Saturday, August 31, 2013

Goodbye to Gwinnett

Season: 85-54; Games Remaining: 4
Wrap, Box

Mike Montgomery had an awful 6th inning, but he came back for a decent 7th.  Maybe next year. I’m hoping the Bulls are able to skip his turn in the rotation for the playoffs or, if must use him, Charlie Montoyo has the hook ready.

Craig Albernaz reached on an error and got his third stolen base on the year. He also knocked in the Bulls only run with a double in the 9th.

Today the Bulls will have trekked to Norfolk to finish a game that was suspended in the 2nd inning a week ago Friday. Game time is 5:05. I expect if we happen to be listening we will be educated on exactly how the plate is set in those circumstances. In particular, I think Chris Gimenez was at bat and rumor has it he is about to be, or already has been, called up to Rays. Then they will play a seven-inning game to finish out the evening.

Pitchers have not yet been announced for either team. These four games are absolutely crucial to the Tides playoff hopes.

Outside the game —
  • More transactions. Will make a separate post in a few hours.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Just Three Transactions Today ... So Far

As was written this morning, and in some detail yesterday, lots of movement. Three  more transactions today that directly affect the Bulls, one that’s off on a tangent, and one that’s just interesting.

  • Left-Hander Enny Romero is coming up from Montgomery and will start at least one game for the Bulls (Monday). He has done very well this year in Montgomery.
  • RHRP Brandon Gomes was called up to the Rays. That had to be expected.
  • Catcher Craig Albernaz came off the temporary inactive list.
  • RHP Jake Odorizzi was assigned to the Montgomery Biscuits. Long-time Bulls fans will recall all the players who used to go off to "Hudson Valley." This smells like the same thing. Odorizzi joins Jeff Beliveau on the Biscuits’ roster, but surely they both are in Oakland hanging out with the Rays.

The Bulls now have only 11 pitchers, but have 13 position players, plus three on major league rehab (Guyer, Scott, and Moore).

The interesting non-Bulls-related transaction concerns former Bull Dan Johnson. When he became available there was an immediate interest from at least one Rays’ blogger. But Johnson has signed with Baltimore, which means the Bulls could be pitching to him tomorrow. He might be a help to Norfolk in their wild card run. Or a help to Baltimore in their wild card run. Or both.

Shelley Duncan Triples!

Season: 86-53; Games Remaining: 5
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

Former Durham Bull Matt Moore had his problems in his rehab appearance last night. Fortunately for Rays fans (and of interest to Bulls fans) Eric Single has put up a terrific article over at MLB. com about the outing. Moore is off to Oakland to rejoin the Rays.

Also fortunately for Bulls fans, after a fair amount of confusion and discombobulation in the 1st inning, a bases-clearing triple by Cole Figueroa in the 7th set up the win for the Bulls. Typically for this year’s Bulls, all the runners on base were batters who had gotten free passes. If the other teams in the league have learned nothing else this year, you’d think they would have learned not to give the Bulls freebies.

Kirby Yates had some troubles in the 9th, but pulled it off by striking out two in a row after 2 runs scored.

A game highlight was Shelley Duncan’s RBI triple in the 3rd inning. As reported by Duncan himself, it was his first triple since 2009! I wasn’t listening at the time, so find it hard to imagine how Duncan, who is not exactly known for his speed, got to third base.
Outside the game —
  • No roster moves today! Yet. But at a minimum Moore is probably headed back to the Rays.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Eight Transactions in Four Days; More Coming?

The last few days has seen exceptional movement to/from the Bulls’ roster — and no doubt it will keep on keeping on. I thought it would be nice to try to summarize what’s happened since the arbitrary date of August 25th, just four days ago. Players marked with an asterisk are on the Tampa Bay 40-man roster. For the most part I’m not going to bother with links, unless I think there’s a particularly juicy bit of gossip connected to the move. Sorted by date of transaction.
  • Outfielder *Brandon Guyer has recovered from his broken finger very nicely. He is officially on a rehab assignment. We don’t know how long that clock can tick, but until the alarm goes off he doesn’t count against any rosters. He played in his first game August 25. Has been in three games, 15 for 34 with 2 doubles, 1 triple, 3 BBs.
  • Outfielder Jason Bourgeois accepted his assignment back to the Bulls. He is not on the Rays 40-man, and is on the Bulls’ active roster. His first game was August 27. 2 games, 3 for 9, 1 double, 2 BBs.
  • RHP Cory Wade was released on Aug 27. Possibly had an opt-out contract and didn’t see opportunities with the Rays.
  • Outfielder/DH *Luke Scott was assigned to the Bulls on a rehab assignment. He doesn’t count against the Bulls roster either. No idea how long he will be with the Bulls. He played in a game last night (Aug 28). 1 for 4. Odd choice of photo. Done know what team hat that could be. Trivia: Same home town as recently-honored Chipper Jones (DeLand, Florida).
  • *RHP Jake Odorizzi called up to Rays. Pitched for them today (Aug 29). Got zero run support in a loss. Up in place of Rays’ Jeremy Hellickson about whom little is being said.
  • *LHP Jeff Beliveau was called up and is reportedly on his way back having, again, not appeared in a game.That will be the third time he’s been called up this year. He has yet to throw a ball for the Rays.
  • *LHP Matt Moore is on a rehab assignment and expected to pitch tonight for the Bulls.
That’s what we know for sure. All things added up, and counting Beliveau and Moore, the Bulls have 13 pitchers on hand and 14 position players. Three of those are in some form of rehab assignment, so by the books, the Bulls are one player short of full strength (and Jeff Beliveau isn’t really with the Bulls, yet).

Now, how about the rumors?
  • One blogger thinks Tim Beckham is due to be called up within a few days.
  • Adam Sobsey is tweeting that Montgomery Biscuits LH starting pitcher *Enny Romero could be coming to pitch for the Bulls soon (Norfolk? Friday?). 
  • Montgomery Advertiser reporter Stacy Long thinks that another starter, Jake Thompson, could be joining Romero.
  • Will Jake Odorizzi come back to the Bulls for the playoffs? Will Jeremy Hellickson visit for a game? 
  • For even more weirdness, Jeff Beliveau is showing up on the Montgomery Biscuits roster (????).

A Save is a Save is a Save

Season: 85-53; Games Remaining: 6
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

As readers know I am far from expert on scoring rules, but I don’t think it was a save situation when Josh Lueke came on in the 8th inning. [Well, no surprise, I was wrong. If a tying run is: on base, at bat, or on deck then it's a save situation. Thanks to Chris D. for the explication.] The score was 5-1, runners on second and third, one out. Even so, Lueke made that situation look easy by getting an infield pop up and a strike out. Next inning, however, perhaps he created his own save situation. He started with a K, then hit a batter and gave up two singles to load the bases. The potential tying run came to the plate and that is, I’m sure, a save situation. Lueke then got a swinging K and a flyout. Shades of Joe Bateman. (Am I the only Bulls fan left who misses Joe Bateman and Winston Abreu in these situations? That is, create your own mess and then get out of it?). Lueke got his 17th save. His ERA remains a stunning 0.63.

Prior to that we listened to IL MV Pitcher J.D. Martin pretty much run the game on the defense and a parade of Bulls batters banged out hits. Martin was the pitcher on the mound in the interrupted game down in Norfolk a few days ago, so his last full appearance was 6 innings back on August 18. Sounded like the break did no harm. Broadcaster Kinas thinks Martin will not pitch again until the first game of the playoffs next Wednesday.

Tim Beckham is hot — a home run and a double to go with 3 for 5 game on Tuesday. As is Brandon Guyer, who’s making a forceful bid for Rays’ time this season when he finishes his “rehab assignment” — double, triple, BB, RBI. Speaking of rehab assignments, Luke Scott is visiting from the Rays and dh’d last night (1 for 4, run scored, 1 BB).

Outside the game —
  • Matt Moore will be pitching for the Bulls on a rehab assignment from the Rays tonight. Nice substitute for Jake Odorizzi, who will be starting for the Rays tomorrow, I think. WDBB is on record with the opinion that Matt Moore is the best pitcher to appear in a Durham Bulls uniform in the DBAP — ever. Too bad we won’t have a chance to watch him work his way back from whatever’s been bothering him. But maybe he could hang out until the playoffs? Why not?
  • The Bulls' roster is a mess. We'll try to put together a post laying out all the changes sometime this afternoon. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Awards Rain Down

International League

International League Manager of the Year — Charlie Montoyo

Charlie Montoyo

Having already clinched the International League South Division title, Durham skipper Charlie Montoyo can now also lay claim to the IL Manager of the Year Award. His Bulls own the best record in Triple-A Baseball at 83-53 (.610). Durham’s division title is the sixth in seven seasons under Montoyo, who joined the Bulls in 2007 after piloting Tampa Bay’s Double-A Montgomery club for three years. Montoyo led Durham to the 2009 Governors’ Cup and Triple-A National Championship, one season before becoming the first-ever Bulls IL Manager of the Year in 2010. This year’s club is possibly his most balanced yet, comfortably leading the International League in both runs scored (664) as well as team ERA (3.31). Despite having several players promoted to the Rays during the course of the season, including top prospects Wil Myers and Chris Archer, the Bulls have rolled right along. No IL team has more wins since July 1 than Durham’s 32. The 48-year-old Montoyo is a former infielder who spent ten seasons in the Milwaukee, Montreal, and Philadelphia organizations. This is his 17th year as a Minor League manager, having all come within the Tampa Bay farm system. He was honored by Minor League Baseball in 2009 with the Mike Coolbaugh Award for displaying outstanding baseball work ethic, knowledge of the game, and skill in mentoring young players on the field.

International League Most Valuable Pitcher of the Year — J.D. Martin

J.D. Martin

Over a week removed from having established a new Durham franchise record for Triple-A victories in a single season, J.D. Martin has been named the International League’s Most Valuable Pitcher for 2013. The 30-year-old right-hander is the League-leader with 15 wins and a ratio of 1.48 walks per 9 IP. Martin’s last loss, one of just four this year, came on June 21 at Buffalo. Shortly thereafter he was elected to the International League All-Star Team, throwing a scoreless inning for the IL in Reno. Martin has been remarkably consistent all season, posting an ERA of 2.85 at home and 2.84 on the road. He is also the League’s Postseason All-Star starting pitcher. Martin is a veteran of 34 starts in the big leagues, all coming with the Nationals between 2009 and 2010. After spending last season in the Miami organization, he signed with the Rays as a free agent in January. Martin is the second IL Most Valuable Pitcher from the Durham Bulls, joining Jeremy Hellickson (2010) on the exclusive list.

International League All-Star Utility Player — Vince Belnome

Vince Belnome
The 25-year-old Belnome received votes as a first baseman, second baseman, third baseman, and designated hitter after seeing significant time at each position this season. Also a mid-season All-Star, he is currently 2nd in the IL in both on-base percentage (.604) and runs scored (73), and he’s 7th in batting average (.298). The last Postseason All-Star utility player from Durham was Elliot Johnson in 2010.

2013 Goodmon Awards

Most Valuable Player — Leslie Anderson

Leslie Anderson

Leslie Anderson has been selected as the team’s MVP for the second straight season. Anderson is having yet another stellar year for the Bulls, as he currently leads the team in home runs (14) and RBI (72). The veteran has tied his career best in homers and has already set new personal season-highs in RBI, OBP (.376), and SLG (.466). The Camaguey, Cuba native is in his fourth season with Durham.

Co-Pitchers of the Year — J.D. Martin & Kirby Yates

Kirby Yates

Starter J.D. Martin and closer Kirby Yates were both named mid-season International League All-Stars and will share the honor as the Bulls’ most outstanding hurler. Martin’s phenomenal 2013 campaign includes two IL Player of the Week awards, a Topps/IL Player of the Month nod, and Durham’s new Triple-A single-season record with 15 wins. Not to be outdone, Yates boasts a miniscule 1.69 ERA to go along with 18 saves in his rookie Triple-A season. Opponents are hitting just .167 against the native Hawaiian (3rd lowest in IL) and his 13.3 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched are second best in the league.
Team Spirit Award — Shelley Duncan

Shelley Duncan

Duncan, added to the Bulls roster on May 6 after beginning the season with Tampa Bay, is one of the club’s veteran leaders and his positive presence in the clubhouse has been palpable all year long even after he spent time on the bereavement list in June. He is the only Bulls player on the current roster to have played in a Triple-A National Championship Game (2008 with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre).

Community Service Award — Matt Bushmann

Matt Buschmann

Buschmann has been extremely active in Bulls’ charitable appearances since being called up from Double-A Montgomery in late May. He has participated in meet and greets with local Boys & Girls Clubs, promoting healthy and active lifestyles, and also the Drug-Free Junior Bulls Kids Club.
IL Award quotes from here, Goodmon Award quotes from here.

Congratulations to you all!

Nice Finish in Last Home Game of the Year

Season: 84-53; Games Remaining: 7
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

For the last home game of the season, the 2013 Bulls showed back up at the park, at least the offensive side of their game. I’m not talking about the hitting, that wasn’t normal, that was way above normal. The last time they’ve put 27 total bases in the box score was back in June. The typical part of the hitting was that they did it with no home runs.

What they did that we’ve seen so much of this year was to  pounce on their opponents’ lapses. The Bulls drew 8 walks and stole 6 bases. You’d think 6 stolen bases ought to be a record, but it isn’t. They stole 8 back on June 6 up in Indianapolis.

All sorts of other great things happened in the game — Brandon Guyer got back over .300; Jason Bourgeois was back on the squad and got 2 hits, drew 2 BB, 2 RBI, and scored a run; Kevin Kiermaier had a double and a triple and stole 2 bases; Tim Beckham went 3 for 5 with a walk, a double, two stolen bases, 2 RBI. Just a big, big day.

A tiny cloud was Frank De Los Santos’ weak appearance in the 6th inning. Worrisome. He really has not been himself all year. But Buschmann’s start and Gomes’, Lueke’s, and Yates’ finish were very, very nice.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bourgeois Back; Wade Gone

If ever regular readers needed confirmation that fans never really know what’s going on inside a ball club, here’s an example. Not that it doesn’t make sense, just that we didn’t see it coming.

As reported earlier, Jason Bourgeois is back. That means that for the first time in a couple of months the Bulls have some depth in the outfield.
Jason Bourgeois

The surprise for WDBB is that Cory Wade has been released.

Cory Wade
Wade has done a good job for the Bulls this year, particularly some tough spot starts: 30 appearances, 49+ innings, 4-1, 2.17 ERA. Much better that most that we’ve seen released by the Rays in my experience. The wording of the announcement was that Wade was  “… granted his release." So maybe he’s got another job lined up. Things had gotten crowded in the bullpen ever since Brandon Gomes came off the DL and maybe the music stopped while Wade was still standing. Good luck!

Wade, of course, will remain the topic of my favorite Bulls trivia question:

What two ex-Durham Bulls faced off in the bottom of the 9th inning in the most celebrated game in recent baseball history?.


Bats Still Slumbering

Season: 83-53; Home Games Remaining: 1; Regular Season Games Left: 8
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Not a great night for the Bulls bats, with the exception of Ryan Roberts’ timely double with the bases-loaded. Roberts had been 0 for All since his return on the 19th (note: he had drawn 5 BBs), so this was a welcome return of his timing. The others will come around, we just need that coming around to happen within a week or so.

Most of the starters have been going deep lately. With the rain down in Norfolk the other day that meant that several relievers have been spending a lot of time spitting sunflower seeds and chatting up fans down there along the right field line. But two got in last night after several days’ rest — C.J. Riefenhauser and Steve Geltz both got two innings in and didn’t allow a run.

The 9th was exciting. Almost … almost … almost …

Outside the game —
  • No official word on Jason Bourgeois clearing waivers or how the Bulls will make room for him. Probably some news today.
  • Broadcaster Kinas speculated on a playoff starting rotation of Martin, Odorizzi, Kelly, Buschmann and Montgomery. But that was before Rays’ starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson got hammered yesterday in Kansas City. Hellickson has not been looking very good lately which might mean Odorizzi moving up sooner rather than later. The Rays cannot afford to lose many more games.
  • Rays Index doesn’t think much of the Bulls oddly-colored semi-camo uniforms. He seems to prefer the blue jerseys with the unreadable numbers on them.
  • Nuke failed to win again last night, getting distracted by “The Mayor”. Is he to be skunked this year? Will he have a chance during a playoff game? What about tonight in the last regular season home game? Will he/they be back next year? 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Boy in Blue Blew Two

Season: 83-51; Home Games Remaining: 2; Games Left in Season: 9
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Mike Montgomery had one of his best nights of the year, but the Bulls weren’t hitting. In fact, they’ve gone two full games without an extra base hit.

Nevertheless, things could have been different without two egregiously bad calls by first base umpire Ben May. In the 6th he called Brandon Guyer out on a pickoff throw that Guyer clearly beat to the bag. In the 8th with the bases loaded he blew a call where the first baseman was obviously pulled off the bag at the end of a 3-2-3 double play. (I was up on top of the Blue Monster and could see the 1B off the bag.)

At this stage of the season I suppose we can be a bit philosophical about these sorts of thing. More than that, these were only two bad calls in what’s been a pretty good season for the IL’s umpires (in my view). But, the same guy? Twice in one game?

Nice to see Brandon Guyer back in the game. He  was 0-3 with a BB, but looked just fine in the field. In fact, when Evan Frey took left field in the 9th, it was the first time in what seems like a couple of months that the Bulls have had three ballplayers in the outfield who came up through the system as outfielders. Could mean good things for the playoffs.

This was only the sixth time the Bulls have been shut out this season. Bulls pitchers/defense have had eight shutouts of their opponents. So far.

Outside the game —
  • Kevin Kiermaier was named the Montgomery Biscuits Most Valuable Player for 2013. Congratulations Kevin! [Tnx, Biscuit Crumbs]
  • I know a lot of folks don’t like the Rays’ Tropicana Field, but where else in baseball would you get a shot like this? [Tnx, Rays Index]

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Guyer Back With the Bulls

As we’ve noted earlier, the Rays are nothing if not creative when it comes to roster manipulation. Brandon Guyer is now available to play for the Bulls and it isn’t even going to cost a roster spot … yet. He’s coming back under the rules for Major League rehab.

Great to have him back on the field under any circumstances.

Update (3:10): Guyer in lineup, batting third, playing right field. Welcome back!

Odorizzi Rules

Season: 83-51; Home Games Remaining: 3

Jake Odorizzi looked really, really good last night. 11 Ks, only three hits in 101 pitches. Just brilliant. If he’s in the playoff rotation, the Bulls should be in very good shape. And there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be. There’s the oddity of the double-header coming up in Norfolk this Saturday, but my guess is Montoyo and Allen will find a way to start the playoffs with Odorizzi and Martin.

Meanwhile, even though the Bulls never came close to solving the knuckleball of Norfolk’s Eddie Gamboa, they did what they have been doing all year — take advantage of the situation. All three runs were scored by Bulls who first worked a lead-off walk. In the 2nd inning Vince Belnome walked, got to 2B on a scratch single by Leslie Anderson, to 3B on a throwing error, and scored on a Mike Fontenot single. In the 5th inning it was Fontenot who got the leadoff walk. He stole second, move to 3B on a passed ball, and then scored on a Kevin Kiermaier single. Then in the 6th Ryan Roberts got the leadoff walk, moved to 2B on a wild pitch, and scored on a Shelley Duncan single. Aggressive, heads up baseball. Not one extra base hit. Great fun to watch in the huge crowd.

Outside the game —
  • Some tough decisions coming up for the Rays and Bulls. Brandon Guyer is coming off the DL soon (yahoo!) and Jason Bourgeois has been Designated for Assignment and may be coming back (yahoo, again). So what happens? I’ve mentioned the Rays’ “creativity” before. We’ll have to see what happens.
  • The Indianapolis Indians clinched the IL West last night and are confirmed to be the team that the Bulls will face a week from this Wednesday. Got your ticket yet?
  • OK, this has been bugging me ever since it happened, so let me get it off my chest. The other night when the Bulls won the South Division they dove into the clubhouse to celebrate. They didn’t even wave to the fans, they just ran off the field to celebrate in private. Did they dis us? Sure seemed that way. Did they think they were the only ones who knew they'd won? Or cared? At least Charlie stayed for an interview.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Last Minute Loss

Season: 82-51
Wrap, Box, Virginian-Pilot

Given Kirby Yates' performance this year, it was entirely understandable that Charlie Montoyo would go to him in the 9th instead of sticking with Brandon Gomes. Unfortunately, the result was a rare blown save and a loss for Yates and the Bulls.

On the other hand, you’ve got to think that Norfolk is going to be much hungrier than the Bulls for these four games (and the three at the end of the season). As we’ve been showing in other posts, the Tides are in the hunt for the wild card. Even though they need for Rochester and Pawtucket to both lose some games, the only way they are going to make it to the playoffs is by beating the Bulls — a lot. They will play Durham six out of their last eleven games. We’ll see.

Outside the game —
  • Delmon Young was not exactly a beloved figure back in 2006 when he was in a Bulls uniform (when not throwing bats at umpires). He is back in the Rays system, but currently assigned to the Montgomery Biscuits. Stacy Long has some solid reportage here. We weren’t doing this blog back in 2006, but we recall him as a talented young man as part of a poorly led team. That was the year between the Bill Evers era and the beginning of the Charlie Montoyo era. And it was after Montoyo's arrival that I realized how critically important a good manager is to the development of young ball players and building a good minor league team. Not sure that idea had quite sunk in system-wide with the then Devil Rays.
  • Over at Bull City Summer Mike Croley has two very insightful pieces on Shelley Duncan. If you want to get some idea of what goes on in a hitter’s head, really worth reading. One of the articles (this one) has a couple of those spooky photos that Leah Sobsey and Tim Telkamp have been taking/making this year. The other (this one) gets into just what could happen in one at bat.
  • Also at Bull City Summer, Adam Sobsey got a terrific quote from Chipper Jones about AAA baseball (Note: Jones is talking about his time in Richmond, then the AAA team of the Braves, not the Durham Bulls). 
  • Lastly, here’s the anonymously-written DNA of Sports which had an interesting profile of outfielder Kevin Kiermaier from a few days ago.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The 40-Man Roster & the Bulls in September

It’s eight days to the end of August and we Bulls fans are beginning to worry about what Labor Day will look like — and we would expect the same is true for a few Durham Bulls.

The basics are these: For most of the season the Tampa Bay Rays can only have 25 players on their active roster. That is, any player who goes onto the field has to be among those 25 players. However, there’s a larger 40-man roster from which the players on the 25-man roster are drawn. For Bulls fans the key point is that none of the guys we’re watching can play for the Rays unless they are first on the 40-man roster.

The current Rays 40-man roster is here. Players on the 60-day disabled list don’t count. They can play in minor league games as part of a rehabilitation assignment, but I don’t know the rules there.

In September, any of the players on the 40-man can suit up and play for the Rays. If they go into the playoffs, the Rays have to go back to 25, but that's a month away.

The Durham Bulls have 7 pitchers and two position players on the 40-man. Also note that it's fairly common for the Rays to call up a pitcher whom we've seen as a starter and use him as a reliever (e.g., Alex Torres), although the reverse has never happened in my experience.
  • LHP Jeff Beliveau 
  • RHP Alex Colome (The Bulls carry Colome as on the DL, the Rays do not. Last seen pitching at the DBAP on June 17)
  • LHP Frank De Los Santos
  • RHP Brandon Gomes
  • RHP Josh Lueke
  • LHP Mike Montgomery
  • RHP Jake Odorizzi
  • Catcher Chris Gimenez
  • Infielder Tim Beckham
As for any of the other 16 players on the Bulls roster, unless some manipulation is done they cannot be called up in September. But don’t ever underestimate the Rays' deviousness. Remember that when they wanted/needed Jason Bourgeois they got him on the 40-man and into uniform.

From a Bulls fan perspective it’s fair to wonder about Leslie Anderson or Vince Belnome or Cole Figueroa; or J.D. Martin or Kirby Yates. But the Rays have to need them seriously enough to clear a space on the 40-man.

Maybe, just maybe, the Rays will leave the roster alone until the playoffs are over, but don’t bet on it. They’ve got a pennant to win and they are definitely in the hunt. I’m guessing that Gomes and maybe Lueke go up almost immediately. So the Bulls bullpen is going to need some help. Juan Sandoval over in Montgomery, among others, might be available. Undoubtedly the Rays will want a spare catcher, so Chris Gimenez will likely leave, but WDBB hopes not before mid-September. Similarly, it’s time for Tim Beckham to get his “taste” of the big leagues. So he could go up for a few ABs. Again, would like to seem him stay with the Bulls through the playoffs.

As regular readers will know, making guesses about this sort of thing isn’t my strong point. How about your guesses?

And who else over in Montgomery could be showing up to lend a hand? Mahtook? Casali?

Durham Bulls Win International League South Division

Season: 82-50; Games Remaining: 12; Home Games: 4
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Bulls win South Division of the International League! No other team in the Division can possibly catch up over the next 12 games. Victory!

Even though winning the South has seemed inevitable for a long time, particularly when Norfolk fell off a cliff back in mid-June (see the chart below), this is a big deal for Bulls fans. From the photos floating around, that’s true for the players as well. They deserve the celebration. They have worked very, very hard to get to this end.

This is the victory that matters in AAA ball. Yes, the Governors’ Cup is a great prize, but the teams who end up facing each other in the playoffs next month are likely to be quite a bit different from the ones who worked to get to the playoffs in the first place.

The Knights were snakebit last night, giving up a bunch (5) of unearned runs. But credit the Bulls for some hard base running to help force the errors.

When Shelley Duncan hit his home run in the 4th inning I finally noticed how much help he’s been to the team even without his usual power this year. He’s got 51 RBI, and that’s a big deal for a team of essentially patient singles hitters.

Merrill Kelly looked particularly sharp last night, ending his 7 inning with an impressive striking out of the side. Frank De Los Santos, who last pitched on the 14th, got in two good innings to wrap it up.

Even prettier, however, was the nice running catch of Kevin Kiermaier to end the game.

Well done!

 Outside the game —
  • WDBB favorite Elliot Johnson will be putting on an Atlanta Braves uniform and rejoining his former Bulls teammate B.J. Upton. Both of them came out pretty well in our look at all-time Bulls hitters last January. EJ was not having all that good a year with the Royals, but maybe he’ll find a better fit with the Braves. Hope so.
  • Speaking of inevitability, the Bulls were even ready to go with the T-shirt

Path to the South Championship

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

One Game Away From the Title

Season: 81-50; “Magic Number” — 1
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

The day is late so just a couple of notes before tonight’s game.

Whatever Mike Montgomery’s promise may be, and it is probably substantial, his time as a Bull this year isn’t going to be all that memorable. After three very good innings, he then faced eight batters and gave up three runs in the 4th and another six batters and a run in the 6th. That run was on a bases-loaded wild pitch, one of three last night. After that, Steve Geltz for 2 ⅓, Josh Lueke for 1, and Kirby Yates for 1 kept the Knights in check.

Meanwhile, my new favorite Bull, Kevin Kiermaier, batting in the 9-spot, hit two triples his first two ABs. For the first one, Chris Gimenez was on first and I remember thinking that if he didn’t get a move on Kiermaier was going to run right up his back, because Kiermaier was headed for third base when the ball left his bat.

A home run by Mike Fontenot answered my early note to myself, “Why is Fonteno dh’ing?”. Gimenez, Belnome, and Beckham contributed RBI (Beckham with the games’ third triple). On the worrisome side, Leslie Anderson’s slip below .300 isn’t going to help his chances for a call-up.

Outside the game —
  • We’d played a little game in the stands last night: Who’s going where when Brandon Gomes shows up? No consensus. [Update: Craig Albernaz on Inactive List]
  • The Bulls could clinch their South Division title tonight with either a win or a Norfolk loss.
  • The Chipper Jones number retirement ceremony got some decent coverage. Including the News & Observer, Herald-Sun, and WRAL

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Bulls Return; Jones Number to be Retired

Thursday, Aug 15, Game 126: Durham Bulls 2; Gwinnett Braves 1
Wrap, Box

Friday, Aug 16, Game 127: Durham Bulls 5; Gwinnett Braves 4
Wrap, Box

Sunday, Aug 17, Game 128: Durham Bulls 8; Charlotte Knights 5 (7 Innings)
Game 129: Durham Bulls 5; Charlotte Knights 1 (7 Innings)
Wrap, Box (1), Box (2)

Monday, Aug 18, Game 130: Durham Bulls 0; Charlotte Knights 1
Wrap, Box,

Season: 80-30; Road Trip: 4-3

When they told me that cell coverage, much less wi-fi, was going to be erratic at this place in the mountains, I didn’t believe them. But you know what? It was erratic and I have to admit that it was nice to be out of touch for a couple of days. Somehow the Bulls mostly did just fine without WDBB watching them, as they edged toward locking up their South Division championship.

Ryan Roberts is back. He’s no longer on the 40-man as the Rays are going through a big round of roster manipulations (that are likely to continue for the next couple of weeks). Brandon Gomes finished his rehab assignment, went back to the Rays, and is now reported to been optioned back to the Bulls. That’s good news for the Bulls, but I doubt he will hang around for the playoffs. Bulls regular, Jason Bourgeois, is still with the Rays, but guessing is that he might return as well, unless he’s out of options (whatever that means).

The Durham Bulls’ Chipper Jones, right, throws to first to turn a double play as Kinston’s Omar Ramirez is out at second during a game played in Durham on May 31, 1992. N&O file photo.

Today is the big Chipper Jones day at the DBAP. Cory Smith at the N&O came up with a great photo and has a nice story on Jones’ time with the Bulls back in 1992.

The Herald-Sun's Steve Wiseman is in Baltimore for some reason and is filing Bulls-related stories. Here's one on Wil Myers' time with the Bulls, with some quotes from fellow 2013 Bulls Chris Archer and Jason Bourgeois.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Ugly and Uglier

Wrap, Box

Season: 76-49; Trip: 0-2; Magic Number: 8
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post
“Against a team that’s had our number. Payback for sure.”
Gwinnett Braves Manager Randy Ready, Gwinnett Daily Post

We have to point out that it hasn’t been just the Bulls who’ve had Gwinnett’s number this year — it’s been every team in the league. But I’m not knowledgable enough (or maybe just too lazy) to figure out why. We can note that they’ve had a big turnover in the manager/coaching staff. That might have made the difference. Certainly their parent club is doing mostly OK.

At any rate, on Tuesday the Bulls went ahead on a Chris Gimenez home run in the 9th, but then Kirby Yates, of all people, couldn’t close it out and Beckham threw the ball so far past second base that a runner scored from first base.

Last night was a bit different in that Mike Montgomery was allowed a bit of “development” in the 3rd inning as Gwinnett sent 10 batters to the plate and scored six runs.

The oddity of the evening was Tim Beckham’s ejection, apparently for arguing a called third strike in the 8th. That interrupted Mike Fontenot’s day off, but only for a half-inning. That's the first ejection of a Bulls player that I can recall this year. Any others?

Maybe this little burst of cool weather will help. It just doesn’t sound like the Bulls are having fun.

Outside the game —
  • Here are a couple of links to an important piece of writing on the Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey’s,approach to developing young pitchers. Former (and possibly future) Bull Chris Archer is a focus of the piece. Rays Index and ESPN.
  • Going forward trying to guess what the Rays might do, and the effect that could have on the Bulls, is tricky to figure.  A recent piece in The Process Report gives it a try.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The International League Governors' Cup

The International League has put up their background piece on the playoffs and I commend it. Tickets for the potential games at the DBAP September 4 & 5, and 10 & 11 are on sale. 

An oddity about this competition is the apostrophe, which an awful lot of folks get wrong. The Cup really is named after a bunch of governors. Specifically, the Governors’ Cup is named after the Governors of Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and the Lieutenant Governors of the Provinces of Quebec and Ontario. That was back when the International League had teams from those places (1933). 

The Bulls have brought home the trophy three times: 2002, 2003, and 2009. The original trophy is in Cooperstown. The one that gets handed around is a replica. Here's Ray Olmedo, who was just in town with the Rochester Red Wings, hoisting the trophy in 2009.

In the first round:
  • West Division champs play South Division Champs best of five. South hosts first two games (Sep 4 & 5), West host rest of the games.
  • North Division champs play Wild Card best of five. Wild Card hosts first two games, rest at North champs.
The North Division/Wild Card competition is wide open and lends itself to charts. We will be posting a regular update as the rest of August goes along.

Second Round
  • West/South Div winners host North/Wild Card winners Sep 10, 11. Rest of games at North/Wild Card winners site.
An interesting and sort of fun feature of the Governors’ Cup playoffs is that more often than not the players on the teams in the playoffs are not the players that got the team to the playoffs. That’s because the playoffs come after September 1st when the major league clubs can expand their active rosters from 25 to 40 players. The received wisdom is that the team with the best chances in the IL playoffs are those with 1) the better manager/coaching staff, 2) the better AA players, and 3) recent wins. But there may be more to it than that. Deep within a recent Bull City Summer piece, Adam Sobsey reports differences in locker room feel between this team and one from a couple of seasons ago.

For the fans the nifty part of playoff games is that you have the DBAP to yourself: 3,000 or so in attendance is pretty normal and you can be sure that they are all deeply interested in the game. Assuming it will be the Durham Bulls against the Indianapolis Indians for the September 4-5 games, you can bet that you will be sitting among folks you’ve been seeing at the park all year.

The winner of the Cup gets to play in the Triple-A Championship, which is a one-game, painfully obvious media gimmick. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Gimenez Bangs One

Season: 76-47; Home Stand: 4-5; Home Games Left: 6
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

A walk-off home run is a thrill under any circumstances. That the hitter was Chris Gimenez makes it an even bigger thrill. The setup could not have been better. The Bulls went into the 9th inning trailing 2-1. Leslie Anderson singled. Shelley Duncan doubled. Mike Fontenot was hit by a pitch to load the bases. A sac fly by Kevin Kiermaier brought Anderson home. Then Gimenez put a 1-1 pitch over the Blue Monster.

From the stands this has seemed like a very tough year for Mr. Gimenez. He was the last man standing out of spring training for the Rays’ third catcher job when his main competitors, Stephen Vogt and Robinson Chirinos, both left the Rays system. So it seemed like he had a shot for an early call up. But his hitting has not gotten on track this season, apparently due to an odd injury to his hand. Plus, the failure of the Rays to keep the Bulls outfield populated has meant he has had to spend a lot of time in the outfield. The result is that  this has been his worst season at bat in his career. Nevertheless, as he showed last night, he can do it, and do it with some style. He’s probably a lock for a September call up, which is too bad for the Bulls since they could use him for the playoffs.

Before that moment, it was something of a slip-sliding evening as the Bulls played through the rain. (Note: this is the wettest summer in recent North Carolina history. A tribute to the Bulls groundskeepers to keep the field playable). Trivia question: What agricultural product is the source of Diamond Dry, which we saw used in copious amounts last night? (answer in the comments).

J.D. Martin pitched just fine and if the game had been called at the 5-inning mark he would have picked up his 15th win and a Bulls record. But his own error in the 6th let a man on base who eventually scored, so Martin left with the game tied.

So, let’s just savor the thrill of a walk off. And let the Bulls enjoy their well-deserved day off. It’s been 24 days since the last one.

International League North Division/Wild Card Competition

Unless something really weird happens, the top two teams on this chart are going to be playing in the first round of the Governors' Cup this year. One of the them will win the North Division and the other will win the wild card. So we’re going to start tracking it just for fun.

Of course, if the season ended today, we’d have a tie for the wild card spot between Norfolk and Buffalo!

click for larger view

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Taking Advantage of Gifts

Season: 75-47; Home Stand: 3-5; Home Games Left: 7
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Matt Buschmann had a terrific game. He one-hit the Knights and didn’t let a single runner get past first base in his 6 innings. Brandon Gomes was touched up for his first runs since showing up for his rehab assignment, but Kirby Yates shut things down.

All of the Bulls’ runs were the result of gifts by the Knights. The first run was scored by Jesus Flores, who reached base on an error got to first base after a dropped foul ball error was followed by a scratched out single, and the next four runners who scored reached base on walks. Have to think the Knights coaching staff were pulling their hair. Two of the most egregious errors were of the “I got it. No, you got it,” type. Could be the result of turmoil in the Knights’ roster. Still, pretty fundamental errors hurt them a lot.

I have to admit that at the beginning of the game I was worried. The Bulls loaded the bases in the 2nd inning with no outs, but didn’t score. In the 3rd inning they again loaded the bases with none out and the next two batters (Beckham and Belnome) couldn’t get a run in. Finally, Leslie Anderson rose to the task and sent a single off the glove of the Knights’ shortstop that brought in two runs. Yet another odd single by Shelley Duncan got a third run across and the Bulls never looked back.

A final oddity — all of the Bulls runs were unearned.

Outside the game —
  • The North Division championship and the Wild Card competition have become intertwined. From the look of it, every game that Rochester, Buffalo, Pawtucket, Lehigh Valley, and Norfolk play in the next weeks will matter in the final standings. 
  • Gwinnett’s loss to to Lehigh Valley last night officially eliminated them from South Division competition.
Update: See above correction. To be honest, I scored it as two errors, one on the dropped foul ball E-3 and another on the play to first (E-4) and missed that the official scorer call the second play a single.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Painful Night

Season: 74-47; Home Stand: 2-5; Home Games Left: 8
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Merrill Kelly likely went into the 2nd inning feeling just fine, even though the evening was one of those oppressively warm steam baths we’ve been having of late. Nine batters later he had not recorded a single out and he was pulled from the game. His ERA balooned up to 3.45 from 2.59. (For the game it was a spectacularly awful 54.00!)

The Durham Bulls continue to slog through their worst home stand of the season. You know something’s not quite right when the highlights of a (so far) seven day home stand are a grand slam by a rarely used catcher and a scoreless inning pitched by that same catcher — Craig Albernaz. Don’t get me wrong, I am an obvious fan of Mr. Albernaz. Who else, beside quite possibly Albernaz himself, is going to point out that after four relief appearances he has not given up a single run. His ERA (0.00) is matched only by rehabbing major leaguer Brandon Gomes.

From a great distance there seems to be two issues at hand. First, the starting pitcher pitch counts are getting up there. Martin has just gone over 2,000; Odorizzi is at 1,800; Buschmann & Kelly started the season in Montgomery, but they have thrown 1,100 and 1,000 pitches since coming to the Bulls, so they are probably close to 2,000 as well. Montgomery had his time on the DL, but has thrown 1,400 this season with the Bulls. It’s August. I appreciate that if they were major leaguers they’d be looking at another four or five starts after September 1st, but they aren't major leaguers. Is this some late-season kind of slump for them?

The second issue is similar. The position players being run a bit ragged.

Here’s an oddity: some major league position players play more baseball (more ABs) than a minor leaguer, but many play less, a lot less. The Rays are carrying 11 pitchers and 14 position players at the moment. That will change in a few days to 12 pitchers and 13 position players. But the spread in playing time is significant. Regulars have played in over a 100 games, others are in the 80’s. The Bulls, on the other hand, are doing well to have 12 position players on the roster (they have 11 at the moment). Only a core of 5 players are over 100 games. Of those only one player (Tim Beckham) plays the same position all the time, although Mike Fontenot could probably be considered the “regular” second baseman. My point is that Montoyo is only resting two players a game while the Rays get to rest 5. With Guyer and Thompson out for the year, Bourgeois called up, and Duncan in a bit of a slump, the team is under stress.

And I have to keep reminding myself that this is the best team in minor league ball. They really are very, very good. This will sort itself out. But some days are just painful to watch.

Outside the game —
  • Interesting piece on visiting rehabber Brandon Gomes a few days ago by Robbie Knopf over at Rays Colored Glasses. What happens to the Bulls when Gomes goes back to the Rays? After Lueke's trouble last night, you have to wonder. 
  • Want to feed your inner stats geek? Try this look at  tRA over at DRaysBay. Don't blame me if you bruise your forehead on your keyboard after your eyes glaze over. Underneath it all is a very interesting insight into how to measure pitchers.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Lueke Back to the Rays

Josh Lueke
Will the third time be the charm? Maybe.

Josh Lueke has been called up to the Tampa Bay Rays for the third time this season. Rays reliever Kyle Farnsworth has been designated for assignment. Lueke has done a terrific job for the Bulls this year. Over his 50 innings he’s only let 4 runs score, and no home runs. Farnsworth is unlikely to show up in Durham; however, the no rumors are in the air about who might show up to fill Lueke’s spot. Maybe Juan Sandoval who went down to the Biscuits at the end of June?

Yeah, I know, I’ve called him the ‘human rain delay’, but that doesn't mean I don’t appreciate the 14 saves or a blazing fastball. Good luck, Mr. Lueke.

Durham Bulls' Bats Awaken

Season: 74-46; Home Games Left: 9; This Home Stand: 2-4
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Back in the dim, dark ages of 2010, Virgil Vasquez was an experienced 28-year old Triple A pitcher (Toledo and Indianapolis) when he came to the Bulls after some major league time with the Pirates in 2009. In Durham he got hit while riding a borrowed scooter and broke both wrists. Trying to find out what happened after that was our first encounter with the pointlessly secretive Rays’ — we ain’t gonna tell you nothin’ if we don’t have to — approach to injury reporting. In the end, his stats for the year weren't particularly good.

Since then he’s had some time in independent baseball, a couple of games in Australia, and this year he’s in the Minnesota system with 13 starts under his belt and is 31 years old. Stats.

All of that is a prelude to what happened when he came back to the Durham Bulls Athletic park and in the 1st inning faced the only remaining member of that 2010 team who is still with the Bulls, Leslie Anderson. Tim Beckham was on first base after his RBI single brought Kevin Kiermaier home. Cole Figueroa was on third base. Anderson parked a home run into the right field stands for what were to be the winning runs. Vasquez lasted four more innings, but his pitch count was soaring even as he was doing a very good job keeping Bulls off the bases. He left after five innings (and 112 pitches).

It was a huge crowd last night. Didn’t know $1.00 hot dogs made that much difference in the Triangle. I’d guess it was the best (and last) Thursday night of the season. And it was a good game to see. Shelley Duncan returned to the lineup as DH and got on base three out of four times, double, HBP, and “single”. Hard to believe that he beat out a squibbler between the pitcher and 1B, but that’s what happened in the 7th. In fact he got an RBI out of that crippled little hit. (Cue up the barroom speech for Bull Durham) After not figuring out Vasquez at all in his first two ABs (struck out looking), Vince Belnome singled and doubled to get out of his little slump.

Mike Montgomery’s pace was a bit faster last night and we fans, who are getting a bit tired of all these 3+ hour games, had hope. Didn’t happen — 3:11. Have to say that Montgomery looked better that the last time we saw him. The impressive couple of innings were Jeff Beliveau’s. The 6th and 7th innings were fun to watch.

Oh yeah, the Bulls broke that ugly four-game losing streak!

Outside the game —
  • Raleigh N&O Columnist Kip Coons remembers his part in the movie Bull Durham. Nice story.
  • Claw Digest catches up with former Stone Crabs. (Note: Mahtook and O’Malley are potential Bulls for playoffs)
  • Sobsey tweets (@sobsey) Josh Lueke has been called up. No more on that yet.

All of the rest of the Bulls games this season are against South Division teams. Charlotte (10, 7 home, 3 away), Norfolk (7, 2 home, 5 away), and Gwinnett (7, all away). Charlotte (the White Sox Triple A team) is well back in the Governors Cup wild card standings, but has been having a pretty good run lately (6-4 in the last 10 games).

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Albernaz Hits the Bull!

Craig Albernaz, August 6, 2013

Season: 73-45; Home Games Remaining: 12

Durham Bulls fans, at least this one, live for moments like the one we had in last night’s 2nd inning. We mention catcher Craig Albernaz a lot in this blog. And that’s for several reasons. We pay attention to most of the catchers anyhow. Albernaz been around for parts of five seasons (more than any other Bull). He’s got just about the best throwing arm I’ve ever seen. He’s one of the few Bulls I’ve ever had a chance to have a conversation with. He is often at the center of the Rays’ roster manipulation schemes which leaves him in the dugout but unable to play. Heck, I even met his college coach, Bill Mathews, last spring.

Last night was his night. Those roster manipulations of the Rays had put him on the disabled list for a while. But when Jason Bourgeois was promoted Albernaz came off the DL and was in the game as the designated hitter for the first time in his 8-season career. 

At my age, I don’t recognize the hitters walk-up music, but I hope something dramatic was played when he came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the 2nd inning. The very first pitch was the pitch he was looking for and you just knew what was going to happen. Sometimes I lose track of the ball as it comes off the bat. This time I didn’t. I could see every moment of its flight until it hit the Bull. Beautiful!

Now came an important few seconds. As Albernaz was coming down the third base path the noise was deafening and we knew, just knew, that the noise was not just about the grand slam, the applause and whistles and cheers were for Albernaz. I’d like to think that he knew it too. We stood for a while and tried to get him to come back out, but couldn’t make it happen.

The Bulls lost the game. But you know something, so what? Watching Durham Bulls Baseball is about — watching the Durham Bulls play baseball. Craig Albernaz gave me, and us all, one of my greatest thrills ever in all the the years I’ve been watching the Bulls. 

Thank you!

More video here.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Shhh! Bulls Bats Sleeping!

Season: 73-44; Remaining Home Games: 12
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

As regular readers will know, there’s a lot I don’t understand/know about baseball. So I’m hoping someone will explain to me why Matt Buschmann took the loss in last night’s game. He only gave up one run, the Bulls lost 4-2, so how come Cory Wade didn’t take the loss since the third Red Wings’ run came on his watch?

Something that has worried me a bit these last weeks almost came true last night. As obsessive watchers of the Durham Bulls roster will know, they’ve been playing with only 11 position players for quite a while now. That means that there’s only two players on the bench. In the 9th inning Leslie Anderson singled in the second run and things were looking up, hopes were up, and Evan Frey came in to run for him. Then Shelley Duncan reached first on a error, but was limping when he pulled up (more worries there). The bases were loaded and the last man on the bench, Mike Fontenot, came in. Bases loaded. Just what might have happened next?

As it turned out, Jesus Flores smacked one right to 3B, and the third baseman stepped on the bag for the last out. But what if … ?

And now they are down to ten position players with the Jason Bourgeois call up. If Duncan is hurt they are down to 9. There is surely going to be a roster move or two today ... or maybe just Craig Albernaz will come off the DL. Or I wonder if any of those pitchers have outfield gloves?

Another mystery: How does a guy with a 6-11 record and an ERA of 4.68 in AA ball darn near no-hit the best hitting team in the International League in his AAA debut? That’s what Rochester’s Pat Dean did last night. More credit to him. This is a surprisingly good team that’s going to be fun to watch over the next couple of days. Here’s hoping the Bulls figure the pitchers out.

The Bulls got a couple of freebies from Rochester’s bad base running last night. Two Red Wings were picked off and two were thrown out at the plate (Bourgeois and Kiermaier showing their arms and accuracy, Flores showing his toughness, Buschmann showing a nice pickoff move).

Outside the game —
  • Playoff tickets are on sale. A playoff game at the DBAP is a wonderful experience for fans. Typically the crowds are fairly small and the games are essentially matchups between which system has the best players coming up from AA, the best managing/coaching crew, and have hung on to key players from September callups. The opening series will match the South Division against the West Division, with the South hosting. That implies games at the DBAP Sep 4 and 5 and possibly a final round Sep 10-11.
  • A brief chat with Scott Strickland last night reminded me of this item in George Habel’s blog from several days ago and Scott’s photo below. As Habel noted, some folks show off their ultrasounds, Scott is showing off the two acres (!) of turf that’s growing and to be installed at the DBAP this winter. Cute kids, ain’t they? Funny name, though … Tifway 419 Bermuda?