Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dirk Hayhurst — “Efficient” Win?

Game 78, June 29, Charlotte Knights Stadium
Durham Bulls (Rays) 2, Charlotte Knights (White Sox) 1
Season: 43-35; Trip: 1-0
Wrap, Box, Rock Hill Herald

Although the Bulls won this game, with the rainout on Tuesday and the Gwinnett Braves on a 5-game win streak, they are only 1/2 game in front of the Braves in the South. Looks like the South Division is going to keep on being a tight race all year.

To be honest about it, I forgot that it was a day game and missed all of it. So what I know is from the wrap and the box score. Still, a look at those results is pretty interesting. Dirk Hayhurst had a six-inning, shut-out, one-hit appearance. Time to acknowledge that he is having a very good year and winning a lot of games for the Bulls. Even with his stretch on the disabled list, he is just behind Alex Cobb in a number of pitching metrics for the Bulls.

New guy Daniel Mayora played third base, drew one walk, but was hitless. That was true of almost all of the Bulls. Only three hits, but a bunch of walks (7). In fact, the winning run was walked in after Leslie Anderson walked, Brandon Guyer singled, Dan Johnson walked, and Felipe Lopez walked. Along with his home run, Lopez was the offensive star of the game. Desmond Jennings came in the game in the 8th for Anderson. I didn’t hear any commentary on his injury status.

The Bulls play a double header today with the first game starting at 6:15.

* * * * * 

The other day I mentioned a Dirk Hayhurst blog posting that mentioned, somewhat in passing, the idea of pitching efficiency being a good thing and that there didn’t seem to be a metric for that idea.

I’m certainly no sabermetrics guy, but it seemed to me that it should be fairly easy to come up with a metric that measures efficiency, fuzzy as it might be.

First, lets agree on what “pitching efficiency” means. Essentially, for this item, I’m just going to say that the fewer pitches a pitcher has to throw, the better. That is, if a pitcher can get out of an inning in three pitches (popups, grounders, etc.), he is as “efficient” as he can possibly be.

So, a metric for pitching efficiency is pitches per out. A perfectly efficient pitcher would have an efficiency rating of 1.00. We’ve got those numbers in every box score. And I already have 90% of those numbers in a spreadsheet.

Chart of the Day — Pitching Efficiency

This is a fairly simple measure. Alex Cobb, for example, has thrown 807 pitches over 53 1/3 innings this year. 807/(53 1/3*3)=5.04. As with any metric like this, sample size can be a problem. However, to look at two extremes, Alex Torres has thrown 1,326 pitches and his “efficiency” rating is pretty high (i.e., not good). Also very high is Lance Cormier, but we only have the 14 inning/259 pitch sample to look at.

Nevertheless, this is a pretty interesting measure. From this it would look as if the otherwise questionable Ryan Reid has more promise that I would have thought, whereas Brandon Gomes is not quite the star I thought he was. I’ll keep at it for the year to see if something jumps out.

To answer the question in the headline: At an efficiency rating of 4.89 for the game, you bet it was!

For you real sabermetricians out there: surely this has been looked at by you guys. What am I missing?

click on chart for larger view

Oddity of the day: A family down in Florida has put 300,000 votes into the major league all-star voting system.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thinking About the Obvious

Game 77, June 27, DBAP
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees 4, Durham Bulls 3 (10 innings)
Season: 42-35; Home Stand: 4-4
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Driving home last night I was thinking to myself that if Alex Cobb hadn’t gone in to pitch the 6th inning, or that if Jake McGee hadn’t gone in to pitch the 10th inning, things would have been different. I’m prone to that sort of BGOO (Blinding Glimpses of the Obvious). Of course, Cobb went one inning too long. Of course, McGee went one inning too long. The Bulls lost the game! The Bulls didn’t get a single hit between the 6th and 10th inning. When Brandon Guyer struck out with runners on first and second it was the first real chance the Bulls ever had to get ahead in the game.

Maybe I should stop saying nice things about Jose Lobaton. After yesterday’s love note he was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double, then struck out three times.

How did Cobb look? Pretty good. Glad to have him back in the rotation. Ten days off is tricky to deal with, and it showed in the 1st and 6th.

The oddities of the day just weren’t in the Bulls favor. Yankees shortstop Doug Bernier was walked in the 6th and scored on a Luis Nunez single. Bernier was hit by a Jake McGee pitch in the 10th and scored on a Luis Nunez double. Two freebies, two runs.

And then there was the appearance of Desmond Jennings running for Felipe Lopez after Lopez’ BB in the 10th. All the reports said it was Jennings’ right wrist that was hurt. How come he was wearing a brace on his left? Does anyone really care? Probably not, not even me.

Sigh. Let’s just sit back a listen to Dirk Hayhurst ramble on about life and baseball in his terrific interview with WUNC’s Frank Statio from a couple of days ago.

Chart of the Day — Runs Scored - Runs Allowed

After 77 games the Bulls have scored 19 more runs than their opponents. They are 42-35 on the season and are one game ahead of the Gwinnett Braves in the South Division of the International League. The Pythagorean expectation is 40-37. Differences between expectation and actual are usually attributed to two possible factors, luck and/or bullpens. Your choice. Looking better than they did in 2008 or 2009, not as good as 2010. Won the South Division all three of those years, though.

The Bulls’ “parent” club has played 79 games and has scored 29 more runs than their opponents. They are 44-35 on the year and are in third place in the American League East, two games behind Boston and 2-1/2 behind the Yankees. Their “expectation” is 43-36, so they are also doing a bit better than their expectation. In their case, they are a good bit below where they were at this time in the previous three years.

click on chart for larger view

Luna to Stone Crabs; Mayora to Bulls

Several sources are reporting that Omar Luna has been sent to the Charlotte Stone Crabs, the Rays’ A+ team in Port Charlotte, Florida. Coming up to the Bulls from the Montgomery Biscuits will be 25 year-old infielder Daniel Mayora.

Not on anyone’s prospect list, Mayora spent several years in the Colorado Rockies’ system until signing on with the Rays this year and being assigned to AA Montgomery. Primarily playing third base for the Biscuits, he’s bringing a very respectable line of .305/.388/.482 and a wOBA of .388 (best on the Biscuits) to AAA. He’s never played AAA ball, so could be interesting. Career stats are here. He was part of the big spreadsheet done on Rays' minor leaguers over on Rays Prospects a couple of days ago.

He recently played third base in the Southern League all-star game where he got some attention from the Montgomery Advertiser’s Stacy Long.

Of interest to trivialists is that he had a season with the Asheville Tourists (2007). That means he has played in the legendary McCormick Field, the place where Crash Davis hit his record-breaking home run (run that one down film trivia buffs!). Thus, if he hangs around long enough and the Bulls go back to the DAP, he will earn a place in obscure Durham Bulls/Bull Durham trivia history.

Quite a few errors on the season (10), so doesn’t look like the Bulls are getting a great glove.

On paper, he looks like an improvement in our infield, given Luna’s year to date. To keep track of Omar Luna, keep an eye on Jim Donten’s Blog, Claw Digest.

At a guess he will join the Bulls in Charlotte tonight.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Walking Before Running

Game 76, June 26, DBAP
Durham Bulls 11, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees 3
Season: 42-34; Home Stand: 4-3
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Indy Week

Before we get to the various oddities and quirks of last night’s game, I want to highlight the stellar performance of catcher Jose Lobaton. We pointed out over a month ago that he was having a good year, but that was mostly about his hitting. Last night he showed us how well he can play catcher with two very pretty plays in the 5th inning.

Lance Cormier started off the 5th (the score was 3-3 at the time) by walking Scranton outfielder Austin Krum, but when Krum attempted to steal second, Lobaton threw him out. I should note that Krum has 18 stolen bases this year (14 in AA). This was the first time he’d been caught stealing.

The next batter grounded out, but Mike Lamb doubled and Cormier walked Jesus Montero. Mike Ekstrom came on in relief of Cormier. In what I think was the key play of the game, a perfect Lobaton throw picked off Lamb on second. It helped that veteran Olmedo positioned himself perfectly to block the bag, but it was a superb play.

Should I mention that Mr. Lobaton also had 2 doubles, a walk and 3 RBI on the night? Bringing his numbers up to .313/.412/.547, team high OBP and slugging? Of course I should. Much as I’d hate to lose him, time for him to see what he can do for the Rays. Commentary over on Rays Prospects would seem to agree.

How about home plate umpire Mark Lollo? His eye last night was something like a wine taster’s palate, very careful, very judgmental. In other words, picky, picky, picky. He turned his head aside to spit out the bad stuff 64 times as he called 16 bases on balls (10 against the Yankees, 6 against the Bulls). Of the nine strikeouts recorded, only one was a strikeout looking (the Bulls’ Canzler in the 7th). That, my friends, is a very discerning eye. We may never see its like again.

Which leads me to a stat that’s gotta be killing the Yankees: They outhit the Bulls 10 to 8, but lost 11-3. Those walks (and a couple of hit batsmen), at the wrong time, are just killers. And then there’s the fact that the hits the Bulls did get were big ones: six doubles and a home run, only 1 single.

Felipe Lopez’ 2-run homer in the 2nd, followed by a walk and an RBI double by Lobaton put the Bulls ahead early, but the Yankees tied it up in the next two innings. It wasn’t until the 7th when the Yankee’s bullpen of Brackman and Schmidt completely unraveled after the first out (Anderson, who was also the last out of the inning, tough night for Leslie). BB, BB, HBP, double (2 runs scored), BB, double (2 runs score), K, double (2 runs score).

Two more runs in the 8th for the good guys.

I can’t say that Lance Cormier actually looked very good last night in his second try as a starter this year. Even if we want to continue blaming the ump for the walks called (5) he didn’t do a very good job keeping runners off the bases. Unless and until the Rays give the Bulls some help in the starting pitcher department, however, looks like Lance is our man.

Alex Cobb supposed to start today in the last game of this home stand. Then we start more of the 2011 schedule weirdness: Four away games (Charlotte), two home games (Gwinnett), two away games (Gwinnett), three home games (Norfolk), two away games (Norfolk), and then the All-Star break.

- - - - - 

Yesterday an interesting thread got started about noise at the DBAP. Adam Sobsey gave us a link to this June 7th New York Times story about the noise at professional sports games, especially in the NBA (however, if a ‘Canes game is any example, the NHL is right in line). Most fans quoted seemed to love the noise and, in spite of the risks, the owners apparently are deliberately designing the noise in (possibly to drive the really fat cats into their quieter skyboxes). Here’s a thought, though. NBA seats are notoriously empty these last few years. Is there a connection?

Lastly, just to get you ready for today’s game, here’s some interesting speculation about our favorite ex-Bulls shortstop (or should that be former Bull, ex-shortstop) B.J. Upton, Desmond Jennings, and Brandon Guyer.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Anderson Gives His Best

Game 75, June 25, DBAP
SWB Yankees 2, Durham Bulls 1
Season: 42-33; Home Stand: 3-3
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Indy Week

Leslie Anderson did his level best to win the game for the Bulls yesterday, but it wasn’t enough. In the 3rd inning he had a lead-off double and was sacrificed to third by J.J. Furmaniak. At the end of the inning he was still there. In the 5th inning he had another lead-off double and was again sacrificed to third by Furmaniak. At the end of that inning he was still on third base. In the 7th inning he took things into his own hands and hit a leadoff home run. But that wasn’t enough to carry the game. Valiant try on his part.

The rest of the offensive story was the nine other Bulls who also got left on base during the course of the game.

Meanwhile, Chris Bootcheck is emerging as a terrific starting pitcher for the Bulls. He’s going long into games (starts of 7, 7, and 7 1/3 innings) and with even a modest amount of run support would have won his third in a row last night.

A notable moment was Desmond Jennings’ beautiful catch against the centerfield wall in the 4th. He really is a terrific outfielder. He and Guyer make one heck of a team out there.

Chart of the Day — ERA

Not a lot of surprises here. Young Mr. Buente (currently on the DL) is distorting the chart a bit.
Alex Cobb’s last game was while with the Rays against the Marlins on June 18th. Seems to be yet another example of the Rays calling up a pitcher, breaking him, and sending him back (as with Brandon Gomes). In this case Mr. Cobb is reportedly going to pitch on Monday after recovering from flu-like symptoms.

The other day’s disastrous outing by Brian Baker and Ryan Reid are pushing them out. R. J. Swindle’s ERA is falling nicely, but with his extremely short appearances, it wouldn’t take much to push it back up.

Obviously the starters as a group (the Bulls have had 13 different ones) need to do better.

click on image for larger view

Cranky Old Geezer Alert!

Am I the only one who gets blown out of his seat by the noise when they crank up the PA volume for a large crowd? We sit right under one of the corner speakers and that may be it. They may be trying to get their noise out to the Diamond View seats.

I just don’t understand why it’s necessary to try to make 10,000 folks sound even louder than they already do. Am I just of a generation too old to have had his hearing destroyed at rock concerts? Am I alone in wanting to have a conversation with my friends between innings?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Trip to Dentist More Fun

Game 74, June 24, DBAP
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (New York) 14, Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay) 3
Season: 41-33; Home Stand: 3-2
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

First, a tip of the hat to all those who stayed to suffer through last night’s debacle. Must’ve been Yankee fans. I couldn’t sit through it.

Second, I tried really, really hard to find something clever to say, or something quirky, or maybe just something that would distract from the reality of the night’s pain.

I failed.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bulls Win in White

Game 73, June 23, Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Durham Bulls 4, Buffalo Bisons 1
Season: 41-32; Home Stand: 3-1
Wrap, Box,

Last night Alex Torres showed why he is so high on the prospect list and on the Rays 40-man roster. He earned all sorts of superlatives for his evening: most innings (7), most strikeouts (12), only 3 walks (trust me, with Mr. Torres, 3 walks definitely deserves an “only”). All that on 102 pitches, against 27 batters.

Brandon Gomes showed that he was human when he gave up his first home run of the year, which ran his ERA all the way up to 1.35. After the homer, he struck out the side.

The 8th/9th inning pairing of Gomes and Jake McGee again worked very well. McGee got his 8th save (albeit with a little help from his friends on the field).

Here’s two names that don’t often make it into the write-up: Leslie Anderson and Felipe Lopez. They picked up 2 RBIs each to account for all of the Bulls’ runs. If the pitching and defense had not been so terrific, however, the likely story of the day would be all the Bulls left on base. They left 11 of them stranded out there during the course of the game.

The Bulls were in their white jerseys last night and were rewarded by the biggest Thursday crowd in my memory, a near-capacity 9,291. On the other hand, maybe the persistently down economy is increasing the attractiveness of $1 hotdog night.

For those who may have missed my update yesterday, I’ve learned that the blue jerseys are much preferred by the Bulls players because of the material they are made from. With the heat we’ve had over much of this week, you’ve got to go with the players’ preference. That does not, of course, let the Bulls management off the hook to improve the legibility of the numbers or to add names (an effort I’m told is in progress).

Alex Cobb is not feeling well, so his scheduled start has been pushed back a day and Brian Baker will be on tonight against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. The current rotation consists of Baker, Bootcheck, Cormier, Hayhurst, and Torres. So once Cobb slips in someone will drop out, most likely Cormier.

If I heard Neil Solondz correctly, something like 20 New York and Scranton/Wilkes Barre Yankees are currently on their respective Disabled Lists [SWB, NYY]! What that might mean tonight is hard to tell, but that is surely a terrible run of bad luck (or simply only fair, depending on your attitude towards the Yankees). Nevertheless, these will be on the only four regular season games against the Yankee franchise in Durham this year, so it's now or never for Yankee fans.

Note that the four day visit is much shorter than that of the previous batch of Yankees who spent a couple of years in our fair state.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Yankees Are Coming!

Library of Congress, Union Prisoners Playing Ball at Salisbury, NC, ca 1863

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, the Triple-A affiliate of the New York team with the same name, are coming to town Friday, June 24th. However, it won’t be the first time that Yankees have played baseball in North Carolina. In fact, they played here at least as early as 1863, although the conditions probably weren’t quite as pleasant as the visitor’s locker room at the DBAP.

As recounted in a terrific article in the New York Times a few months back, in the 1860s neither cricket nor baseball (Massachusetts rules and/or New York rules) was popular in the south. Nevertheless, there were reports of games being played in Baltimore, Richmond, Washington, Savannah, and New Orleans.

As we see in this image dated 1863, we know for sure that in a prison camp in Salisbury, North Carolina, there were Yankees playing baseball.

Out of the Smoke, Into the Sun

Game 71, June 21, DBAP
Buffalo Bisons 9, Durham Bulls 1
Wrap, Box, Herald Sun

Game 72, June 22, DBAP
Durham Bulls 9, Buffalo Bisons 3
Season: 40-32; Home Stand: 2-1
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Let’s start this off with something really trivial, and yet something that takes away from the fan experience this year. I think maybe I’ve mentioned this problem before, but at the end of a post. This time it goes up front.

I got to the park a bit late for the day game because the Durham Freeway was essentially a massive parking lot. But at least the smoke had cleared out some from the day prior and I could breathe. The Bulls were on the field by the time I got to my seat so I scanned the field to get a sense of where Charlie had put his team for the game. At second base, for example, he has essentially three choices: Furmaniak, Lopez, or Luna. But I can’t tell who’s on second because the jersey NUMBERS ARE UNREADABLE and HAVE NO NAMES ON THEM!

On second thought, this really isn’t a trivial issue. I find it extremely frustrating to not be able to tell who’s playing in the game or getting ready to pitch, and I recognize quite a few of the players. How much more frustrating it must be for fans who have only the program to go by with very little hope of being able to put a number against a name.

The time has come for the Bulls to accept the fact that they made a bad decision. I agree that if you’re up close, say 10 or 20 feet away, they look OK. Otherwise, they are the worst shirts in the International League. Please, please do something about them. 

If you auction them off, I’ll even bid for Albernaz’. Maybe not very much, but I will bid.

[Update, 11:00 am, Thursday: I've been informed that, because of the mesh material they are made from, the players love the jerseys. In this heat that makes all the sense in the world to me. So we have to back off. The Bulls should be wearing what works best in these very early dog days. 

The players will have to get used to the fans not knowing who's on third until a new batch is obtained with names and more legible numbers.]

Maybe I’m just grumpy because I missed Tuesday night’s game. From all accounts, however, it wasn’t much of a game and the smoke from the fires down east made things difficult.

Yesterday afternoon Dirk Hayhurst started and he had trouble closing the deal. In every inning he'd get a quick two outs and then take more than a batter or two to finish up. The temperature and humidity was brutal. If that was the reason Montoyo took him out after four innings, that made a lot of sense to me.

The oddity of the afternoon was the way the ball seemed to be carrying. A bunch of both team’s hits that didn’t seem to be much coming off the bat, sailed on out to the warning track. A couple went in for doubles and couple, after missteps by fielders, were caught. Maybe an out wind, but that's rare at the DBAP. Probably something to do with what aviators call “density altitude”. Whatever it was, that condition did not account for the three home runs. Those were authoritative shots by the Bisons’ Pascucci, and the Bulls’ Lobaton and Johnson.

Another oddity was Ray Olmedo’s triple in his first at bat. He was also the first of two Bulls that got stranded on third in the early innings. In the 3rd, however, both of the Bulls that got to third base (Desmond Jennings and Brandon Guyer) scored. After the third it seemed it was a matter of Bulls relief pitching hanging on, which they did. Speaking of relief pitching, the masterful jobs of Brandon Gomes and Jake McGee need to be mentioned. Gomes had a 1-2-3 8th and McGee, after giving up a double in the 9th, struck out the next three batters, the last two looking.

After running through three left-handed pitchers, Buffalo brought on Dale Thayer with the bases loaded, one out in the 8th. At that point the Bulls were only ahead by a score of 4-3, so there was certainly a chance for a team who recently scored 16 runs in the last third of an inning a couple of nights ago. That is, a chance if they could get two more outs. Didn’t happen. Ray Olmedo singled in a run. A Brandon Guyer ground out brought in another run and left runners on second and third. Dan Johnson’s home run brought in three more.

Chart of the Day — The Hitters

The trend over the last 10 games is not very encouraging. On the other hand, the Bulls have a 7-3 record over the period. Notable is Robinson’s Chirinos’ improvement and the very high level that Brandon Guyer has achieved. Worried about Anderson.

Looking to the future? Here’s a piece over on DRaysBay that’s an analysis of the Montgomery Biscuits hitters. A couple are looking pretty good.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Efficient" Win

Game 70, June 20, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham, NC
Durham Bulls (Rays) 2, Buffalo Bisons (Mets) 1
Season: 39-31; Since Strickland’s Haircut: 5-1
Wrap, Box

Robinson Chirinos led off the 3rd with a double. One batter later Desmond Jennings hit a home run (his 10th). That was enough to win.

Chris Bootcheck got out of trouble twice and generally pitched a terrific seven innings. In the 1st things looked dire when the Bisons had runners on first and third with one out. But, for the first time in my memory, the old “fake to third base, throw to first base” pickoff gimmick actually worked. With a runner trapped between first and second, the runner on third broke for home and was thrown out by Dan Johnson. Just to keep our hearts pumping, the next batter got a single, so we were back to runners on first and third with two outs. Bootcheck got a K and didn’t look back until the 7th. In that inning two singles and a sacrifice put runners on second and third with one out. But Bootcheck, in what might have been the key moment in the game, struck out Bison catcher Mike Nickeas. The next batter flied out to end the inning.

Over in his blog, Durham starter Dirk Hayhurst recently offered a meditation on pitching efficiency. I’m sure that the sabermetricians have a metric for that idea, but I don’t know what it is. However, whatever a good metric might be, a simple one suffices to look at the terrific job that Mr. Bootcheck did last night. Over his seven innings he faced 27 batters and threw 89 pitches (3.29/batter). Compare that to his opponent, Dylan Owen, who in his basically very good six innings had to throw 96 pitches to 25 batters (3.84/batter). Of course, throwing fewer pitches is not necessarily a good thing if they’re crushing everything you throw. Nevertheless, safe to say that Bootcheck had an “efficient” outing.

First time I’ve seen Felipe Lopez at second base. J.J. Furmaniak made a couple of very pretty plays at third. The relief crew has now gone three games in row (9.1 innings) without allowing a run.

Dale Thayer (missing his moustache) came on for two innings for the Bisons. Have to admit he was looking better than the end of last year. Lots of pop to his fastball. That’s enough, Dale. You’ve shown us your stuff. Go back to the bullpen and stay there.

Other stuff:

Because of a couple rainouts, the Bulls are only going to play 142 regular season games this year. That means that today’s game is the exact midpoint of the season.

Remember that Elliot Johnson visited the Bulls when they were up in Allentown playing the Iron Pigs? Turns out his blog writing spouse, Nicole, was traveling with him.

Rays Index discusses Alex Cobb, Justin Ruggiano, and the return of Jeff Niemann to the Rays' lineup.

How about a totally impossible, unsubstantiated, unlikely, couldn't possibly happen speculation? Why not? We note that the modestly well-known Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter is on the disabled list and might (or might not) play a rehab game or two. We also note that the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees are in town later this week ...

Monday, June 20, 2011

Dale Thayer Back in Town

Dale Thayer had a bunch of years with the Durham Bulls and was mostly successful. Last year wasn't all that great and he went on to the Mets organization. At 30 years of age he is doing very well with the Bisons this year with an ERA of 2.86 in 28.1 innings (3-0, 4 saves). He's had a few appearances with the Mets (check out the video here) and is on their 40-man roster.

Here's the deal, Dale. Glad to have you back in town. Enjoy whatever was your favorite restaurant. Exchange pleasantries with your former teammates and coaches. Spend a lot of time in the bullpen. No need to make some big statement about how the Rays should have paid you a bunch of money to stay. OK?

[Note: Thanks to Anonymous for the heads up.]

Guyer Named International League Batter of the Week

Brandon Guyer, who made two superb plays in center field yesterday afternoon and got a key RBI in the 1st inning, was named the International League Batter of the Week today. Here's the text from the IL's press release.

Durham's Brandon Guyer didn't dominate any one category this week, but he turned in very solid numbers across the board to help the Bulls stay atop the IL South Division. Over the six games played this week, Guyer hit .409 with a double, a triple, a homer, 7 RBI (3rd in the IL), six runs scored (T-1st), and a pair of stolen bases (T-2nd). Guyer produced two three-hit games during the week, including a 3-for-5, 4-RBI, 3-run effort Friday night at Gwinnett. Guyer has been one of the League's best hitters this season, as evidenced by his .323 average (5th in the IL), .540 slugging percentage (4th), and 47 runs scored (T-4th). 
25-year-old Brandon Guyer was the Chicago Cubs Minor League Player of the Year in 2010 with Double-A Tennessee. The Southern League All-Star was traded to Tampa Bay in the offseason as part of the deal for Matt Garza. Guyer is a native of West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Great Road Trip

Game 69, June 19, Coolray Field
Durham Bulls 2, Gwinnett Braves 1
Season: 38-31; Trip: 3-1; Since Scott Strickland’s Haircut: 4-1
Wrap, Box

Boy was it fun to see Dan Johnson hit the winning home run yesterday (watched it on MiLB.TV). After the Braves walked him four times the day before, sure was odd that he’d get a good pitch on a 3-2 count. But he did and that was enough.

The real oddity of the game was seeing Chris Carter come to the plate in a Gwinnett Braves uniform. I have to say that I can’t figure out what advantage it was for him to leave the Rays organization for the Braves. Must be something about either the National League or the Braves’ wallets that he liked. He was 0-2 as the DH. I won’t take back the nice things I said about him. Nevertheless, if not a PCL team, couldn’t he at least have signed with someone other than Gwinnett?

Brian Baker was much better than his last time out, and the relief corps continued their stalwart performance, only two runs in the last six games (31 innings). A interesting tidbit from the relievers is that R.J. Swindle hasn’t given up a hit in his 10 appearances since May 26, but then he’s only accumulated a total of 7.2 innings in those 10 appearances.

Have not heard who, if anyone, will be moved to make room for Alex Cobb. But broadcaster Neil Solondz did say that Lance Cormier was being moved into the starting rotation and Jay Buente was moving to the bullpen. So I’m going to have to guess that Ryan Reid is on his way back to Montgomery.

Chart of the Day — South Division Standings

Raht purty as they say back home.

Coming up: The Buffalo Bisons, the Mets affiliate, who crushed Norfolk yesterday 16-2.

[Update: The Bulls have finessed the whole issue of what to do about Cobb's return by putting Jay Buente on the disabled list]

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Two Good Starts; Two Wins

Game 37, June 17, Coolray Field, Lawrenceburg, Georgia
Durham Bulls 8, Gwinnett Braves 5
Wrap, Box

Game 38, June 18
Durham Bulls 8, Gwinnett Braves 1
Season: 37-31; Last 10: 5-5; Trip: 2-1
Wrap, Box

I missed most of Friday's game, but the Dirk Hayhurst interview was instructive. Not making jokes, but instead talking about his pitching and then the early run support helping him out.

And then there was Desmond Jennings and Ray Olmedo getting on base a lot for Brandon Guyer to hit them in. The three of them pretty much kept that up into Saturday's game. Decent pitching, solid top-of-inning hitting, what more can you ask for?

On Saturday Alex Torres got his first win since May 1 (counting last night, he's had eight starts in that period — 1 win, 3 losses, 4 no-decisions). After his five innings, the relief corps of Delaney, Swindle, and De La Rosa had a perfect 4 innings. They did not let a single runner get on base. In fact, from the 3rd inning on, the Braves only had two men on base.

The oddity of the evening has to be Dan Johnson's four walks, one for a RBI. For a guy who's only hit one home run since he came back to AAA, they sure are being careful about how they pitch to him.

With the win the Bulls pull one game ahead of the Braves in the South Division and have one more game, today at 2:00, before coming home. Begins to look like we'll be back and forth with these guys all season. Much like the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (Phillies), the Gwinnett Braves seem to suffer a bit by being close to their parent club. The Braves have had 32 different position players on the roster this year (the Bulls have had 16).

Speaking of roster changes, time to speculate about the return of Alex Cobb. He pitched his last game for the Rays last night and did very, very well as reported by the St. Petersburg Times and Tampa Tribune. But now he's coming back to Durham (hooray!).

So, who gets thrown off the bus? Or at least sent back to the bullpen?

Only one of the current starting pitching crew has a recent history as a starting pitcher. In fact, only two of them (Hayhurst and Torres) began the year as a starter. So among Baker, Hayhurst, Bootcheck, Buente, and Torres who would you send back to the pen? Or off the bus entirely. Note that in the pen you've only have four who are not on the 40-man, Swindle, Delaney, Reid, and Cormier.
Let's see if the charts are any help. First a look at FIP, then at WHIP.

At this point, of course, the Rays have long since made their decision. It'll be interesting to see who, as they are packing out of their hotel this morning, gets told, "Don't worry about what time the bus leaves for Durham after the game. You're not going to be on it. Here's a ticket to [Montgomery/???]. Good luck."

Don't want to finish up without pointing out a couple of good pieces over at Rays Prospects. The first is a summary of how the Bulls did last week. The second is an analysis of the pitching prospects in the Rays system. Four current Bulls are on the list.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Bulls Drop Out of First

Game 66, June 17, Coolray Field, Lawrenceville, GA
Gwinnett Braves (Atlanta) 10; Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay) 2
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

In a before-the-game interview Charlie Montoyo talked a lot about the importance of starting pitching.

The Bulls were five pitches into the game when his point was made. It only took those five pitches for Jay Buente to issue his first walk of the night. That runner got to second on a balk and to third on a ground out. Singles, a double and homer, two errors at third (one re-judged a hit later on), and the Bulls were down 6-0 in the 1st inning.

I’ve commented on Mr. Buente before. It looks as if a lot of time off is not helping. He last pitched on June 9. Maybe go on a shorter rotation (for another team)?

If Jay Buente wasn’t any help, what about returning third baseman, Felipe Lopez? Nope, he mishandled two grounders in that same 1st inning and was 0-2 at bat.

Is there any light? Well, sort of, if not for Bulls fans. The starting Braves pitcher, rehabbing Atlanta Brave Brandon Beachy had this to say:

“It was a lot fun.”

Elsewhere it looks like that in addition to Mr. Buente, the vaunted Rays management may be about to get bitten back back more directly. Remember Cory Wade who was a Bull a couple of days ago? I was, no surprise, wrong, or at least didn't keep track. He’s not pitching for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He just got his first win in his second appearance as a full-fledged New York Yankee.

Is there any good news? Well, yes there is. As Chris D pointed out a couple of minutes ago, Matt Moore, a rising young Rays prospect over with the Montgomery Biscuits (AA), pitched a complete game no-hitter yesterday. Stacy Long has the story here, here, and here. We’ll probably see Mr. Moore before the end of the season. Hope so.

In the meantime, the Bulls are out of first place in the South Division for the first time since April 15.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Chris Carter Released

I guess we should have seen this coming. When Cory Wade was released, reportedly in advance of exercising his opt-out, we could have gone through the roster and done some guessing. Very likely the official press knew who had opt-out contracts, but, to maintain their access to the players, declined to mention it. And in any case Chris Carter’s departure could simply be a matter of making room for Felipe Lopez. But that isn’t what the note from the Bulls reads like. This reads like Carter exercised an opt-out clause.

All I have seen so far is this email from the Bulls:

6/16: Chris Carter granted his release, Felipe Lopez outrighted to Durham

As the table from a couple of days ago shows, Mr. Carter had an above-average bat. Furthermore, his 46 RBI were a substantial fraction of all the runs scored by the Bulls this year (309, 15%). He was second in RBIs in the International League and had 8 more than his nearest teammate, Russ Canzler. He also led the Bulls in home runs with 10.

Have to say that I’m worried for several reasons:

  • As with Cory Wade, we could see him in the uniform of a competitor in a couple of days.
  • Unless Dan Johnson gets his groove back, the Bulls don’t have a single hitter the opposition needs to be afraid of.
  • Doesn’t seem a fair trade for Lopez.

That said, it certainly is not Chris Carter’s fault that he and the Rays could not come to terms. We wish him well and hope that he catches on with either a major league team or with an organization whose AAA team is in the Pacific Coast League. Thanks for the runs and a couple of thrills. Good luck!

Day Off Odds and Ends

The Bulls had a day off yesterday, so no game to talk about. Lacking that, time to pick up a few odds and ends.

Let's start with a view of the DBAP in 1997. Check out that skyline. Just the jail pokes up and there's no Blue Monster, no Diamond View buildings, no DPAC, no north parking garage.
  • Felipe Lopez passed through waivers and will be coming back. No word on who might come off the current roster (if anyone) to make room.
  • For Bulls fans who think that the Hudson Valley Renegades are a myth and exist only as a place to hide Durham Bulls over-roster players, here's their roster and their website.
  • Why was the weather so beautiful last Tuesday night? Because head groundskeeper Scott Strickland invoked the gods of baseball and suffered through a deeply personal loss so that we would be dry. Thanks, Scott!
  • To follow up on promotional gimmicks, the Charlotte Stone Crabs may have crossed some kind of invisible line. At any rate, if you've got a really hairy back, and you want to get rid of the hair, here's your chance.
  • For the sabermetricians among you, here's a DRaysBay writer's look at how the team is doing. He missed some of the roster changes, but this is a terrific bit of analysis.
  • Some are thinking that Scott Kazmir, last seen in Durham in June 2009 pitching a rehab start, is about to be released from the Angels.
  • Justin Ruggiano gets a look from the St. Pete Times.
  • Dirk Hayhurst hints that all may not be well with some players in some locker rooms.
    "In the big leagues right now, there are pot smokers who mix pain and sleeping pills with alcohol, and no one says a word."
  • Down in Gwinnett, they've also got rehabbers going back and forth. Even if it's only a taxi ride from Lawrenceville to Atlanta, it's got to be a hassle schlepping your gear around.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Pretty Night, Pretty Game

Wool E. Bull helps the Army celebrate its birthday

Jeff Neimann, back in town for a brief visit, warms up

Game 65, June 14, DBAP
Durham Bulls 1, Norfolk Tides 0
Season: 35-30; Home Stand: 2-2; Streak: W2
Wrap, Box, Herald-SunIndy Week

There was a lot to like about Tuesday night’s game. Jeff Niemann’s pitching in his rehab start was good enough, even if he did let six runners on base over the five innings he pitched. Nevertheless, no runs were scored and he left probably thinking that he was on his way back to St. Petersburg. No reason not to, I’d guess. And, to be honest, I’d rather have Alex Cobb back.

What I really liked, though, was Brandon Guyer showing off his speed again. That was mentioned yesterday and when he was given a chance in the 4th inning he put on another show. With two outs, the otherwise brilliant Tides pitcher, Mitch Atkins, hit Guyer, who became the first Bulls baserunner of the game. Guyer stole second and then his speed was enough to get him home on a Dan Johnson single (the first Bulls hit of the game) to the DBAP’s shallow left field. That was enough to win it for the Bulls.

Also very likable were the two double plays, always welcome.

Then there was Charlie Montoyo playing around with his bullpen. When Niemann hit his pitch count in the 5th, R.J. Swindle came in for two batters, one to finish the 5th, another to start the 6th. Then Dane De La Rosa saw four more to get through the 7th. Brandon Gomes came in (second night in a row) for the 8th to strike out the side. Jake McGee, also doing a two-in-a-row thing, came on in the 9th and, in a replay of Monday night, gave up two singles to put runners on first and second (on Monday the runners reached on errors). Catcher Jose Lobaton then made what had to be the key play of the game by pouncing on a bunt attempt and throwing out the runner trying to advance from second to third. Dan Johnson was playing third base last night and he did his first baseman thing by stretching for the throw. Very, very pretty. McGee then proceeded to strike out the next two batters. Game over.

The Bulls have a day off before heading to Gwinnett. That will be interesting. The Braves caught up with the Bulls for the lead of the South Division last Thursday and the two teams have been tied for first ever since.

Can’t let this series go by without mentioning how much fun it was to listen to Scott Pose work with Neil Solondz in the broadcast booth. For those who don’t know, Pose has a lot of experience as a professional ballplayer with some time in the majors and several years in AAA as an outfielder. He knows the game. More important, he can talk about it and help listeners see the game. Even more important, he is an alum of the University of Arkansas, as am I, which of course does not influence these comments in the least.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wade To Scranton/Wilkes-Barre

Well, this is not good news. Cory Wade has been signed by the Yankees and assigned to Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. [Thanks for the heads up, Cork].

That means we could see him later this month. Make that will see him later this month.

That's More Like It

Game 64, June 13, DBAP
Durham Bulls 4, Norfolk Tides 1
Season: 34-30; Home Stand: 1-2
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Chris Bootcheck showed us how starting pitchers do their jobs last night. At 32, he is the senior member of the team and even if he has not been a starting pitcher for several years, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how it’s supposed to be done. Seven innings, only three hits, no walks, a very efficient 81 pitches.

Nice job, with one exception, a home run by the Tides’ Ryan Hughes. That was a puzzle. If there’s a hitter in the International League that the Bulls should have a book on it would be Ryan Rhyne Hughes, who is both a former Bull and has been with the Tides for a couple of years. Hughes hit the first pitch he saw in the 5th inning over the right field fence. That’s what Hughes does. Not smart to give him a hittable first pitch.

We also saw Brandon Gomes in the 8th inning. That was nice. Mr. Gomes started the year with the Bulls. Tampa Bay called him up, broke him, and sent him back for repair. He had not pitched since May 30th, but he looked OK last night. Jack McGee had a thrilling 9th inning with his third baseman, Russ Canzler, putting two runners on base for him before he could get the save.


According to the Herald-Sun, along with his lineup card, Charlie Montoyo sent Tides’ Manager Gary Allenson a baseball, telling him that he found it out in center field. (if that makes no sense, see yesterday’s post.)

J.J. Furmaniak not only hit the bull to win a steak, with that home run and a double he got above the Mendoza Line. For the first time this year, every active Durham Bulls player is above the .200 mark. (Two players on the Rays’ roster are below .200.)

Mixed review for Russ Canzler’s night. Terrific at the plate and on base, three singles, two stolen bases, one run scored. Awful at third base, three errors.

Brandon Guyer, playing center field last night, really showed off his speed. A triple in the DBAP is a rare thing (only three by Durham Bulls this year), but he pulled it off in the 3rd inning. Then he ran out a bunt back to the pitcher for his second hit, and singled then stole second in the 8th (OK, he got caught stealing in the 6th). One RBI, one run scored. Great night.

Today is the U.S. Army’s 236th birthday and the 82d Airborne is bringing some people and stuff up from Ft. Bragg to put on a show.

A bit of historical trivia: you will note that the U.S. Army is older than the U.S. That’s because we trace our lineage back to a resolution of the Continental Congress to raise “ten companies of rifleman” on this day in 1775.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Whimpering About the Pitching

Game 63, June 12, DBAP
Norfolk Tides 11, Durham Bulls 5
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

The Bulls were creeping back into the game until the 9th inning, which started out with the Bulls behind by only one run, 5 to 6. But Mike Ekstrom blew up and the Tides scored five more runs. Tides Manager Gary Allenson’s egregious delay of the game [DRR: Thanks for the link] as he crawled through the fence searching for baseballs in center field just added to the pain.

Before I get to my rant about Bulls starting pitching, lets make a few guesses about what’s happening on the field. Last night saw Russ Canzler in left field for the second time in three days. Although it’s likely that this is just Charlie Montoyo finally getting back to his routine of moving players around a lot (not seen as much this year as in previous times), it’s possible that he’s anticipating the return of Felipe Lopez to the roster. Hate to admit it, but Russ does not seem any to be getting any better at third and yet he still has the hot bat. Another piece to the puzzle is that Desmond Jennings could be called up just about any day and with that could come a hole in the outfield.

Also need to mention that after botching a play on Saturday, Brandon Guyer saved a run with a nifty catch and quick release of a fly ball in the 1st inning.

Cory Wade is gone from the bullpen. Turns out he had an “opt-out” contract. That is, the contract he signed before spring training had a clause that said something along the lines of, “If X doesn’t happen by Y date, then I don’t have to play for you any more.” Too bad. In 21 appearances he had some of the best stats of any pitcher on the team (best ERA - 1.23, best WHIP - 1.09, third best FIP - 2.52). His place has been taken by Lance Cormier.

Now (sigh), let us discuss the state of Bulls starting pitching. First a bit of deep historical analysis. For that let’s go back all of 20 games, May 23. The pitcher that day (a loss to Columbus) was Alex Cobb. He’s with the Rays at the moment.

In those 20 games the Bulls won 9 and lost 11. The starting pitchers went six innings or more only seven times and were credited with a grand total of five wins (out of the nine games won). Starters were tagged for seven of the nine losses. The chart below, which is the game-by-game cumulative ERAs, shows the trend over those games. The team start point, 3.94, wasn't all that great. But then it drifts upward to 4.03 by last night, dragged there by the starting pitchers. They go from 3.87 to 4.42. It isn’t pretty.

Cobb will come back some day, but he’s joining a really shaky bunch.

Is there any help down in Montgomery? Probably not. The Biscuits have two pitchers with ERAs south of 4.00 (Matt Moore and Shane Dyer), but the Rays are famously cautious regarding pitcher development. Are the Bulls going to have to suck it up, much like having to wear those ugly blue jerseys? Looks that way. About their only option is to go trolling around the independent leagues.

Is it time for new pitching coach Neil Allen to start earning his pay? You bet.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

It's Saturday, Must Be Durham

Game 62, June 11, Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Norfolk Tides (Orioles) 5, Durham Bulls (Rays) 4
Season: 33-29; Last 10: 3-7; Home Stand: 0-1
Wrap, BoxIndy Week

Ride all night on the bus. Get off. Suit up in ill-fitting, but very cool, old-fashioned uniforms. Watch the rain for three hours. Step on the field some time after 10:00 pm.

Do we really have any confidence in the fellow on the mound? In the last seven starts he’s got three losses (counting last night/this morning) and four no-decisions. Still, his numbers are only slightly less awful (ERA 4.24) than the awful starting pitcher numbers (ERA 4.32). The Rays, indeed all of baseball, are much more tolerant of potential left-handed talent. So we can only hope that time, coaching, experience, maturity, etc. lends a hand. Alex Torres is ours for the year.

The goat of the game, however, was Brandon Guyer, who misjudged/lost in the lights a Ryan Hughes fly ball in the 5th. That double kept the Tides ahead of the Bulls and (from my bleary-eyed seat in front of my television) made a big difference.

For the first time in my memory (notoriously flaky, I should point out) a Bulls pitcher has appeared three games in a row. R.J. Swindle has pitched 1/3 of an inning (4 batters) in each of the last three games.

DRR mentioned in the comments last night, and several sources are reporting, that with the return of Elliot Johnson to the roster the Rays have designated for assignment Felipe Lopez. If no team claims him (and none did last time), and he accepts the assignment, he could be coming back to Durham.

How are the hitters doing? The last time we looked was May 26. Again, the table is sorted by wOBA. As can be seen, over the two weeks for almost all our hitters, the numbers are down. The only hitter who’s significantly up is Robinson Chirinos, but he had quite a ways to go.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Six Innings, One Hit, Shutout

Game 61, June 10, Coca-Cola Park, Allentown, Pennsylvania
Durham Bulls 6, Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs 0
Season: 33-28; Trip: 2-2
Wrap, Box, The Morning Call

What a difference good pitching makes. Dirk Hayhurst’s six inning, one hit performance last night was among the best of any Bulls pitcher this year. Only a similar six inning, one hit game by Brian Baker back on April 8th is slightly better (one more K, one less BB). Sure would be great to add another reliable starter to the list.

How weird is that? Hayhurst and Baker, the premier Durham Bulls starting pitchers!

Obviously the whole pitching crew did a great job. Only four singles and four walks (plus a miscue by Hayhurst) allowed anyone on base at all. I’m a bit surprised that Cory Wade was touched for three singles in his stint, but no harm done.

What an odd series: 9-1, 0-6, 5-6, 6-0. Gwinnett stayed up with Durham winning a 14 inning marathon in Toledo, but they are on an unsustainable (I hope) seven-game win streak.

Russ Canzler started in left field last night with J.J. Furmaniak at third. That might be a good place for him. Did not help his hitting, though. He was 0-4 with a walk. The rest of the team was looking good. Most notable were Chris Carter, who got things going with a two-run homer in the 1st and a RBI in the 4th, and Desmond Jennings, who went 3 for 5 with two RBIs.

Rehabbing Elliot Johnson started at shortstop, got a couple of hits, and scored a run. He is apparently on his way back to Baltimore. I think someone has to be turned loose from the Rays’ active roster. But could be wrong. Who? Don’t know. I’m a bit surprised we’re not seeing any speculation among the Rays’ bloggers.

Also love pointing out that the Bulls pulled off four double plays last night, three of them started by Leslie Anderson (actually, Anderson got one of them all by himself by grabbing a line drive and doubling the baserunner on first). We’ve seen him make a couple of good plays at home. Has he emerged as a quality first baseman? Maybe so. He’s certainly a better all-around player than when he first came up from Montgomery last year.

Dan Johnson had a good trip. He may be getting back into his groove. He was 6 for 15 with 5 doubles and 4 BBs. His BA is up to .250 now (and his wOBA is up to .361).

Norfolk@DBAP@7pm. Alex Torres to start. Wonder which Torres will be pitching? The strikeout king or the base on balls specialist?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tough Loss

Game 60, June 9, Coca-Cola Park, Allentown, PA
Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs 6; Durham Bulls 5
Season: 32-28; Trip: 1-2
Wrap, Box

I’m not quite sure what Mr. Buente was supposed to bring to the table when the Rays claimed him off waivers a couple of weeks ago. The history of this 27 year-old is as a reliever, but with the Bulls he’s been a starter. He lost his first two games and then, with an extra day’s rest, he started his third last night. Not pretty. If not for the Bulls’ big 6th inning, he would have been on the hook for his third loss.

As careful readers know, I’m not the most knowledgeable guy regarding the business side of baseball, but seems a waste for Buente to be taking up space on the Rays’ 40-man and the Bulls rosters. Pretty sure if they DFA the guy then he goes back to the Marlins. OK with me.

Speaking of pitchers, does anyone remember Brandon Gomes? He appeared in 11 games for the Bulls and did a great job for the team. Then in early May he went up to the Rays and made 10 appearances there, the last on May 30 (note: there were 9 days between his last two appearances with the Rays). The transaction registry showed him coming back to the Bulls at the end of May and Neil has mentioned him a couple of times. But no Brandon, so far.

And even more about pitchers: Last night Jake McGee came on in the bottom of the 7th, bases loaded, two outs. One pitch, liner to Dan Johnson, and he’s out of the inning. In the 8th he threw 14 pitches to set the side down 1, 2, 3. But then in the 9th, score tied 5-5, Lehigh Valley’s John Mayberry got his first home run of the year on McGee’s second pitch. Odd bookends to a losing night.

I worry a lot about turmoil in the Bulls lineup, but looks like the Iron Pigs are even worse off. The Bulls have had 16 different players come to bat this year, the Iron Pigs have had 31! The pitching side is more equitable. The Bulls have had 22 different pitchers (including two position player appearances), the Iron Pigs have had 18.

Last night’s loss puts the Bulls into a tie for first place in the South Division of the International League. Gwinnett has won its last six games and caught up while the Bulls have been flailing around a bit.

Elliot Johnson was back in a Bulls uniform last night. He’s on a rehabilitation assignment (knee) and was in the designated hitter slot. 0 for 5. Would have been nice for at least one of the guys who came to bat in the 6th with runners on second and third with none out to get a hit. Elliot (along with J.J. Furmaniak and Desmond Jennings) missed his chance to be a hero.

Justin Ruggiano is reportedly happy these days. Guess it has more to do with my personal history than his, but I’d find Maddon’s patronizing comments hard to take. Glad that Justin apparently doesn’t see it that way. Hope he keeps it up. Up in our part of the stands we always thought he was a potential major leaguer, but couldn’t figure out where he fit with the Rays.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Feast Or Famine

Game 59, June 8, Coca-Cola Park, Allentown, PA
Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs 6, Durham Bulls 0
Season: 32-27; Last 10: 5-5; Trip: 1-1
Wrap, Box, Bacon and Biscuits, The Morning Call

I sure wish we could blame rehabbing Jeff Neimann for this one. He did, after all, give up four runs in the first three innings. But, as one of our former leaders of the free world once said, "That would be wrong."
The reality is that the Bulls had their worst night at bat of the year, only three hits, and suffered their second shut-out of the season. With a brief nod to the Iron Pigs pitching, lets move on to the interesting/quirky stuff.

Broadcaster Neil Solondz reported that for his rehab start Jeff Niemann was using "major league baseballs". I didn't know that there was a difference, unless it was the printing on the cowhide (they don't use horsehide any more). And I tried to figure out how that happened. Here's my guess: About an hour before game time a kid shows up at the gate looking like your typical pizza delivery guy—tattoos, piercings, baseball cap on backwards, driving a clapped out Honda Civic. The difference is that the sign on the top of the car and the stitching on his hat says Rawlings. Instead of pizzas he's carrying several of those flat boxes of baseballs. He raps on the gate and reads from the ticket. "Baseballs for Mr. Niemann. Says right here I gotta deliver them personal to the umpires."

Of the three hits, all three were doubles (one by Brandon Guyer, two by Dan Johnson).

The Iron Pigs are, as far as I know, the only other team in minor league baseball with a fan-driven blog, Bacon and Biscuits. I did an interview with them yesterday. As you will note, I made one of my spectacularly wrong predictions.

The News and Observer ran an interesting piece on Russ Canzler this morning.

Over on the Rays website there was a item about the depth of the Rays system and some of the players who have come up this year.

Some Rays fans are getting really antsy to see Desmond Jennings. Here's an item that lays out some of the obscure financial reasoning behind keeping him in Durham. It even includes a countdown clock.

Last night former Bull Reid Brignac did his best Ozzie Smith imitation. Pretty play. Left out the backflip, though.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Canzler Crushes One; Hobbs Strikes Out Whammer

Game 58, June 7, Coca-Cola Park, Allentown, PA
Durham Bulls (Rays) 9, Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (Phillies) 1
Season: 32-26; Trip: 1-0
Wrap, Box, The Morning Call (Allentown, PA), Bacon and Biscuits

Russ Canzler's grand slam in the very first inning set the stage last night for a much more Durham Bulls-like game than we've seen in recent days. Good hitting (13 hits) and good pitching (0 earned runs) made it an all-around great game.

Every Bull in the lineup except Chris Carter got at least one hit. A bit of a puzzle why Dan Johnson is getting so many walks. Guess it's just his reputation. He drew three of them last night (and scored three of the Bulls' runs).

Brian Baker has emerged as our only reliable starter (unless and until Alex Cobb comes back). He's won five of his last six starts. His ERA is still up there (4.80), but that has a lot to do with a three-inning, nine-run disaster against Louisville last month.

Former Bull Jeff Neimann is scheduled to start tonight. Too bad we're going to miss that. He is supposed to get at least two rehab starts before going back to the Rays, so maybe we'll see him on the mound against Norfolk this weekend. No word on his pitch count limitation, but if it isn't too low, it could be good news for the Bulls starters.

Marc Topkin is reporting that Elliot Johnson is going to get in a couple of rehab games with the Bulls. Elliot hurt his knee running the bases a couple of weeks ago. Topkin says Thursday and Friday. If so, that means we won't get to see him (and he won't get to spend a day at his home in Durham).

Alex Cobb got his first big league win last night against the Angels. Congrats to him. Still likely he'll be coming back after Niemann comes off the DL. Hope so. has a nice article on Desmond Jennings. He's having a good year. Guessing he won't be with us much beyond the All-Star break, if until then.

About the headline —

Careful readers will recall a discussion regarding the music from The Natural early last month. Yesterday I sent in a query/comment to the Bulls regarding that music clip and discovered that up in the booth at the DBAP there is an even more serious baseball movie trivia geek than myself. I got a very nice note back pointing out that early in the film the Robert Redford character, Roy Hobbs, is a pitcher and he goes up against Whammer. Just as Redford is winding up for the third strike, guess what? Or, take a look/listen for yourself about 3 minutes into the clip here

So I regretfully have to concede that it is appropriate to play the music from that clip when the Bulls need a strikeout. In our (that would be my and Chris D's) defense, one has to admit that the clip is very similar to the music about 4 minutes into this clip. 

Did I waste a whole lot of time on that bit of trivia? You bet—and I'll never get it back. But I did get to watch some great movie clips.