Saturday, April 30, 2011

Bulls End Loss Streak; Ranting at the Rays

Louisville Bat? Or blood-sucking vampire up from Tampa Bay?

Game 23: Durham Bulls 3; Louisville Bats 2
Season: 12-11

I’m glad that last night’s game was not played in Durham. Not for myself, mind you, but out of concern for some of my fellow fans. For myself, I am completely sympathetic to the Rays for sitting Alex Cobb down on a Friday night and forcing the Bulls to use up 4 relief pitchers the day after a 4-hour long (+ 1-1/2 hour rain delay) double header that also used 4 of them. The reasoning of the Rays was impeccable. On Sunday the Rays might (might? MIGHT? MIGHT?!!!?) need him.

As noted, that makes ever so much sense to me.

However, there are a few, only a few, who sit near me that refuse to see things “the Rays way”. To speculate that it would bother them to see Mike Ekstrom starting a game is probably an understatement. 

Ranting, apoplectic, vein-popping, sputtering, screaming outrage? Probably a better description. Would we have cheered every time the Angels-Rays score was posted and the Rays were reported to be losing? You bet! Even though former Bulls David Price was on the mound.

An issue, obviously, would be finding a target for our ire. Certainly not Cobb’s fault. Can’t blame Charlie Montoyo. He’s just following orders. (Where have I heard that one before?)

So, Mr. Cobb, here’s hoping that you do get your chance for a big league start. After all, I’ve already shouted myself hoarse at the radio.

Oh, by the way, the Bulls broke out of their hitting slump with 14 of them last night, including 5 doubles and a home run (Carter, his first). They had trouble getting the runners home, however, and only put three across. 

But that was enough, thanks to Brandon Gomes. Mr. Gomes is having a very impressive season with the Bulls. In 11 appearances (six of them back-to-back) he’s picked up 6 saves with an ERA of 1.35 and a WHIP of 1.13. Last night might have been the most impressive. He had gone an inning on Thursday giving up one of the two earned runs he’s let through this year and throwing 32 pitches to 7 batters. Last night he went 2 innings, threw 36 pitches to 9 batters. Am I going to have to give up wishing Winston Abreu was back? This guy is really good.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Ryan Reid to the Bulls

Right-hand reliever Ryan Reid is coming to the Bulls off the Montgomery roster. 26 year-old Reid turned pro in 2006, had a spectacular 2008 at Single-A Vero Beach, and has spent the last two years in Montgomery. Numbers in his first 6 appearances (11 innings) in 2011 are not impressive: ERA - 8.18, WHIP - 2.273. Stats are here. Rays Prospects has a mini-profile in their Prospect Guide.

Last night's starter, Jeremy Hall, who is also just up from Montgomery, was put on the "temporary inactive" list to make room. Not sure what that means. For that matter, I'm not sure why a reliever has been sent up when the Bulls have two starters on the DL.

All the Pretty Horses

Game 20: Durham Bulls 3; Louisville Bats 8
Wrap, Box, Courier-Journal
Game 21: Durham Bulls 2; Louisville Bats 3
Game 22: Durham Bulls 5; Louisville Bats 11
Season: 11-11; Streak: 0-5
Wrap, Box (1), Box (2), Courier-Journal

If I were in Louisville I’m pretty sure I would, like almost everyone else in town, be much more interested in the upcoming Derby. But this is, mostly, a baseball blog, so (sigh) let’s take a look at what’s happening to the Bulls.

With the notable exception of outfielder Brandon Guyer, the Bulls bats are pretty quiet. For the pitchers, the Bulls are opening their own recuperation ward with three (two starters, one reliever) on the DL. Brian Baker’s had two starts for Richard De Los Santos, but he’s only managed to get through 6 innings (6 earned runs, 3 home runs). Jeremy Hall came up from Montgomery and did not have an auspicious start as a Bull (7 earned runs in 3 2/3 innings). But then Alex Torres, who looked a little shaky his last start in Durham really came unraveled back in Game 20 giving up 6 runs (3 earned) in 4 1/3.

Another game in Louisville tonight, then off to Indianapolis.

Let’s take a look at some trends.

The Bulls are at .500 and the runs scored/runs allowed chart has dropped into negative territory.

click for larger image

It's difficult to parse out pitching vs. hitting, but here are a couple of efforts. First, a look at the ERA trends. Not good over the last 15 games.

click for larger image

I guess if you would like to apportion the damage, it looks like the starters need to pick up their game.

Another way to look at the situation is to aggregate the team Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) into a chart. Weighted On Base Average is one of those new stats that has a really good reputation as a measure of individual hitting performance. As a team stat it seems useful to me as a way to look at trends. We can use the same stat, turned around, to get a handle on how our pitchers are doing by computing an Opponents Weighted On Base Average (OwOBA). Which leads to this ugly (if you're a Bulls fan) chart. I may not be much of a statistician, but I'm pretty sure that you don't want the OwOBA trendline crossing the wOBA trendline.

click for larger image

Let's have some decent weather, a good start from Alex Cobb (subject of an item over on DRaysBay a while back), and hit the road for Indianapolis. Unlike the horses in the photo above, baseball players don't run well in the mud.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Carolina Baseball

When the Durham Bulls are on the road for these really long trips, or when you are on the road and have a desperate need for a hot dog and a beer, we've got a bunch of places to pull off the highway and catch a ball game here in North Carolina. In fact, we've got eight professional ball teams, not counting the Bulls. For that matter, not counting the Charlotte Knights, who play in South Carolina.

These teams play in four different leagues: The Southern League (AA), the South Atlantic League (A), the Carolina League (A Advanced), and the Appalachian League (Rookie). All of the leagues are playing now except for the Appalachian League, which starts in June.

So, if you're heading west from the DBAP, 30 miles away are the Burlington Royals, an Appalachian League affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. As mentioned, the Appalachian League doesn't start until June, however.

Just a little bit further west, 50 miles from the DBAP, are the South Atlantic League Greensboro Grasshoppers, a Florida Marlins affiliate.

And just past the Grasshoppers (80 miles from the DBAP) are the Carolina League Winston-Salem Dash, a Chicago White Sox affiliate.

But let's say that you've spent the day at the IKEA store near Charlotte and can't really face the drive back without one (or more) beers. There's the Kannapolis Intimidators, a White Sox South Atlantic League team just 120 miles away from the DBAP.

If you are heading up towards the mountains, there's the Hickory Crawdads, also in the South Atlantic League. They are a Texas Rangers affiliate and 150 miles away.

Then if you go even further west, every good Durham Bulls fan has to make a pilgrimage to McCormick Field in Asheville. Why? Because that's the field where Crash Davis hit his legendary home run immortalized in Bull Durham. Otherwise, McCormick Field is also the home to the Asheville Tourists, a Colorado Rockies affiliate. 230 miles from the DBAP.

But let's say you want to head east. Just down the road outside Zebulon are the Carolina Mudcats, a Cincinnati Reds Southern League team. 50 miles from the DBAP. This is the last year for a Southern League team to be in Five County Stadium, but we are assured a deal is in the works for a professional team to be there in 2012.

Further on down the road, in Kinston, are the Kinston Indians, a Carolina League Cleveland Indians affiliate. 105 miles from the DBAP.

There are, of course, all the college teams throughout the state. And then if you keep an eye on the Team USA Site you will hear about games at their training center in Cary (and on occasion the DBAP). Don't forget the Miracle League, as well.

A number of North Carolina cities have teams in the collegiate Coast Plains League. I know very little about the league as yet. Probably a good place to get a baseball fix if there's a team in your town.

Did I miss any professional teams?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hayhurst to Disabled List

Here’s a surprise from the Bulls front office. I have no more information than the transaction notice: 

“Dirk Hayhurst placed on 7-Day DL retroactive to April 24.”

I won’t be able to listen to beginning of broadcast tonight. I am sure readers would appreciate a comment here from anyone who has a chance to hear what’s said on the broadcast. 

Thanks in advance.

Respect the Home Run

Game 19: Durham Bulls 2; Norfolk Tides 5
Season: 11-8; Streak: 0-2
Wrap, Box, Virginia Pilot

The Bulls are surely glad to get out of Norfolk.

In some ways, yesterday’s game was over in the 1st inning when Norfolk scored 2 runs on a Josh Bell home run and never looked back. The Tides scored another run in the 1st, one in the 5th off a Ryan Adams home run, and a final run in the 8th off Josh Bell’s second home run of the day.

On the other hand, veteran Edgar Gonzalez had the longest outing of any Durham Bulls pitcher this year (seven innings). That will probably help the bullpen recover from this rough series of extra inning/nasty weather games. As for those two home runs, they are the first he’s given up this year, so we can hope he’s not going to be handing out too many more of them.

The Bulls left for Louisville, Kentucky not long after the game. The Bats are a Cincinnati Reds team run by one of the better managers in baseball, Rick Sweet. Although the Bulls and Bats only play 8 games in the regular season, we have met them in the playoffs (and beaten them) in the last couple of seasons. As a rule the competition is superb. They are 12-6 on the year and have a couple of Reds rehabbers with them. One of them, Johnny Cueto, will be starting against Alex Torres tonight.


A couple of days ago Rays Index ran a very interesting interview with Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon. Interesting from a Bulls fans point of view (and a Bulls players’ perspective) is Maddon’s confidence in his ability to evaluate minor leaguers. The implication is that if Maddon can’t fit a player into his way of putting a team together, then that player is probably out of luck when it comes to playing time with the Rays.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Quality Time in Virginia?

Game 17: Durham Bulls 6, Norfolk Tides 4 (14 innings)
Wrap, Box, Play-by-Play,

Game 18: Durham Bulls 5, Norfolk Tides 6 (11 innings)
Season: 11-7
Wrap, Box, Play-by-Play, Virginia-Pilot

Here’s hoping that the Bulls at least got some rest after yesterday afternoon’s 11 inning slog. If I heard Solondz correctly they have not even been able to take batting practice in several days. You will recall that Friday it rained all day and night, which didn’t keep the umps from requiring a game to be played. The Bulls then bussed to Norfolk and played a 4-hour, 14 inning marathon (with the same umpiring crew — maybe there's some justice), so they didn’t take batting practice before yesterday’s 1:15 start that went on for 11 innings and 3+ hours. And then today they’ve got one of those “education day” games starting at 12:15. Maybe Charlie’s thinking they are getting plenty of time at the plate. As a team they’ve had 105 plate appearances in just the last two games (normal would be mid-60’s for 2 games).

Just a few notes on the games while we wait for today’s to start.

On Saturday Dirk Hayhurst had his first rough outing. He only lasted 4 2/3 innings and committed the cardinal sin of walking in a run. Guess who got the win? Paul Phillips went 3 innings and lowered his ERA to 14.14. Considering his start point of 40.50 a couple of days earlier, that’s pretty good.

Brandon Guyer had a great night going 4 for 7 with a home run and 2 RBI. He is currently leading the team in just about every statistical category.

Sunday reads (I wasn’t able to listen to the game) like more of a slog. Oddities included Omar Luna getting on base twice on being hit by a pitch. Too bad he wasn’t able to score. Statistical freak — two of our pitchers (De La Rosa and Ekstrom) got charged with blown saves. Our relievers have now put in 20 innings in the last three games (starters, 13 2/3). Thank goodness Cobb was able to go six yesterday.

Edgar Gonzalez is due up today. Maybe he can put in enough innings to give the bullpen a bit of a rest.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Autocrats in Charge

Game 16: Durham Bulls 6; Charlotte Knights 5
Wrap, Box, Play-by-Play, Herald-Sun

I’m a retired soldier. I mention that only to establish my credibility as one who has had to deal with the consequences of stupid decisions by autocrats. It’s tough, but there’s very little that can be done except to hope that the autocrats in question perhaps learn from their errors.

In this case we have the umpiring crew of Conroy, Conrad, Gosney, and Estabrook. Slightly unusual in that it was a four-man crew and we typically have only three here in Triple-A. I think, but am not sure, that Estabrook was the chief.

The stupid decision: Playing the game at all.

What was gained by a game played to virtually no fans; in miserable, miserable conditions; on a travel day for both teams; and against a divisional opponent (against whom a rainout could be made up)?

The fans didn’t get anything out of it. There were hardly any there. (My hat’s off to those who lasted to the end.) If there were even a couple hundred at the end of the two hour delay, much less the near midnight end, I’d be surprised. I wasn’t among them. In fact, with the tarp on the field at 7:00 and it still raining, I was sure that the game would be called and didn’t go. I underestimated the capacity for autocrats to make stupid decisions.

I watched on MiLB.TV for a couple of innings. Not as good as the Time-Warner set-up, but that’s not in action yet. Obviously hazardous conditions in the outfield. Players slipping and sliding all over the place. The Bulls were charged with two errors that were clearly the result of the playing conditions. More examples of autocrats making bad decisions.

Stand-in starting pitcher Brian Baker seemed to be struggling and never really got on track, especially after the Gookie Dawkins' grand slam in the 2nd. He had a three-up, three-down 3rd, but in the fourth he gave up a triple (ball skidded through puddles) and a walk while constantly stretching and twisting between pitches. He called out the trainer and essentially took himself out of the game. The bullpen (Delaney and De La Rosa) pretty much put things on ice waiting for J.J. Furmaniak to hit the go-ahead homer in the 6th, then Brandon Gomes kept it that way.

Overall, a terrific home stand for the Bulls, 6-3. They leave town a half game behind Gwinnett in the South Division and head to Norfolk for three games. Norfolk has had a tough start to their season (3-12) and have lost the last four games all to the Gwinnett Braves.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Rays' Rehaber(s) to Bulls

According to this item, J.P. Howell will be joining the Durham Bulls sometime soon as part of his rehabilitation path. Lefty Howell was out all of last year and may be the reason that Jake McGee is with the Rays instead of continuing his development with the Durham Bulls. And then there's Evan Longoria, but his rehab may not involve any treks to the minor leagues.

In both cases, however, we'll feel some effects.

We might get to see Howell. However, with this long road trip and the pace of his rehab, it could all happen on the road.

The Rays will have to make room for Howell (and Longoria) on the roster. Plus the Bulls have two players on the DL as well.

Result? The Bulls that come back in May probably won't be the same Bulls who leave town tomorrow.

Freebie Night

Game 15: Durham Bulls 4; Charlotte Knights 6
Season: 9-6; Streak: L 2
Wrap, Box,Herald-Sun,Indy Week

How does a team get more hits than their opposition (9 to 7) and lose a game? Answer: Give up a bunch of freebies (7 walks, 1 hit batsman) and home runs (2). Of the six runs scored by Charlotte last night, four of them came from runners who got on base with a walk. With the two homers, even I can do the math.

I’m guessing that Alex Torres was sent to the mound yesterday with instructions to “work” on something — maybe his changeup or slider. Whatever it was, it wasn’t working. His first two innings were just awful. First inning: single, walk, K, HBP, fly out, W (run scored), and a liner back to Torres to end the inning with bases loaded. Second inning: K, walk, double, ground out, run scores on a passed ball, walk, K. Maybe he figured something out with that last K, because he then struck out the side in the 3rd and 4th innings and got another K in the 5th. So, 10 strikeouts on the night, but also walked in a run and can probably share the blame on the unearned run from the passed ball. Brilliant pitcher. Needs work.

On the other hand, R.J. Swindle is not seeing anything good in his year. That is a big deal here. He’s the only left-handed reliever we’ve got. The season is early, but his numbers are not good and last night’s two walks followed by a home run will not help. The only pitchers with a worse ERA and WHIP is the unfortunate Paul Phillips.

Bright spots? Robinson Chirinos may be getting his eye. He went 2 for 3, but he’s got a long way to go. Current average is .167.

* * * * *

Tonight’s game ends the Bulls 9-game home stand and only appearance in Durham in April. They will not be back until the 5th of May, that’s 11 road games plus the Bulls’ first day off this season. I was asked last night if I’d mentioned in my blog that this year’s schedule is just plain loony?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What If ...

Durham Bulls 3; Charlotte Knights 8
Season: 9-5
Wrap, Box

With this year marking 150 years since the beginning of the Civil War, the popular fiction genre known as “alternative history” is receiving some attention. The genre works by posing a “What if?” For example, “What if Booth missed?” or “What if Lee’s battle plans had not been lost?” etc.

What’s this got to do with baseball, other than the fact that a couple of days ago, 150 years ago, Abner Doubleday was one of the surrendered Union officers at Fort Sumter?

Well, let’s look at the top of the 4th inning of yesterday’s game. The Bulls were ahead 3-1. Gonzalez was on the mound, Charlotte’s Dallas McPherson was at bat. On an 0-1 count McPherson hit one that ticked off the top of the right field wall, into that screwy fencing they’ve got there, and came back on the field. Ground rule double. Now, what if it were just a scootch (good ol’ southern word, scootch, a bit more than a smidgen) higher and had been a home run?

We’ll never know, of course. But whatever might have happened it could not have been much worse than what did. And therein is a tale of the role of luck in baseball, because surely luck had as much to do with what followed as skill.

Back in the real world, McPherson went to second. When the next batter, Lastings Milledge, put down a sacrifice bunt, Gonzalez tried for a play at third and it failed. Runners at first and second. Charlotte’s Donny Lucy singled to left and a run scored. Runners on first and second, score 3-2. A sacrifice bunt moved runners to second and third, one out. Our first baseman (Russ Canzler) botched a grounder. Run scored, runners on first and third, one out. Bulls-Knights tied 3-3. Next batter, Eduardo Escobar whacked a triple into the right field corner. Two runs scored. Runner on third, score 3-5. The next batter flied out, but Jim Gallagher hit a double to drive in yet another run before the Bulls’ Gonzalez struck out Viciedo to end the inning. Score 3-6.

Ugly to read about, ugly to see. But in the end, what if...

* * * * *

Tomorrow and Friday are the last two days of this nine game home stand. Thus endeth the only Durham Bulls ballgames in the DBAP in April, 2011. Have I mentioned that this year’s schedule does not make sense?

Ruggiano Rocks

Game 13: Durham Bulls 9; Charlotte Knights (White Sox) 1
Season: 9-4; Streak: 2-0

What a pretty thing it is to watch a player get into a groove the way Justin Ruggiano has been the last couple of days. Last night’s two home runs, two singles, and a walk off of three different pitchers followed Monday’s two home run (off two pitchers) game. Seven RBIs in two games brings him up to 14 on the year. And his Average/OBP/SLG is up to .320/.358/.640. Very impressive. 

I drew a big circle around the middle of our batting order last night — Justin Ruggiano (2), Brandon Guyer (3), and Chris Carter (4). They accounted for 9 hits, 3 walks, and 7 of the 9 RBI. I know that’s the sort of thing the middle of the lineup is supposed to do, but it’s nice to see it in action.

Interesting detail: Ruggiano’s hard smash to third base in the 3rd inning was initially ruled an error on Charlotte third baseman Dallas McPherson. That was changed to a single before the end of the game. Made sense from where I was sitting. McPherson didn’t bobble the ball. Ruggiano just outran it.

The pitching: You can’t argue with success, but Alex Cobb sure looked uncomfortable yesterday until his last inning. Three BBs are certainly unusual. In the end, however, he got out of the game only giving up one earned run and has a league-leading 3-0 won-loss record (not to mention a 1.13 ERA and 0.94 WHIP). Rob Delaney had a very solid two innings and R.J. Swindle looked a little better than his last outing. He still hasn’t uncorked his radically slow curve this year, but we can hope. Brandon Gomes needed some work, so he pitched the 9th. (Note: Radio said it was going to be Paul Phillips. He’s got to get back on the horse again, someday.) The crew’s strikeouts are up to 134, or more than 10 per game. Even with last night’s uncharacteristic 5 walks, only 33 on the year. Today we see Edgar Gonzalez.

We have the second day game of the week today. And the weather prediction guesses at storms about 4 PM. Have I mentioned that this year’s schedule is nuts?

Biscuit Watch

Things seem to be improving over Montgomery way.
Game 13: Montgomery Biscuits 5; Jackson Generals 4
Season: 4-8

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Sincere thanks to Doug Milhoan over at Rays Prospects for his diligent work in tracking down former players in the Rays system now playing in the Independent Leagues. Several are of interest to regular Bulls fans. 

Pitcher Justin Garcia, winner of the 2010 WDBB Moonlight Graham Award for the pitcher with the least amount of time in a Durham Bulls uniform, is with the Amarillo Sox.

Outfielder Joey Gathright, fondly remembered speedster last seen here with the Norfolk Tides, is with the Shreveport-Bossier Captains.

Catcher Alvin Colina, seen here last July writhing on the ground past first base when he blew out his knee running out a grounder, is with the Lancaster Barnstormers.

Pitcher Heath Phillips is with the Long Island Ducks. 

Pitcher Matt DeSalvo is with the York Revolution.

Outfielder Jeremy Owens is with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs.

Pitcher Jason Cromer is with the Somerset Patriots. (The President of the local Jason Cromer fan club is very pleased to hear that he’s still in baseball.)

Pitcher Chris Mason is with the Camden Riversharks.

Wes Bankston and Angel Chavez are with the Bridgeport Bluefish.

Pitcher Mike Wlodarcsyk is with the Brockton Rox. (Never thought I’d ever have to try to type that name again.)

Pitchers Julio DePaula and Jim Magrane are playing in Korea.

This means that of the folks on my 2110 lists here and here, everyone is accounted for except for Rashad Eldridge, Hank Blalock, and Carlos Hernandez.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Justin Ruggiano — RBI King

Durham Bulls 4; Gwinnett Braves 1 (11 innings)
Season: 8-4
Wrap, Box

Wasn’t it nice to see Justin Ruggiano have a great day? And a great day it was. To lay it out: Justin came to bat with two out in the bottom of the third inning, no score, and absolutely crushed one over the Blue Monster between the bull and the Tobacco Road restaurant. It would have been a homer in any park in the country. Then in the 11th he came to bat with two out, game tied 1-1, and runners (Olmedo and Jennings) on third and first bases. On a 1-0 pitch he made a beautiful shot into the right field stands, just clearing the fence. Could not have gotten his first home runs of the year in a more timely fashion.

Not that he wasn’t doing OK, but his four RBIs today put him in the lead in that category among the Bulls. And it made a very tough game into a great afternoon.

Getting to the end was not easy. Dirk Hayhurst had a brilliant 6 2/3 innings spoiled only by a bit of sloppy play between Omar Luna and Leslie Anderson that let an unearned run score in the 6th. I could not have been more proud of my fellow Durham Bulls fans when we first acknowledged that he’d had a no-hitter going until the double by Bowman in the 6th and then gave him another great cheer when he was taken out with two outs in the 7th. This was my first time seeing him on the mound, but looking forward to a lot more outings. He is a very crafty guy. 8 Ks, no walks, ERA of 1.02 and WHIP of 0.62 over his first 18 innings. Pretty good.

The stretch from the 7th to the 11th was actually difficult to watch. The Bulls left runners in scoring position in what was then a 1-1 game in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings.

In the meantime our very impressive crew out of the bullpen of Cory Wade, Mike Ekstrom, and Dane De La Rosa (who got the win) kept things in check, awaiting Ruggiano’s turn at bat.

Now Charlotte, the White Sox affiliate, is coming to town for four games and then that’s it for April and the Bulls in Durham. Have I mentioned that this schedule doesn’t make sense?

Torres Named IL Pitcher of the Week

Bulls pitcher Alexander Torres has been named International League Pitcher of the Week. Here's a clip from the press release:
In his first two starts of the season, Durham's Triple-A rookie hurler Alexander Torres made quite an impression. The 5'10" left-hander did not allow a run in either start, striking out a total of 17 batters to easily outdistance the rest of the League for the week. Monday night in Charlotte, Torres worked 5.0 shutout innings in his Triple-A debut, giving up just two hits and one walk while striking out nine. He left with a 3-0 lead, but the bullpen didn't hold it and the Bulls fell, 4-3. Back home Saturday night against Gwinnett, Torres picked up his first win of the season. Nearly as unhittable as in his first outing, Torres tossed 5.1 innings, allowing three hits and a walk while striking out eight. Now two starts into his Triple-A career, Torres is tied for the League lead with a 0.00 ERA and 17 strikeouts.
23-year-old Alexander Torres was signed by the Angels as a non-drafted free agent in 2005. In August of 2009, he was dealt to Tampa Bay as part of the package for LHP Scott Kazmir. Last season, his first full campaign at the Double-A level, Torres went 11-6 with a 3.47 ERA for Montgomery. Torres is a native of Valencia, Venezuela.

After 5 the Deluge

Durham Bulls 7; Gwinnett Braves 18
Season: 7-4
Wrap, Box, Indy Week,Herald-Sun

As shaky as things were through the first five innings, we were seeing some interesting baseball. I got to see one of my favorite Bulls start as catcher (Craig Albernaz, winner of the 2010 WDBB Moonlight Graham Award) and get an RBI double; see Jose Lobaton carry on with his extraordinary streak (he is now .478/.536/.913) with a 3 for 3 night including a home run and 2 walks; and J.J. Furmaniak begin to sneak out of his slump with a 2 RBI double. Less fun to watch in those innings were Brian Baker and R.J. Swindle. Neither looked particularly sharp. Nevertheless, we went into the 6th inning with a 6 to 5 lead, so not too bad.

What can you say about a 10-run inning? Character building for Paul Phillips? Not sure. We had a pitcher in a similarly dismal circumstance back in 2008 that I could swear finally gave up and deliberately hit a batter just to get thrown out of the game. At least Mr. Phillips didn’t go that far, but you gotta think it’s heartbreaking to finally get something other than a home run and have your infielders flub the play. That happened twice in the inning. Too painful to replay it here. To his credit, Phillips was willing to talk about it. See Adam Sobsey’s piece over at the Indy Week link.

Phillips was left twisting in the breeze to save the bullpen for today and future games. Here’s hoping they show their appreciation over the next couple of days.

We also got to see a variant of the designated hitter rule that led to a couple of interesting box score oddities. Catcher Jose Lobaton started the game as the DH. In the 8th inning starting catcher Craig Albernaz took over as the pitcher and Lobaton became the catcher. That meant that in the bottom of the 8th when Albernaz came to bat it was as the pitcher, a very rare event. Trivial? You bet! Gotta take some comfort from nights like last night.

Day game today. First chance to see Dirk Hayhurst pitch. Time to celebrate not be struck by the tornadoes.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

First Charts

Durham Bulls 1; Gwinnett Braves 0
Season: 7-3; Streak: Won 5
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Indy Week

I missed the game and the links have the story. So I’ll just leave it at that and put up my first charts of the year.

click on chart for larger view

This one shows the game by game balance of runs scored by the Bulls minus runs scored against the Bulls. In the long run, this metric ends up being shaped very much like the won-loss curve for a team. What I look for is a trend. As you can see this is the best start for the Bulls in the last four years.

click on chart for larger view

This one is for the boys in the bandbox down by the bay. They are on an upward trend, but have some ways to go to get back to even. Still, the trend is upward.

The last one is a look at ERA trends. This chart comes with a bunch of caveats — way early in the year, small sample size, etc. But it sure is pretty.

As a final grin, Fernando Perez scored the winning run for the Iowa Cubs yesterday.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Jennings Breaks Out

Durham Bulls 8; Norfolk Tides 3
Season: 6-3; Streak: Won 4
Wrap, Box, Indy Week, Herald-Sun

Desmond Jennings is really looking good this year. Last night he got on base three out of four times (two walks, a hit by pitch, and a home run), scored two runs, and had 3 RBIs. You can’t ask for more from your leadoff batter. Oh yeah, he stole a base, too. On the year he is .345/.500/.586 with 2 home runs and 3 stolen bases. This is the first time in quite a while that the Bulls have had an exceptional leadoff man. Terrific fun to watch.

I was looking forward to watching Edgar Gonzalez pitch because he seems to be an interesting guy. Nothing special about his stats, so why is he here? Perhaps the two adjectives I'd use for last night would be sneaky and stubborn. He let a few guys on base, struck several out, and at the end of 5 innings nobody had scored. Not bad.

Later in the game Charlie Montoyo did something he rarely does, a situational pitching change. He’s never been much of a situational guy when it comes to using his relievers. However, in the 7th with two outs, a runner on first base, and a very familiar left-handed power hitter coming to bat (Ryan Hughes, a former Bull, now with Norfolk), he brought in our only lefty, R.J. Swindle. Swindle got Hughes to pop up on his second pitch. That was Swindle’s night — two pitches, one out, head for showers. I’m not criticizing the move, just noting that, in general, Charlie doesn’t seem to worry too much about reliever/batter matchups, but last night that’s what he did.

Speaking of pitching, and I know it’s early in the season, but the Bulls staff is really whiffing the opposition. In 9 games (84 innings) they’ve accumulated 94 strikeouts. Ten last night, fifteen the night before.

The rest of the position players:

Robinson Chirinos, catcher, batted 4th: tGt (see yesterday’s post). Comes to the Bulls with huge expectations both as a catcher and as a hitter. Off to a truly awful start (1 for 28), but undoubtedly has plenty of talent.
J.J. Furmaniak, infielder, batted 8th: We thought a lot of J.J. last year and we’re really happy to see him back. However, he is also off to a really rough start (2 for 28). He did get an infield hit last night and scored one of the Bulls’ runs.
Craig Albernaz, catcher: Has not gone to bat yet. Essentially a backup catcher who has spent time with the Bulls the last two seasons. However, most of his playing time has been with the Biscuits in Montgomery.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Phillips On the Way

Paul Phillips, a 27 year old right-hand pitcher, is on his way up from the Montgomery Biscuits to fill one of the holes left by recent disabilities. Phillips was with the Bulls at the end of last season, pitching 10 2/3 innings in the regular season and 6 1/3 in the playoffs. Stellar ERA on a small sample, and two wins as a starter. He's been in relief in Montgomery this year. Only 2 2/3 innings and has been touched for 2 earned runs. End of season comments last year are here.


Durham Bulls 4; Norfolk Tides 0
Season: 5-3; Streak: Won 3
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, News & Observer, Indy Week, WRAL

Wool E. Bull arrives by a very nicely flown helicopter; delivers a gift to manager Charlie Montoyo; and we’re off! Beautiful, beautiful day.

This team is going to be fun to watch. Maybe not the long-ball crushing crowd we’ve gotten used to over the last couple of years, but still a lot of fun.

But, for those of us who try to follow the team closely, this year is also likely to be confusing. To get some of that out of the way up front, two pitchers went on the disabled list yesterday — Richard De Los Santos and Chris Bootcheck. De Los Santos has stiffness in his shoulder. Chris Bootcheck cracked his head on a pipe in the Charlotte clubhouse and has a mild concussion. Catcher Craig Albernaz has been placed on the roster and Brian Baker will take De Los Santos’ next start.

Back to the game. Alex Cobb looked terrific. Granted that this Norfolk team is off to a rough start, but Cobb didn’t let a runner on base until the beginning of the 4th inning and it wasn’t until deep in the 5th that a runner made it to second base — a single and a hit batsman. Mike Ekstrom and Brandon Gomes closed things out nicely.

Let’s look at last night’s lineup:
  • Desmond Jennings, center field: Jennings was with the Bulls all of 2010. A top prospect in the Rays system, he has had a hard time staying healthy. Off to a great start this year batting .333 in the leadoff slot. On Rays 40-man roster.
  • Justin Ruggiano, left field: A leading RBI man and run scorer for last couple of years. At 29 he’s running out of time to make his mark. Prime candidate for a trade. In the meantime, could not be happier to see him with the Bulls.
  • Brandon Guyer, right field: First year in AAA, first year as a Bull, tGt*. So far, so good. Hitting well. On Rays 40-man.
  • Chris Carter, DH: Veteran AAA and major league ballplayer to the Bulls out of the Mets system. Spent most of last year on the Mets major league roster. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what he’s doing here. Guess we’ll find out as the season goes along. He could be a huge help.
  • Jose Lobaton, catcher: Came up to the Bulls from Montgomery early last year and stayed. Starting out the season really, really hot. Solid defensive catcher. From the San Diego Padres system. On the 40-man.
  • Russ Canzler, third base: Signed in the off-season as a minor league free agent. First time in AAA. Showing power with two homers in two days. Can play first base. Is this another scouting coup for the Rays? Hope so, cause with Longoria in St. Pete, we get to keep Canzler here.
  • Leslie Anderson, first base: A star in Cuban baseball, he defected last year and played at A, AA, and AAA levels. As a Bull late in the season, he has just not seemed comfortable at the plate or in the field. Maybe this year, but at 29 he may be running out of time. Off to a slow start.
  • Omar Luna, 2nd base: Very dependable middle infielder. Still young and developing. On the Montgomery roster at the very beginning of the season and could go back there depending on the shuffle when the Rays Evan Longoria comes off the disabled list. On eight errors at all levels (A, AA, and AAA) last year. Odd that he doesn’t make any of the prospects lists, but I’m happy to see him here.
  • Ray Olmedo, Shortstop: I’ve written about Olmedo earlier. Like the guy. Off to a decent start. Keep it up.
*tGt: The Garza trade: Over the winter the Tampa Bay Rays traded pitcher Matt Garza (and Bulls outfielder Fernando Perez) for five Chicago Cubs. We have two with the Bulls now and likely to see more later. One of them, Sam Fuld has achieved early fame with the Rays.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Opening Day At Last!

Durham Bulls Baseball Club, 1913

The day has finally arrived!

Dig out your scorebooks. Find your tickets. Make sure you get there early, parking can be a problem. 

Take me out to the ball game!

Good Start; Come On Home

Game 7: Durham Bulls 5; Charlotte Knights 2
Season: 4-3
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

The Bulls came home last night after their best day at the plate in this young season. Twelve hits (20 total bases) against a team that featured rehabbing White Sox star Jake Peavey for the first six innings. DHing Jose Lobaton continued his hot streak with a 4 for 4 night. Outfielder Brandon Guyer went 3 for 4 with two doubles. Justin Ruggiano was back in the lineup and hit a double. RBI leader Russ Canzler (6) had a home run and a single with 3 RBIs.

Meanwhile, Dirk Hayhurst had a good day as the starter.

Nice finish to the trip.


From time to time the blog Rays Index publishes an analysis called the Trade Value Index that rank-orders players in the Rays system in terms of perceived “value”, or how much they ought to be worth in a trade. He takes a look at all the players on the Rays 40-man roster plus a few key prospects. Here are the Bulls on his list and their current ranking. Click on the link to see the full list and the methodology.

  • 11. Alex Torres
  • 14. Desmond Jennings
  • 16. Robinson Chirinos
  • 20. Alex Cobb
  • 21. Jose Lobaton
  • 25. Brandon Guyer
  • 37. Rob Delaney
  • 43. Brandon Gomes
  • 47. Dane de la Rosa

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Loss, a Win, and a Few Questions

Game 5: Durham Bulls 3; Charlotte Knights 4
Wrap, Box

Alex Torres had a great day in his Triple-A debut, but the bullpen couldn’t hang on to a three run lead and the Bulls lost in the bottom of the 9th. Even though the Bulls are carrying an extra pitcher (13 instead of the usual 12), the relief corps is putting in a lot of innings (two out of five games have gone long). The Knights started the season on a 5-0 run.

Game 6: Bulls 5; Knights 2
Wrap, Box

Game 6 saw the Bulls break the Knights’ run. Although they’ve had a hit or two, we are still waiting for the crew of Chirinos, Furmaniak, and Anderson to connect. On the other hand, Jose Lobaton went 3 for 4 with a home run single and double. And Brandon Guyer hit a homer as well.

Richard De Los Santos only lasted 2 innings before the relief corps went back to work.

Just listening to the radio, it sure sounds like some of these guys simply aren’t in very good condition. Wasn't that what spring training was for?

Here's the first of the questions promised in the headline: How come the Bulls start the season with a seven game road trip, come home for nine games, and then go back on the road for 11 games?

Could it be that the folks that run the DBAP gave up the ballpark to Duke for the month of April and encouraged the International League to put the Bulls on the road? Those Duke (formerly Trinity College) lads are playing at the DBAP for 6 games during the time the Bulls are on the road. So, is Duke playing at the DBAP because the Bulls on the road, or are the Bulls on the road because Duke in playing at the DBAP?

Speaking of the DBAP, I went by there yesterday and there sure was a lot of banging and clanging going on.

Where the Bulls Are — Charlotte Knights

As we love to point out at the beginning of each year, the Charlotte Knights don't play baseball in Charlotte, in fact they don't play baseball in North Carolina. If you back out from the map above you'll see that the stadium is in Fort Mill, South Carolina.

There's an interesting bit of political shenanigans surrounding a downtown stadium for the Knights. The short version is that there's a gentleman in town who's monomaniacal about bringing a major league team to Charlotte. To that end he's sued the city/county a bunch of times to keep them from building something new for the Knights. An example of recent goings-on is this blog entry (with 76 comments!). Other recent stories related to Charlotte's stadium saga are here and here. There's a modest chance that the Knights will get a new stadium in the next decade, or so.

The Knights are a White Sox team and seem to be treated reasonably well by their parent club. They've got a new manager, Joe McEwing. They have also started the season by winning 5 in a row.

You will see from the map that the interstate runs nearby. In an amusing incident last year, the umpiring crew got caught in a traffic jam out there. The game was delayed for almost an hour while everyone waited for the men in blue.

The park is very hitter friendly, but Neil Solondz has reported that they've raised the outfield walls a bit.

Ballpark reviews rates the park pretty low, but he hasn't been there in a couple of years.

Fan Alert — Today's Game at 11:00

Just noticed that today's (Monday, April 12th) game is at 11:00. Must be one of those "education day" deals.

One big advantage of the iPod era is that folks don't look quite so funny sitting at their desks wearing earphones. Might be a bit tricky running gameday in a window of your computer, though.

Bullpen blew it last night. More later.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Typical Bulls-Braves Series

Game 4: Durham Bulls 4, Gwinnett Braves 5 (11 Innings)
Season: 2-2
First Home Game: This Thursday
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

In the end, this was a fairly typical Bulls-Braves series. It was distinguished only a bit by the low number of home runs by either team: 2 over 41 innings of play, 1 by the Bulls and 1 by Gwinnett. Yesterday, the Bulls went through five relievers after starter Edgar Gonzalez only lasted 3 2/3 innings. My ability to listen to the game was sporadic, so I don’t have anything to offer regarding his performance.

Hard not to notice, however, catcher Robinson Chirinos’ troubles at the plate so far this year, 0-14. Chirinos, who came from the Cubs as part of the Matt Garza deal, had a terrific spring training with the Rays. So much so that the bloggers were talking about trading off Kelley Shoppach (one of the Rays’ catchers) and keeping Chirinos. Surely this is just a slow start for him. Similarly, infielder J.J. Furmaniak is off to a tough start, 0-12. Both of these young men are better players than the numbers show, but sure hope the dry spell ends soon.

On the plus side, Justin Ruggiano is having a great start. 7 for 17 with 2 doubles, 2 walks, 5 RBIs, and only 2 strikeouts. He was pulled from the game after doubling in 2 runs in the top of the 5th inning, apparently injured. I’ve got emails out asking about his status. If the Bulls release any more info before tonight's game, I’ll come back and update this.

In the end, the game turned on the Braves’ bullpen ability to keep the Bulls off the bases in the 9th, 10th, and 11th; and the Braves touching to reliever Rob Delaney for a homer in the 9th and putting together a rally off Dane De La Rosa in the 11th.

Smart, aggressive baseball by both teams. We’ll get to see the Gwinnett team in Durham on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Should be fun.

I’ve been thinking we should keep an eye on the Montgomery Biscuits, the Rays AA team. They are off to a bit of a slow start, but nothing like their parent club (Rays are now 1-7)

Biscuit Watch
Game 4: Montgomery Biscuits 4; Birmingham Barons 3
Season: 1-3
Wrap, Box, Montgomery Advertiser

UPDATE: Bulls front office says that Justin Ruggiano is fine. Good news.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Score Early; Hang On

Game 3: Durham Bulls 2; Gwinnett Braves 1
Season: 2-1
First Home Game: 4 Days
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

I know that it’s really, really early, and I don’t want to bring bad luck, still the Bulls’ bullpen is looking pretty good so far. They’ve only let one run across the plate in 13+ innings.

Then there’s Desmond Jennings starting out the game with a home run. Justin Ruggiano picked up another RBI, his third.

Reliever Brandon Gomes (acquired in the Jason Bartlett trade) got out of a bases-loaded problem in the eighth. Good beginning.

Brian Baker, an important guy last year, got in his first appearance of the year, two scoreless innings after Alex Cobb (who started shaky and settled down) did five innings.

Day game today, then on the bus to Charlotte.


Ray Olmedo

Let me be very up front about it, I really like infielder Ray Olmedo. He’s the guy who was the star of the game when the Bulls won it all in 2009. He is a very competent infielder and crafty batsman, even hitting a home run from time to time (although that’s not his expectation). He’s a year round, Triple A ballplayer and just the kind of guy we need to get through the grind of a Triple-A season.

I’m a believer that one of the keys to a successful team is what’s called the “defensive diamond”. The defensive diamond consists of above average skill at catcher, shortstop, second base, and center field. Ray is going to be one of the key guys in the diamond this year. He’s expected to start most games at shortstop, although Charlie likes to move guys around, so you can expect to see him at second and third as well.

As a final bit of trivia: Ray was strikingly successful as a relief pitcher with the 2009 Bulls: 1-0, 1 game, 2 innings.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Experience Shows — Bulls Win

Game 2: Durham Bulls 5; Gwinnett Braves 3 (12 innings)
Season: 1-1
First Home Game: 5 days
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

The Durham Bulls must have started yesterday’s game looking over their shoulders. First baseman Casey Kotchman was gone to join the Rays in Chicago (he came to bat just after Dan Johnson’s game winning homer in the 9th and flied out to center). Pitcher Brian Baker was activated from the Hudson Valley roster. This followed infielder Felipe Lopez’s call-up just before the season started. In the end, however, we had something of a traditional Durham/Gwinnett game with the Bulls and the Braves simply going at each other inning and inning after inning.

The Braves and Bulls sent eleven pitchers to the mound before this one wrapped up. In the end, however, it was RBIs by Desmond Jennings and Justin Ruggiano in the 12th that finished out the game for the Bulls first win.

Leslie Anderson came to the Rays system after being sold as a first baseman. In fact, when his defection was first announced early last year he was being mentioned as a late 2010 replacement for the Rays’ Carlos Peña. If what we heard on the radio last night (and saw last year) hints at his skills, Charlie may be looking through his roster for another. Reportedly Chris Carter has played a lot of first base back in 2007, so we may see him there pretty soon.

Nice to have a win under our belt.


Manager Charlie Montoyo is the best manager in AAA baseball. The record speaks for itself. His teams have won championships for the last 5 season (one in AA, four in AAA).

When you see him make his dash from the dugout to third base this Thursday you will know the game is about to begin, the home season has started.

Charlie doesn’t say a whole lot to the press (and down here in AAA he doesn’t really get a lot of tough questions). But when he does, as he did the other day, he shows a deep understanding of the game and of Triple A.

We will undoubtedly argue about tactical decisions this year (Shoulda pulled xxx sooner! Why didn’t you send xxx home? Why did you send xxx home? Etc.) But we cannot argue with his record. We cannot argue with his approach to getting through the very, very tough Triple A schedule. We’re lucky to have him here.

So, Charlie, why did you leave De Los Santos in the game on Thursday when he was obviously out of gas?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Kotchman to the Rays

Well, that was a really brief tenure as a Bull.

Casey Kotchman, who started at first base last night, is apparently off to join the Rays in Chicago.

Marc Topkin cites several sources and reports that the Rays' Manny Ramirez is retiring after a problem with a drug test.

Casey Kotchman was one of a couple of guys in the room at the First Pitch luncheon who did not appear to be happy to be in Durham. The former Angel, Brave, Red Sox, and Mariner was not likely to be in Durham very long under any circumstances. We wish him the best of luck with the Rays. It does leave a bit of a hole in the Bulls roster, though. Wonder who Charlie will pick?

Chris? Are you out there?

Bulls Lose Close First Game

Game 1: Durham Bulls 1; Gwinnett Braves 2
Season: 0-1
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

Just as a warning to new readers, when the Bulls are on the road, this blog is not likely to have any more deep insights into the game than you may have heard on the radio broadcast. That’s certainly the case here where the Bulls started the season with a very well-played losing effort. The Braves put together a string of hits in the 5th inning that were enough to put two runs across. And that was the game.

We got our first look at a Bulls defensive lineup and what’s striking to my eye is how much the Bulls have changed — only three of the nine batters (Ruggiano, Jennings, and Furmaniak) were with the Bulls at the end of last year. Only one, Justin Ruggiano, was in last year’s opening lineup.

So, rather than trying to write about ballplayers I’ve never seen, why not just rant about something completely off-topic?

Bobby Cox, retired Atlanta Braves manager, threw out the first pitch of the game last night. He got a sustained standing ovation from the crowd. The cheers actually delayed the start of the game. Now, I know that Bobby Cox is a pretty famous guy and he would get a robust round of applause at the DBAP. But what the event brought to mind is what little effort the Rays have put into developing the Triangle as a market for their team. Let’s face it, if Joe Maddon (he's the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays) were in the crowd at the DBAP he wouldn’t even be noticed.

As far as I can recall, the only modest local marketing effort was in 2009 when almost all the giveaways were Rays hats and T-shirts (you can see what happened to mine here). The gods of television have decided that the Triangle is in the Baltimore (Baltimore!?!) market as another blogger has noted. So we can rarely watch the Rays on television around here (even if we were to pay a gazillion bucks for MLB.TV on our iPads). The Rays did play a spring training game here last year. That was nice and I enjoyed it even if the first stringers didn’t stay in the game past one at bat.

Otherwise, I can honestly say that in my years of going to the DBAP I have not met one Rays fan, not one. That includes the guy I stare at in the mirror every morning. I have met a couple of guys who have individual Rays on their fantasy team (inevitably Even Longoria and/or David Price).

So, Joe, if you ever throw out the first pitch at the DBAP, don’t expect a standing O, because most folks around here don’t even know who the guy with the funny sunglasses is (haven’t we seen him in a vitamin ad, dear?). At least, not until the Rays get into the local TV lineup, get some stories into the local papers and start promoting their team hereabouts.