew foul Sunday evening? What’s the rule? A careful reader has has pointed out to me that the call is an “interpretation” of the fair ball rule. And he sent a clip from a respected umpires manual (Jaksa/Roder Rules Manual):
It is a fair ball if any portion of a batted ball

(7) is rolling over fair territory and a fielder, without actually touching the ball, intentionally commits an act (such as blowing on the ball, moving or digging dirt, etc.) that causes the ball to roll foul. Further, if a batted ball is moving over foul territory, has a chance to become fair, and a fielder causes the ball to be touched with detached gear, it is a fair ball.
Then there’s the Bulls roster...

This is going to be a moving target for the rest of the year. But just to get ready for tonight, here’s what we’ve got.
  • Catchers: Lobaton and Navarro
  • Infielders: Luna, Furmaniak, Chavez, Dillon, Richard, Johnson (E.)
  • Outfielders: Perez, Ruggiano, Jennings, Anderson
[Note: Richard and Johnson can/have played the outfield. Anderson has played first base.]
  • Starting Pitchers: Vasquez, De Los Santos, Phillips
  • Relief Pitchers: Downs, Baker, Thayer, Bateman, Abreu, Swindle, McGee, Rodriguez
[Note: Rodriguez and Baker have started for Durham this year. McGee and Downs have started with Montgomery this year. McGee and Thayer are on the TB 40-man.]

So who gets the start against Charlotte tonight? Here’s where Montoyo and Hernandez earn their pay. We can only guess that it will not be Phillips or Rodriguez or Vasquez. Maybe De Los Santos?

In the meantime, thanks to NCSue, here’s a cool video to start the day.

Or here.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fun In the Sun

Game 114: Durham Bulls 2; Indianapolis Indians 0
Season: 71-43; Home Stand: 3-1
Wrap, Box, Indy Week, Herald-Sun

This was one of those games that was just fun to watch. Pretty afternoon, if a bit warmish. Mostly very good baseball. Indianapolis made a couple of errors, but they also had a couple of nice double plays (they had 10 in the series!).

If the fans were disappointed in not seeing Hellickson pitch, I didn’t hear anything. Plus we saw some really good pitching on both sides anyhow.

Aneury Rodriguez got the start and held the Indians to just one hit through four innings, but he did give up a bunch of walks, to include putting two guys on base with one out in the 4th. Then, and here is one of the reasons that won-loss records don’t count for much, Joe Bateman came in for a very nice strikeout and ground out on thirteen pitches and got the win.

We then got our first look at Jake McGee. A very impressive first look it was. He struck out the side in his first inning of Triple-A baseball and had two K’s and a flyout for his second. He didn’t throw a pitch below 92 mph and most were much faster. Here’s the numbers on his last batter: 95/95/97/96. Overall 22 pitches, 18 for strikes. Then in a very evil move, Montoyo switched to R. J. Swindle who has a fastball that, on a good day, with a following wind, breaks 80. And a curve ball that loops in there at 50 mph, or so. He went 1 ⅔. Winston Abreu came in for the last batter (a righty) and his 17th save.

It seems that every time I’m about to write something negative about Justin Ruggiano’s year and especially his strikeouts (he broke 100 the other day), he comes up with a terrific night. Then I have to take a look at the rest of the numbers. He had all the RBI last night and he was 4 for 4. His average is up to .285 and he is now the team leader in RBI with 57. Plus he made a nifty play in the field.

Fernando Perez got in his ½ inning in the field last night. No word on when he will be back in the game.

With Hellickson off to Detroit for another major league start, Montoyo gets to play with his pitching lineup some more. Still, with today off, they are well-rested. On the other hand, today is the last rest day of the year. Where is Jeremy Cummings when we need him? (Seriously, has anybody heard anything about Jeremy? Last seen at Rays Spring Training in 2009.)

Web World
  • The Rays had a tough day yesterday. Over at Her Rays, Jessica has a few admonitions for her Rays.
  • The Wall Street Journal comments on that game, and more.

Hellickson To Join Rays in Detroit

It’s a really old joke, but what the heck, I’m a really old guy.

Trust me. It’ll connect eventually.
At morning formation the company commander calls the First Platoon leader over.

“Lieutenant Daniels, we’ve just gotten word that Private Rogers’ mother has died. Give him the news and tell him he’s got a pass to go home for the funeral.”

Daniels walks back to his platoon and calls his platoon sergeant over. “Sergeant Donald, Private Rogers’ mom has died and I’m supposed to tell him. I’ve never had to do something like that. What should I do?”

In the great tradition of US Army sergeants, Sergeant Donald replied, “No problem, sir. I’ll take care of it.”

Donald turned to the platoon and snapped out a command, “First Platoon, Tenhut!”

The platoon snaps to a rigid attention, eyes to the front, heads still.

“Awright! Pay attention! Everyone who’s mother is still alive … One step forward ... March! …
Not so fast there, Rogers!”

So it might have been yesterday afternoon. Xavier Hernandez goes into the locker room to go over the Indianapolis lineup with his starter. When Hellickson stands up, he’s told to sit down. Or maybe asked where Rodriguez was. And then he was told to pack his glove he was headed for Detroit.

The Durham Herald-Sun is reporting that Hellickson is to pitch in tomorrow’s Rays’ game in Detroit.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Hellickson Not Pitching Today (Sunday)?

Here's a link to ESPN. They are reporting that Jeremy Hellickson is out of today's lineup.

[Thanks, Chris D.]

And Mark Topkin is reporting the same story as is Tony Fabrizio.

Maybe Jake McGee will end up being a starter after all.

No Homers? No Problem

Game 113: Durham Bulls 6; Indianapolis Indians 4
Season: 70-43; Home Stand: 2-1
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Indy Week

When your opponent outhits you and you still win the game, then something else was probably going on. In this case it was a series of timely mistakes and, hindsight now tells us, errors of judgment by Indianapolis’ manager and good ideas by Durham’s manager. In fact, you could say that our manager outmanaged their manager.

Starting pitchers did their job. Durham’s Heath Phillips was pretty good, Indianapolis’ Charlie Morton was even better.

But the managers? Well, here’s the way I saw it.

In the 8th the Bulls were down 3-1. Indianapolis sent in reliever Daniel Moskos, who had pitched an inning the day prior. Elliot Johnson got a single, Justin Ruggiano drew a walk. Montoyo told Johnson and Ruggiano to run with Chris Richard on an 0-2 pitch. Richard grounded out, but a double play was prevented (one out, runners on second and third).

Moskos struggled with Joe Dillon and then Indians Manager Frank Kremblas called for the intentional walk. Maybe the idea was to get to newcomer Leslie Anderson and set up a double play (which the Indians have been very good at this series). Didn’t work. Moskos hit Anderson and a run was in and bases were still loaded.

So Kremblas changed pitchers and brought in Brian Bass, who had also pitched the previous day. Bass walked Angel Chavez, bringing in the tying run. Jose Lobaton dribbles a ball in front of the plate that Bass can’t handle correctly and the go ahead run scores, bases still loaded. Lastly, for the first time in the inning, the ball leaves the infield when J. J. Furmaniak hits a single scoring two runs.

Player of the game: J. J. Furmaniak. Manager of the game: Charlie Montoyo.

Have to say something about yesterday’s game in Toronto. You’ve got to think that the Rays really aren’t looking forward to listening to “O Canada” again any time soon. Dale Thayer was called in to try to put out a bonfire. In the first four innings Toronto had “touched” James Shields for 9 hits, 4 walks, 6 homers and eight runs. Dale poured gas on the fire: seven hits, another homer, six runs. Ultimately the game ended with Toronto ahead 17-11. Dale is on his way back.

On the other hand, Dan Johnson got 4 RBI on a home run and a sacrifice fly. He’s doing just fine since he’s been up there (17 plate appearances, .273/.471/.545, wOBA .441).

Last Chance To See Hellickson?

In response to a reader’s question I did a simple run-through of the rest-of-the season schedule of the Bulls to see when Jeremy Hellickson will next pitch in Durham. The answer was that he will not be pitching here again in August and by September he will probably be with the Rays.

If we assume that the Bulls stick with a five-day rotation, then Hellickson would be scheduled to pitch today (Indianapolis), the 14th at Gwinnett, the 18th at Charlotte (there’s a makeup game that needs to be slipped in while at Gwinnett), the 23rd at Norfolk, and the 28th at Charlotte. The next game he’d be up for is on September 2 in Durham against Gwinnett. However, you have to think he’ll be with Tampa Bay by that time. Or even sooner if Jeff Niemann’s shoulder problems are worse than reported.

Today (Sunday, August 8) may be the last appearance of Jeremy Hellickson in Durham, ever.

Note for careful readers — if I’m wrong, and I hope I am — let me know soonest and I’ll get a correction up.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


Game 111: Durham Bulls (Rays) 10; Indianapolis Indians (Pirates) 1
Wrap, Box, Indy Week

Game 112: Durham Bulls 1; Indianapolis Indians 4
Season: 69-43
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Indy Week

After the rain, this was a good night at the ball park. Nevertheless, it was very difficult to get a sense of this Indianapolis team. Maybe over the next couple of days. And it was really odd to see former Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura coaching first base near the end of the first game. We saw him here last year on a rehab assignment while he was still with the Rays, so he’s worn a Bulls uniform for a couple of games. He’s had a tough year with the Pirates and is now with the Indians. Not in the lineup for either game last night. Appeared to be exchanging a friendly wave with someone in the Bulls dugout, Dioner Navarro probably. They have played a lot of ball together over the years.

In the first game, the Bulls batted around in the 2nd inning and again in the 4th. More than enough put the game away for Richard De Los Santos. We got our first look at newcomer Leslie Anderson, who played left field and was wearing Dan Johnson’s #24. Does that mean that D.J. isn’t coming back for sure?

It’s too bad we couldn’t just accumulate the runs over the day. After everyone except Jose Lobaton getting at least one hit in the first game, only two Bulls got hits in the second game. Joe Dillon got two doubles, but they really didn’t make a difference. In this game Anderson played first base, so I guess we’re getting a look at his role. Not that different from that played by Richard and Dan Johnson, although Dan played a lot of third base as well.

Should we be worried about Virgil Vasquez’ tendency to give up home runs? Not sure, but between him and Heath Phillips they’ve given up a bunch this year (20 & 9) and it goes a long way toward explaining why they have relatively high FIPs (4.92 and 4.69).

We have not mentioned here the fact that Dale Thayer is off to join the Rays. It’s very hard to say how long he might be there since the Rays are in the midst of quite a bit of roster juggling. I was surprised at the choice of Thayer over Ekstrom, the other member of the 40-man who is with the Bulls, but Dale’s numbers are slightly better. Good luck.

In the meantime, over at Indy Week Adam Sobsey is reporting several interesting tidbits:
  • Jeremy Hellickson is going to be held to a 3 inning/45 pitch count for the rest of his season with the Bulls.
  • Fernando Perez’ shoulder is acting up and, although we saw him get half-innings in the field, he may not be ready to bat for a while.
On the Anderson/McGee moves, here’s a couple of additional comments here and here.

Indianapolis, by the way, is in the hunt for the International League wild card slot.

Once we finish this series on Sunday, the Bulls only play South Division teams to finish out the year. Charlotte — 6 at home/5 away; Gwinnett — 2 at home/6 away; and Norfolk — 5 at home/5 away. Even with the changes to their rosters, we’re going to get to know those teams very well.

I also have to note that Craig Robinson over at Flip Flop Fly Ball has several great new graphics up on his site. Seems like it has been a while and it’s great to see him back and in superb form.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Most Important Game

We here at WDBB like to think of ourselves as an honest, ethical, and vested with no small amount of integrity. Except, it must be noted, if deception, dishonesty, and deceit might serve the larger goal of humor. But we digress...

Our point is that for this entire season we have stood by and allowed an issue of some importance grow until, with the latest creation of yet another “National Champions” hat and t-shirt, the issue has become a carbuncle on the posterior of Wool E. Bull.

Therefore, let it be said that we did not allow the entire season (just most of it) go by without alerting our readers to this salient feature of Triple-A baseball.

The National Championship is bogus!

I mean, one game in the middle of September, in a town where nobody cares. Give me a break.

There. We’ve said it. Move on.

Wish that we could. Can’t. Because the Governors’ Cup (International League Champions) competition is real. The Bulls are looking to be the South Division champions of the International League and once again in the hunt for the Cup.

The Governors’ Cup isn’t bogus, isn’t a scam, isn’t a marketing gimmick. And it is a whole lot prettier to boot.

The tickets to the playoffs went on sale yesterday (season ticket holders have already had their shot). If previous years are any example, there won’t be a great demand, but you never know.

Which leads me to my main point: The most important game of the year for the Durham Bulls (assuming they are the South Division champs) is Friday, September 10. Get your ticket now.

Here’s why. For the first round of the Governors’ Cup playoffs the South Division champs play a best-of-five series with the West Division champs. The first two games at the West team’s home, followed by up to three games at the South team’s home. So, assuming it’s Columbus and Durham, two away games on 8-9 September, then the Bulls come home for the 10th. They will be either 2-0, 1-1, or 0-2 at that point. In any circumstance it will be a crucial game and we should all be there. We will, won’t we?

Trivia alert!

Why is it called the Governors’ Cup? (Note the location of the apostrophe.) Because back in the 30’s the governors of Maryland, New Jersey, and New York and the Lieutenant Governors of Quebec and Ontario sponsored the first trophy for the International League playoffs. Thus, more than one governor involved.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Rain — So Let’s Talk About McGee and Anderson

Thursday’s game is now scheduled for Friday at 6:00 pm. Come early, stay late, since it’s gonna be a double header (my guess is 7-inning games).

In the meantime here’s some info on our two new Bulls just arriving from Montgomery.

Leslie Anderson sounds like he ought to be 6’2”, blond, blue-eyed, with a chiseled chin and a family back in Wisconsin. But he isn’t. He’s 6’1”, speaks limited English, and has been somewhat secretive about just where his family is or how he happens to be in the U.S. at all. A former member of the Cuban National Team, he apparently fell out of grace with Cuban authorities a while back. He was signed by the Rays this spring drawing some attention from the St. Pete Times, Rays Prospects, and DRaysBay. On the 40-man, the thought all along has been that if he can adapt, he looks good to be in Tampa in September. I think he has been mostly playing the outfield in Montgomery. Decent stats.

Jake McGee is also on the 40-man and trying to re-create a career interrupted by Tommy John surgery a while back. According to the Montoyo interview aired while the rain was coming down, McGee is to be in the bullpen here even though he was a starter all year in Montgomery. Here’s a profile from back in February and a more recent one. A youngster for this year’s batch of Bulls, He turns 24 on Friday. Career stats here.