Wednesday, April 30, 2014

End of Game Thrills and Injury Updates


Season: 17-9; Home Stand: 3-1

A tip of my Durham Bulls hat to Harold Gutmann for his reporting in today’s Herald-Sun. It appears that the Bulls/Rays don’t feel any obligation to report injury information to the fans … unless queried by the media. Well, here’s what the Herald-Sun is reporting:

Mikie Mahtook, who got hit in the face with a fastball Monday night:
Outfielder Mikie Mahtook was headed to Florida Tuesday to see a specialist after he was hit by a pitch in the face on Monday. The doctor will determine if he could play with a protective helmet of if he will be out for up to four weeks. 
C.J. Riefenhauser, who was placed on the disabled list Monday:
… C.J. Riefenhauser went on the DL with an oblique sprain.
Kevin Kiermaier, who has not played since April 23 and whose absence is the reason for infielders playing outfield:
Outfielder Kevin Kiermaier (hamstring) is hoping to return Thursday after missing the past four games.
Again, thanks Harold. Nice to have someone looking out for the fan’s interests.

This was a really interesting game. If you weren’t able to make it there, too bad. Yes, the weather was ugly and the kids were loud, really loud, but the baseball was thrilling.

Infielders Robby Price, playing in the outfield for the first time in many years and Ray Olmedo, playing 2B had some key hits, Olmedo’s triple in the 2nd inning got the scoring started and his beautiful safety squeeze bunt in the 8th scored a critical game-winning run in the 8th. Price’s single in the 8th set it up.

And then there was Mike Fontenot in the unusual role of designated hitter to simply would not let Rail Rider pitching off the hook. He had two singles and an RBI double on the night.

What may have been the key to winning the game, however, were the two hitters who started off the 8th inning. Rail Rider Chase Whitney had been on the mound since the 4th inning.  Justin Christian took him to a full count before striking out and then Vince Belnome chipped his way through a 10+ pitch at bat before hitting a double to right field. That opened the door for the Bulls. Jerry Sands got a walk. Mike Fontenot doubled, scoring a run. Robby Price’s single brought in the go ahead run. Olmedo’s bunt brought in the insurance run the Bulls would need.

Kirby Yates (ERA 0.00, 8 saves) came on to close in a 6-4 game. I packed up my stuff and bragged about Yates to the fans around me. Never a good idea. The first batter tripled then came home on an infield ground out. The next batter struck out, but it took 9 pitches to close the deal. After two strikes on the next batter, Yates threw eight straight balls, putting runners on first and second. Time for a mound visit by Neil Allen. Ball, strike, ball, strike, strike, game over. But it was a bit more thrilling that I wished. Yates’ ERA ballooned up to 0.69.

The Rail Riders are a better team than their record shows. If their pitching comes around they could be contenders.

Today is the first day off for the Bulls this season. Take a break guys.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How Long? Oh, How Long Will That Baseball Game Go On?


Season: 17-9; Home Stand: 2-1
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, Times-Tribune (Scranton)

On a game like this one someone who writes about baseball may be forgiven if he (or she) tries to find some deep significance in a long (almost five hours), miserable (damp, breezy, mid-50’s) night. Is there something to be discerned among the seven pitchers? Some quirky moment to help make the game come to life for the 5 or 10 folks who were still there at midnight? Not much. So here’s a few small highlights and then we need to get ready for this morning’s 11:00 game.

A very scary moment in the 10th when Mikie Mahtook took a pitch right in the face. By that time I was watching on MiLB-TV and got several re-runs, none of them clear. At at guess the pitch ricochetted off the inside of his helmet's brim into his cheekbone. Given the laudable new protocols in place regarding concussions, I’d guess we won’t see him on the field for a couple of days. However, he did look alert on his way off the field.

After our praise yesterday, Jerry Sands had a rough night with 4 Ks. But his leadoff single in the 12th was the one of the few opportunities the Bulls had to win the game. Wilson Betemit's game-tying home run in the 9th was a beauty.

We remain unimpressed with Nate Karns. Is he really ready for AAA? My guess is that he’s going to be this year’s hole in the rotation and we’ll have the chance to watch him develop (or not). His first couple of innings were OK, then he had an all too typical big inning in the 4th, 4 runs on 4 hits and 3 walks (none of the walks scored, to his credit. In addition, the RailRiders got three stolen bases off of him.

C.J. Riefenhauser was put on the disabled list yesterday and I heard no explanation. As is typical with the Rays, if they don’t have to say anything, they won’t. But if anyone did hear something, please speak up.

In his place, infielder Robby Price, in “extended Spring Training,” magically appeared on the bench. Then even more magically came into the game as a pitcher in the bottom of the 13th after the Rail Runners had picked up their winning runs off of Gelz. He faced one batter and will now be forever on the books as a Durham Bulls pitcher. He could very possibly be the first ballplayer ever to win two WDBB Moonlight Graham awards — one as a hitter (2012) and one as a pitcher.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Pretty Sunday


Season: 17-8; Home Stand:2-0
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, SWB RailRiders

An interesting game, but let’s lead off with the quirky stuff (with thanks to broadcaster Kinas for mentioning it).

Last Sunday, April 20th, reliever C.J. Riefenhauser was wearing a Tampa Bay Rays uniform. In the 12th inning of a game against the New York Yankees he was called in for just his second appearance as a major leaguer with a runner on first and no outs. A little bit later there are runners on first and third with two outs and he was instructed to walk the batter (Jacoby Ellsbury) in order to get to left-handed, weak hitting shortstop Dean Anna. Riefenhauser walked Anna on a disputed call at 3-2 and the run that came in turned to be the winning run. Rays manager Joe Maddon had lots to say about the call(s).

Fast forward to last night, top of the 8th inning, the Bulls have just gone ahead 5-4. Mr. Riefenhauser, now wearing a Durham Bulls uniform, is on the mound and the leadoff batter is … shortstop Dean Anna, now wearing a RailRiders uniform. Anna pops up to 3B Cole Figueroa, the next two batters line out to left field, the Bulls score an insurance run in the bottom of the inning, Kirby Yates does his thing, and C.J. Riefenhauser has his first win of the year. Gotta love Triple A baseball.

Now, what about the rest of the game?

Merrill Kelly gave up two home runs and Bulls pitchers hit a season high number of opposing batters (3), and yet Jerry Sands and company kept the runs coming across until Sands’ last hit, a single in the 8th created an insurmountable lead.

If that’s a clue regarding how much we are coming to admire Mr. Sands, it should be. He is having a career year with the Bulls. The fact that he is a local lad (Clayton) and out of Catawba College in Salisbury just adds to his stature. His swing has been a beauty to watch, but last night what was most impressive was his bat handling. Of course there was the home run in the 2nd inning. But what about the two opposite field RBIs: A sacrifice fly in the 5th and a single in the 8th? Now that was professional hitting.

Last night was the first time I’ve been able to watch Hak-Ju Lee on the field since his return. He made several nice plays, including participating in a twisting 1-6-3 double play. At bat he has a long way to go, but he did draw a couple of walks.

Yet another oddity of last night was seeing Ray Olmedo out in left field. It’s not that he doesn’t have any experience there. But it’s been a while, 2 games in 2012 and another few games in 2010 (this is a guy who has 1425 professional minor league games under his belt). Kevin Kiermaier is reportedly day-to-day with a hamstring concern and I’m guessing it was Mikie Mahtook’s time to have a day off.

Outside the game —




Sunday, April 27, 2014

No-Hitter!


Season: 16-8; Home Stand: 1-0

It was a big crowd but we weren’t there. Life’s been getting in the way of baseball lately. But we did see the last several innings on MiLB TV. So not all was lost. What a game! 

Sometimes everything just aligns itself for a player. Last night Mike Montgomery could do no wrong. So much so that the only real threats were a couple of ground balls slickly fielded by Hak-Ju Lee (Welcome Back!) and Mike Fontenot

Congrats to Mike Montgomery for a great game.

The coverage by Harold Gutmann in the Herald-Sun is terrific. Take a look. He got the quote of the day: 
Manager Charlie Montoyo said it was the loudest he’d ever been booed at the DBAP when he came out to replace Montgomery with one out in the ninth.
I hope that Charlie knows that most of the fans understand the pitch count issue. And besides a bunch of the folks there last night were New York Yankee fans and they’d be booing anyhow.

We have to mention Vince Belnome’s breakout night as well. Single, double, home run in 4 ABs. His best night of the year and a couple of nice digouts at 1B. Cole Figueroa was no slouch either: 3 for 4, 2 RBI.

Also can’t ignore Brad Boxberger’s beautiful two outs. Otherwise, there’d be nothing to celebrate. And who was the first guy out of the dugout to congratulate Boxberger? Mike Montgomery. 

Update: Nice stories over at Baseball America and at Rays Colored Glasses.


Matchup

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRaiders are the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees and probably have the longest name in professional baseball. Typesetters all over the country puzzle over how best to abbreviate their names. 

So far this year they are in 4th place in the six-team North Division and it says something about this year’s weather that they’ve only be able to play 21 games so far, three less than the Bulls. The most obvious statistical difference between the teams is their OPS numbers. They appear to be an impatient team. They have only drawn 52 BBs this year (league least), while the Bulls have drawn 104 (league most).




Thursday, April 24, 2014

Durham Bulls Hitters at 20

The Durham Bulls have actually played 21 games, but the player with the most game appearances, Jerry Sands, has just 20, so we are close. All sorts of caveats apply to these numbers because it really is very, very early in the season. Last year’s healthy batters had between 400 and 500 plate appearances. As you can see, that implies that for these players they are at less than 15% of what we can expect to see over the season. Oddly enough, the Bulls are 14½% through the season. Or maybe not so oddly.

The players marked with an asterisk (*) are on the Rays 40-man roster. That means that they can be called up to the Rays without too much roster turmoil. Only two of the Bulls position players are on the 40-man and one (Vince Belnome) is off to a slow start. Hak-Ju Lee is also on the 40-man, but he hasn’t had enough plate appearances to make the chart.
Geek Stuff

This table is sorted by wOBA, my favorite batting stat.
Weighted On-Base Average combines all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value.
Also included is another interesting stat, wRAA
Weighted Runs Above Average (wRAA) measures the number of offensive runs a player contributes to their team compared to the average player.
Again, this is very early in the year, but you have to love what all the guys in the positive wRAA range are doing for the team and also note the defensive contributions of almost all in the negative range. A glance at last year’s stats simply emphasizes our concerns for Vince Belnome.

Nevertheless, the sample size is way too small to do anything other than say, “Well, that’s interesting.” ... and it is.


NameAgeGamesPAAvgOPSwOBAwRAA
Jerry Sands262083.3571.117.49310.5
Cole Figueroa271674.3511.023.4657.8
Justin Christian341886.3241.006.4528.2
Mikie Mahtook241985.351.892.4095.4
Kevin Kiermaier*241773.303.847.3813.0
Mike Fontenot341767.281.817.3742.4
Wilson Betemit321880.239.726.3370.7
Ray Olmedo331670.254.579.278-2.5
Ali Solis261249.239.554.253-2.7
Vince Belnome*261778.123.454.237-5.2
Eddy Rodriguez28934.097.402.180-3.7

Data source: FanGraphs


Tales of Two Pitchers


Wrap, Box, Charlotte Observer

Merrill Kelly did a fine job getting to his league-leading 4th win and stunning ERA of 1.50 over 24 innings. Nice to have a guy who can be depended on for 6 inning, 90 pitch appearances.



Season: 15-6; This Trip: 4-2
Wrap, Box, Charlotte Observer

On the other hand, Nate Karns is the least dependable guy, so far, in this year’s lineup. Last time out he went 7 innings and held Norfolk to just two hits and no runs. This time he was on life support before the 1st inning was finished and over his two-inning 60 pitch outing he gave up 8 runs for the 8 men he let on base. Not all that different from his first time out.

Still, Charlotte had to break its losing streak some day.

Guess who scored the Bulls only run? Hak-Ju Lee, who got on base on a walk, got to 2B on a Kevin Kiermaier single, then home as Charlotte had trouble figuring out what to do with a Ray Olmedo grounder to short.

Outside the game —

  • The Bulls blog, Hit Bull Win Blog, just started running a series of profiles.
  • Kevin Kiermaier gets his own poster and reveals that his favorite Twitter account is ... his own.
  • Hak-Ju Lee’s return has a nice profile, plus video.
  • Cole Figueroa gets a nicely illustrated love fest.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lee in Today's Lineup, Playing SS

Hak-Ju Lee is Back


One of the great pleasures of the early part of the 2013 season was watching a young shortstop, Hak-Ju Lee. But almost exactly a year ago we were writing about what turned out to be a season-ending injury. According to yesterday's transaction report, he is back with the team.  We could not be happier.

That’s terrific news for Lee and for the Bulls. He was not in last night’s lineup, but today … we'll see. I'll update this post as soon as I see the lineup.

The downside of his arrival (and the return of C.J. Riefenhauser) is that catcher Mayo Acosta and infielder Robby Price had to come off the roster. It’s not entirely clear where they’ve gone. My guess is that Acosta is still around, but that Price may end up in Montgomery. But it’s just guesswork on my part.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Extra Innings, Extra Runs


Wrap, Box, Virginian-Pilot

This was the first road loss of the year for the Bulls. Young Enny Romero went a little too long (102 pitches, the most of any Bulls pitcher this year).


Season: 14-5; This Trip: 3-1
Wrap, Box, Virginian-Pilot

Pretty nice visit over in Norfolk. Three wins, two in extra innings, plus their second shutout of the season. That says a lot about Bulls pitching and overall aggressiveness. This is a very good team.

In this game, the new guy, Doug Mathis, made his second appearance as a Bull in the 9th inning, and got the win. He has not yet pitched at the DBAP. [Oops! Yes he has. Back on April 16th. Not a good day for Bulls' pitching, but not all his fault. Thanks to Chris D for the correction. Also note that there was a problem in the line score of that game that has been corrected.] The near goat of the day was Adam Liberatore who may end up being a poster boy for the stats geeks. His FIP is a stunning 0.98 while his ERA is an awful 5.19. FIP, Fielding Independent Percentage, is supposedly predictive of ERA in the long run. We’ll see.

Kirby Yates got his 7th save, best in the International League.

You have to like everything about Justin Christian this year. Yesterday, as leadoff batter he got 4 hits (including three doubles), and scored half of the Bulls runs. He plays a mean outfield and is a smart baserunner.

Meanwhile I’m worried about Vince Belnome. I know that he will break out of it eventually, but it’s just painful to watch/listen to. It will come, but his all-to-brief visit to the Rays this year seems to have broken something.

Matchup

The Bulls drove by Durham on the way to Charlotte yesterday. Wonder if they even got to wave hello.

The Bulls have already gone up against the Knights 6 times this year and are 5-1. Meanwhile the Knights aren’t doing much better against anyone else in the South Division. The White Sox affiliate is off to an awful start with the worst batting average in the league and near worst pitching. It’s got to turn around eventually. Just not any time soon, let’s hope.


Outside the game —
  • Juan Carlos Oviedo has finished his rehab and gone to St. Petersburg. C.J. Riefenhauser is back. Maddon had nice things to say about the Bulls relief crew.
  • For the first time since the season opened, the playing field, which really wasn't quite ready, has been given a rest. Looks much better. 
DBAP, 22 Apr 2014



Sunday, April 20, 2014

Harbor Park Nice to the Bulls So Far

Wrap, Box, Virginia-Pilot

The Virginia-Pilot’s lead for their game story implies that local folks aren’t too happy with this year’s Tides team.
If it’s possible for nine innings to epitomize more than two weeks of slovenly baseball, it happened Friday at Harbor Park. 
On the other hand, MiLB has a nice story focusing on Bulls starter Nathan Karns who got the win in the Bulls second shutout of the season.


Season: 13-4; This Trip: 2-0 [Note: Bulls are 7-0 on the road this year]
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

This was this year’s first extra-inning game and the team of Kevin Kiermaier and Mikie Mahtook created the win. Those two guys played together all of last year in Montgomery and after Kiermaier stole second and third base in the 11th, Mahtook brought him home. They make a terrific team.

The Herald-Sun link above does a nice job of putting Matt Adriese’s nice 7 inning start in perspective.

Outside the game —
  • See DNA of Sports for a terrific backgrounder on outfielder Justin Christian and the home run he hit to his wife and child watching a game from Tobacco Road the other day.
  • Relievers C.J. Riefenhauser and Brad Boxberger swapped places yesterday, with Riefenhauser being called up and Boxberger on his way back to the Bulls. A little bit of teasing over at Rays Index regarding the length of Riefenhauser’s name. He got in 1⅓ innings in last night’s slaughter of the Yankees, 2 Ks, no runs. The Tampa Bay Times has a nice story, as does Roger Mooney at the Tampa Tribune
  • Stacy Long is changing how he reports on the Biscuits and the Rays system over at the Montgomery Advertiser. I’ll be changing my link to his work.
  • I think I heard broadcaster Kinas speculate that Saturday's appearance might be the last for rehabbing Juan Carlos Oviedo. Similar ideas show up in the Tampa Bay Times story linked to above.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Kelly Resets the Bulls






Season: 11-4; Home Stand: 1-1
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Merrill Kelly was a big deal for the Durham Bulls last year. He’s back in town and keeping the Bulls on track this year. He’s only had four appearances, two in relief and two starts. But he nevertheless has the most innings (18), most wins (3), and a very nice 1.50 ERA.

Last night he got only slightly off track in the second inning when a walk, single, and a double put two runs across. Otherwise, he was untouched for the rest of the game. Those two hits were the only hits of the game for the Tides.

And then there’s the rehabbing major leaguer, Juan Carlos Oviedo, who got in his inning last night. Oviedo is on his way back from surgery and a stellar career as a closer. Mostly, we here at WDBB are not big fans of the Bulls' role as a place for rehabbing ball players to work on their ouchies. More often than not their constraints mean that the Bulls have to work around them and they don’t really help the team win ball games. Oviedo seems to be an exception. Apparently he’s on a “one-and-done” rule. He’s made six appearances in relief, each for one inning. His very first time out he got touched up for 3 hits and two runs and threw 14 pitches. Those were the last runs scored on him and he’s only given up 1 hit in the last 5 games. His WHIP is a stellar 0.67 and his “efficiency”/pitches per out is an equally stellar 4.28. He doesn’t count against the Bulls 25 man limit, so in his case, it’s a win-win for everyone.

Lastly, Kirby Yates had a two-inning save. He did let two guys get on base — a rarity. But his 5 saves and ERA of 0.00 are the best in the International League. You just know he’s going to get some time with the Rays this year.

Sometimes we’ve participated in that great debate regarding shortstops — do you want a strong arm or a quick release? Last night Ray Olmedo made his case for the quick release faction. My notes show three very smooth plays where the ball seemed to barely touch his glove before it was on its way to 1B. You don’t see a clothesline throw from Mr. Olmedo and he often throws sidearm. But it does not seem to matter. He is so often positioned just where he needs to be and the transfer is so smooth that he gets the out anyhow. Fun to watch the veteran at work.

Lastly, kudos to Jerry Sands for his 1st inning 2 RBI shot to right field and to Mike Fontenot for his very hard hit grounder that just ate up Norfolk’s 2B and brought the winning run home.

Outside the game —
  • Chris Gimenez, a catcher we liked to watch last year, appears to have found a home with the Round Rock Express, the AAA, Pacific Coast League, team of the Texas Rangers. There was a moment when he might have come back into the Rays system. Guess not.
  • The Bulls have four games in Norfolk then drive past Durham to go to Charlotte for four games. One of the IL schedule quirks for this year.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

System Failure


Season: 10-4; Home Stand: 0-1
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

The Tampa Bay Rays lost two games yesterday, one up in Baltimore and the other in Durham.

I was unable to attend the game last night and only caught the last few innings on the radio when I heard something I am at a loss to explain adequately. How is it that a position player is sent to the mound in a tie game? Neither of the Bulls broadcasters, who have between them witnessed or played in thousands of baseball games, had ever seen it before. In a blowout, sure. In fact, Scott Pose, last night’s color commentator mentioned his experiences as a position player pitching in the minor leagues (AAA, see here). So how did it happen that catcher Mayo Acosta, who had never pitched a game of professional baseball ended up on the mound?

It sure sounded like the decision was made much earlier than Acosta’s appearance in the 8th, because Montoyo’s quote below (from the Herald-Sun) implies that he made up his mind when the Bulls were down 6-4 and before they came back in the 6th and 7th to tie the game.
“There’s no excuse, but we just were running out of pitching,” Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo said. “The team still battled back, knowing that Acosta was going to go in the eighth.”
But I’d say that the real reason goes back to last Monday when Rays pitcher Jake Odorizzi was feeling bad and went back to his Baltimore hotel. The Rays apparently told Montoyo to take starting pitcher Enny Romero out of the rotation. The Bulls went with a pitch by committee approach that night and last night the ripple effect caught up with them.

Of course, if starter Mike Montgomery hadn’t given up 5 runs (with 5 BBs) and new guy Doug Mathis’ first appearance had not been such a disaster (5 more BBs and another run), then Acosta would never have been on the mound in the first place. It was the Bulls worst pitching performance of the year even before Acosta came in the game.

Credit the Bulls for not giving up. That’s what makes the outcome for a Bulls fan so frustrating. It really sounded as if they had a chance until the 8th.

A short memory is a blessing in baseball. So today is another day. But there are system issues afoot for the Tampa Bay Rays. Distressed that a fine young man like Mr. Acosta gets thrown to the wolves like that. It could not have been fun. Maybe next time.

Note: In the original posting, the line score had the wrong date on it. Game was April 16, not April 15.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

First Charts of 2014 Durham Bulls

Regular readers of WDBB know that I try to make pictures of how the team is doing. The Bulls are back in town tonight and it seems to me that it’s time to put up our first set of team charts. Larger views of the charts can be obtained by clicking on them.


I like the way that tracking games above/below.500 gives you a sense of how team performance is trending over time. After all, in the end a championship is decided by how many wins you have. The Bulls have ripped off an early streak of 7 games in a row and go into tonight’s game 3½ games ahead of Gwinnett in the IL South.



This chart will get more meaningful over time. It is a display of the game to game net of the runs scored minus the runs allowed. The intent is to provide a visual supplement to what called “Pythagorean Expectation” or PE. PE is the spooky observation that if you take runs scored minus runs allowed and run them through an equation, you can come up with a “expected” run-loss for the team. The Bulls current PE is 9-4 whereas their actual is 10-3. That is, the team is doing slightly better than the PE would project. We will have to see. In general, the variance of actual vs expected is attributed to relief pitching.

Which leads us to our next chart, Bulls pitching.



This is the cumulative ERA for the Bulls over the last ten games. As can be seen, the relievers are doing better than the starters, but both are doing very, very well. They are the best in the IL as a matter of fact.

Lastly, the hitting.



For this chart we have simply figured out the weighted On Base Average (wOBA) for the entire team for each game, then displayed the last 10 games. We prefer wOBA over any other hitting stat even if it isn’t all that well known. Think of it as a mashup of on-base percentage and slugging with a slightly more sophisticated weighting of extra base hits than OPS and adding in base running.

The Bulls are doing very well (.400 is considered an top-rated wOBA)

Seven in a Row!

Mikie Mahtook

Season: 10-3; Road: 5-0

The Bulls had an amazing 16 hits last night for a stunning 32 total bases (3 doubles, 2 triples, 3 home runs). Leading the charge was Jerry Sands with two home runs, and Mikie Mahtook with a double, triple, and two singles. His 11 hits in a row were close to an IL record, but he K’d in the 8th to end the streak. It was, by the way, 45ยบ when they reached that point and the stands were reportedly empty. But it was a stellar night for the hitters.

Meanwhile, Enny Romero, who had be held out from his regular start on Monday because the Rays thought they might need him, got the start and the win. Matt Adriese, who was to have started the game in his ordinary rotation instead came in the game in relief and went two innings. Jeff Beliveau closed it out. Very astute management of the pitching crew, I’d say.

Outside the game —
  • The Bulls have a new pitcher. Doug Mathis has been signed after leaving the Rangers system a couple of days ago. The Bulls need the arm. So we can hope.
  • The Bulls are the first team in the IL to reach 10 victories, but that’s partly due to the fact that they are one of only two teams that have played the full 13 games. Other than Charlotte, every other team has had at least one game postponed. Columbus has only managed to play a total of 10 games. Buffalo has played just 9 games. It’s ugly out up there. 

Matchup

Norfolk is off to an awful start this season. They really got bashed last night down at Gwinnett (15-0). Obvious problems with their pitching so far.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pitching Scheme in Shreds, But Durham Bulls Still Winning


Season: 9-3; Trip: 4-0
Wrap, Box, Charlotte Observer

Six in a row is a big deal. This team is looking good. Adversity and roster turmoil does not seem to be taking a toll on them … yet.

The Knights management took a page out of the Bulls book and moved the game up 30 minutes to try to escape a rainout. It worked. But the Bulls ripped off four runs in the first inning and that was enough.

Those early runs made a huge difference since the Bulls were short yet another pitcher when young Enny Romero was scratched, apparently just in case he would be needed by the Rays. See Outside the Game below for more. Juan Sandoval showed his maturity with a solid three innings. Rehabbing Juan Carlos Oviedo made a bid for trivia immortality with a 7-pitch, 1-inning win. I say made a bid, because I’m not going to look it up. It might have been a good moment for Brad Boxberger to come in, but wait, he was in Baltimore with the Rays where he had a crisp 1 inning, 10 pitch, 1K appearance. Steve Gelz did three innings, and Adam Liberatore and Kirby Yates wrapped it up.

The Bulls got their first shutout of the year. On the road. That’s very, very nice.

Meanwhile, Mikie Mahtook played left field in the Knights’ new park, batted 6th and had himself a terrific 5 for 5 night.

Is Vince Belnome getting his eye back? Maybe. He got his first home run last night.

Outside the game —
  • These last several days we Bulls fans have had any number of reminders that the Durham Bulls have limited control over their roster. When the mother ship comes under fire and starts taking on water, some folks get sent to the lifeboats and others are summoned from steerage to the bridge to keep her from foundering. 
  • Former Bull Matt Moore is out for at least a year. That means that Erik Bedard’s 4 innings back on April 6 could be his only appearance in a Bulls uniform, ever.
  • Former Bull Alex Cobb has strained an oblique. We don’t quite know what that may mean to the Bulls. At a minimum that was part of the carousel that Jeff Beliveau and Brad Boxberger have been on.
  • Then former Bull Jake Odorizzi, scheduled to pitch today in Baltimore, was reported to be under the weather, so Enny Romero was scratched from his start last night. 
  • Who’s next?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sweep on the Road; Where's Jeff?


Season: 8-3; Trip: 3-0
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

The Durham Bulls did a nice job of messing up the Gwinnett Braves home opening series by sweeping them. They are up to five in a row.

Nate Karns showed off his talent for the first time in a Bulls uniform and was very impressive in his first AAA win.

The quirk of the game was the Bulls’ 12 hits, all singles. That was enough, but if they had lost I’m sure we’d have been writing about the 16 runners who got left on base. In addition to the 12 singles, 7 BB and 1 HBP, put a lot of guys on base.

Outside the game —

Where’s Jeff?

So far this year Jeff Beliveau has pitched 6 innings in relief, 4 for the Bulls and 2 for the Rays. But there’s really no telling how many frequent flier miles he’s piled up. His first game (2 innings) was in Durham on April 5th. Then he was off to pitch an inning for the Rays in Kansas City on Wednesday, April 9th. He was back with the Bulls in Georgia to pitch a couple of innings on Friday the 11th, then off to pitch an inning for the Rays in Cincinnati yesterday (the 13th). At at guess he’ll stick with them for a while. Hard to tell given the turmoil in the Rays’ starting pitching ranks. How’s he doing? Not bad. ERA of 0.00 overall. 1 hit, 0 BB, 7Ks.

Matchup

The Bulls are off to Charlotte to take a look at their shiny new stadium. The Knights’ pitching is the best in the International League, but the Bulls are improving. These two teams may turn out to be the key matchup in the IL South for 2014. After these two games, the Bulls will be back in Charlotte for four more games next week and then won’t play them again until May 13th, in Durham.



Sunday, April 13, 2014

Four in a Row

Season: 7-3; Trip: 2-0
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

Merrill Kelly did just fine in his first start for 2013. In fact, he went a full six innings. Kelly doesn’t strike ‘em out, he just gets them out. His only mistake was a home run to (who else?) Ernesto Mejia.

As pointed out in the matchup a couple of days ago, G’Braves pitching is not up to their usual standards. The Bulls are taking advantage of that early in the season.

Outside the game —
  • Kevin Kiermaier got his first major league start and got famous. Check out the video and the commentary over on Rays Index. He is expected to return to the Bulls in the next day or so.
  • Update: More on Kiermaier here.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Triples


Season: 6-3; Trip: 1-0
Wrap, Box, Gwinnett Daily Post

A triple is an unusual hit in baseball. Three in a game is very unusual.

Last night’s first, by Mikie Mahtook, drove in Jerry Sands. The second, by catcher Roman Ali Solis, put him on 3B and he came home on a Ray Olmedo single. The third, by Justin Christian, drove in two runs and blew the game open. Christian came home on a sacrifice fly of Wilson Betemit.

Meanwhile Mike Montgomery continues to look very good in a 5-inning, 5K, 1ER performance. Jeff Beliveau came back from Tampa Bay and put in a solid two innings. C.J. Riefenhauser and Kirby Yates closed it out.

Outside the game —
  • Kevin Kiermaier is in the starting lineup for todays game in Cincinatti.
  • Merrill Kelly is tonight’s starting pitcher (He did that 14 times last year. He was, in fact, the 5th man in last year’s rotation.)
  • As to why, well reports have Durham Bull Erik Bedard being called up even though Cesar Ramos is listed at Tampa Bay’s starter and no corresponding roster move has been announced.
  • Charlotte's new park opened last night. Background story here.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Matchup: G'Braves Vs. Durham Bulls


Today is the Gwinnett Braves' home opener. So far this season they’ve had a four-game round with the Durham Bulls and finished three games over in Norfolk (one was postponed for rain). Now they are back home in Gwinnett, a town a few miles northeast of Atlanta. Rumor has it that the Atlanta Braves have built a special truck bed about 75’ long so that they can call up a relief pitcher from Gwinnett, put him and a catcher in the back of the truck, and have him warm up on the way to Atlanta. Just a rumor, of course.

It is much too early in the season for these numbers to have any particular predictive value. Let’s just say that, so far, the Bulls are ½ game ahead of the Braves in the standings. They are about a match on hitting. The Braves pitching hasn’t been so good, but neither team has even gone through their rotation two times.

*****

I had the chance to chat with photographer Chris Adamczyk at Thursday morning’s game and have been browsing through her work ever since. With her kind permission, I may be putting up an image here from time to time. But you really need to go take a look for yourself. Her portfolio of the DBAP renovation here is simply amazing. And she has been and will be putting up shots from the games she attends here.

Photo by Chris Adamczyk, Triangle in Focus and Chris Adamczyk Photography


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Great Start; Kiermaier to Rays


Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

I wasn’t able to get out to Tuesday’s game. The wrap and the Herald-Sun pretty much tell the tale. Good post-game interview with pitcher Enny Romero.


Season: 5-3; Home Stand: 5-3
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

You have to credit the Bulls marketing crew for the crowd that was there for today’s game. Reportedly they sold 7,500 tickets to the kids for an Education Day, get-away day game that was over by 2 pm.

Some decent baseball as well. The Knights came out swinging. To their regret, I’d say. Bulls pitchers got 16 Ks (they are 97 on the year for an average of over 12 per game). When I asked a Bulls player at yesterday’s First Pitch luncheon who had the best arm amongst the youngsters, he mentioned Matt Andriese. Andriese collected 8 K’s and looked mostly quite good.

Ray Olmedo had his first start in the leadoff spot and did his job. He got on base 3 out of 4 times, including an RBI double.

Overall, a solid opening home stand. The Bulls leave town in good health and seem to be shaking out. This road trip is shorter than usual. They will be back for two days next week

Outside the game —
  • Jeff Beliveau got in a perfect inning with the Rays on Wednesday night and then was optioned back to Durham. Rays Manager Joe Maddon said that they would be looking for a left-handed hitter to fill the Matt Moore hole because the Rays are beginning a interleague game with the Cincinnati Reds. Kevin Kiermaier, who sat out today’s game was called up immediately the game and is on his way to Cincinnati.
  • Spectacular video from opening day at the Bulls blog. Must See!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Pitching Matters

Season: 3-3; Home Stand: 3-3
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Charlotte’s Scott Carroll kept the Bulls off the bases, helped by some fine defense. The Bull’s Nate Karns had an extremely erratic  day, not helped by his defense. That’s a bit oversimplified, but not much. To his credit Karns did have 9 K’s and only 3 BB

From the stands we can’t really tell much about young Mr. Karns, who came to the Bulls via the trade of Jose Lobaton to the Nationals. We know that this is his first time in Triple A and, judging by the quotes in the Herald-Sun article above, Charlie thinks a lot of him. So lets just wait.

Meanwhile, somewhat tongue in cheek, consider the arm of the Bulls new catcher, Roman Ali Solis. On a pickoff play he missed 1B Vince Belnome and the ball went way past the bullpen, letting the runner get to 3B. As it happened, however, the runner never made it home.

More game trivia: Montoyo drew the infield in three times last night. Karns pitched his way out of the first one, but a sac fly and a double brought in a total of three runs the other two times.

Outside the game —
  • Left-handed reliever Jeff Beliveau went off to join the Rays in Kansas City. The reported reason is that pitcher Mike Moore is going on the disabled list for at least 15 days. Now as to why a reliever is going up when a starter gets hurt, lets just say that the Rays never go without 25 guys in the house.
  • Beliveau’s promotion means that a guy who’s been wearing a sweatshirt all season gets to take it off and appear in a game. Catcher Mayo Acosta has actually been here all year but hasn’t been on the Bulls playing roster until yesterday. Last time we saw him was back in 2012. He had a brief appearance in the game last night.
  • Robby Price started at 3B last night in the place of Cole Figueroa. Figueroa reported a muscle tightness after yesterday’s batting practice and was scratches. But I’d been wondering why Price’s name was familiar to me. Dug around today and finally remembered. Price was one of the winners of the 2012 WDBB Moonlight Graham award. And here he is! Good to see him in a Bulls uniform and on the field in the DBAP. 
  • Last, and most important, WDBB favorite Craig Albernaz has been located. He's playing for the Erie Sea Wolves, the Detroit Tigers AA team.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Early Bird Gets the ...


DBAP, April 7
click on image for larger view
Season: 3-2; Home Stand: 3-2
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Concession stand owners probably weren't happy with yesterday’s 30 minute early start. But it turns out to have been a very smart move on the part of the Bulls. Only two games were played in the IL yesterday as the weather closed out almost everyone. But someone in Durham saw a 2-3 hour window and went for it. As you can see from the webcam shot not a whole lot of folks made it to the game, but the sunset sure was pretty, wasn’t it?  Note the folks sitting in our seats. Official count was 1,901, but that includes season ticket holders. Doesn't look like more than a couple hundred to me.

On the other hand, some folks (such as WDBB) just didn’t want to leave the house. Probably a few more compared the sitting out in the weather to watching the NCAA championship and went for that. Too bad. From listening it was an interesting game.

To begin with, the first batter up, left fielder Justin Christian, banged one off the Bull and discovered he had a whole lot of friends in the clubhouse. Christian (see Herald-Sun story), it seems, just gave up tobacco and red meat so he’ll be giving away the free steak.

That was followed by a Wilson Betemit single that drove in Kevin Kiermaier for enough runs to win the game. A home run by Jerry Sands and an Knights' error-plagued 8th inning added on to the score.

This was the first appearance of Erik Bedard in a Bulls uniform. His 10 years of major league service time is the most on the team and he showed it with a solid 60 pitch appearance.

But the guy I want to talk about today is Cole Figueroa. Is this his year? The 27 year-old infielder is off to an amazing start with a league-leading OBP (on base percentage) (Oops, original had OPS not OBP) of .722! His “slash line” is a startling .500/.722/.700; OPS 1.422. Sure it’s early in the season and he’s only had 18 plate appearances. But he is on track to do the Bulls at least as much good as he did last year and very likely much, much more.

Outside the game —
  • Former Bull and WDBB favorite Leslie Anderson is off to a booming start for the Yomiuri Giants of the Japan Central League: 4 for 8,  1HBP, 2 singles, 1 double, OPS - 1.556! Good for him. 
  • Another former Bull, Mike Moore, left last night’s Rays-Royals game early. He’s due for an MRI soon. If he does need some time off, one of the current Bulls would be on the short list to join the Rays. Mike Montgomery is the most mature of Bulls starters on the 40-man. But you have to think the Rays would do some roster magic to move Bedard up instead.
  • This post from Rays Index might seem discouraging to current Bulls. But maybe not. 
  • In the category of—how did I miss this? — we’ve learned that Justin Ruggiano is playing outfield for the Chicago Cubs. Not having a good start. Apparently hurt ankle near the end of spring training. He left some impressive numbers behind in his five year career with the Bulls.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Sunny Day


Season: 2-2; Home Stand: 2-2
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

A lot to like in Sunday’s game, but let me just pick out a few items.

Wilson Betemit. I have to admit that I was worried about having a 32-year old veteran with so much big league experience on the team (over 8 years with eight different clubs). He was out with an injury essentially all of last year while on the Baltimore roster. But so far, so good. The switch-hitter has started all four games (3-DH, 1-1B) and has brought a real power threat to the plate: 2 HR, 4 RBI, while drawing 5 BBs for an OPS of 1.221. Yesterday he opened the action with a 2-run homer that established a lead that held for the rest of the game. He is not on the Rays 40-man, so we can expect to see him around much of the year.

Vince Belnome, last year’s star, had been quiet since his scramble down and back from St. Petersburg. Until yesterday. 2 for 4 and a RBI. Things looking up for him.

I’m worried about Ray Olmedo, but probably not as much as he is. 8 Ks out of 11 AB is simply not like him at all. Surely he will come around, but I’m worried.

Not so much with Mike Montgomery if he keeps this up. We were fairly critical of Montgomery’s year last season, but, according to the Herald-Sun, he’s got a new pitch he’s comfortable with. He certainly did just fine yesterday.

Outside the game —
  • Given what's going on outside right now, time to point out the “Coping With Rain” link over on the sidebar. I’ve done a modest update. That post describes my personal strategy for dealing with a rainy day and has a nifty video about a rainy day a couple of years ago. My strategy doesn’t always work. But worth thinking about today.

Matchup

The Charlotte Knights, a White Sox affiliate, started their season over in Norfolk. They are doing well. They have four games at the DBAP before they finally have a home opener in their shiny new downtown stadium.

These numbers won’t be particularly useful this early in the year, but I needed to remember how to chase them down. So here they are.



Sunday, April 6, 2014

Bulls Being Bludgeoned by Braves


Season: 1-2; Home Stand: 1-2
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Here’s the deal, Atlanta. You’ve got a guy in your system who’s been playing minor league baseball for 10 seasons and has never been called up. Name is Ernesto Mejia. He’s carrying an OPS of 1.916 after 3 games and just 11 at bats. Why don’t you call him up? Right now! Please! If not today, how about before the 11th when the Bulls go to Gwinnett?

OK, Mejia didn’t get around to his dinger until the 8th inning. It really was the home run in the 4th that did in the Bulls. Up until that inning we had the oddity of both pitchers throwing no-hitters. However, the Bulls were looking particularly foolish against the G-Brave’s Rodriguez, who struck out 9 Bulls. The Bulls whiffed 14 times over the evening. Not good.

On the other hand, even in the loss the pitching crew of Matt Andriese, Jeff Beliveau, and C.J. Riefenhauser looked pretty good.

Outside the game —
  • I get it that I was probably the only person in the stands who would rather listen to the baseball game than the NCAA tournament. But in that case, how come Kinas and crew even came to work? After a flurry of tweets and emails I learned about the pre-emption, but unsatisfactory alternatives were offered. Way back in the dark ages, the DBAP had a very low power FM station that was an alternative, but HD3? Does anyone have an HD radio? Sigh. Guess it isn’t as bad as the time that a Bulls game got pre-empted for a golf tournament! 
  • Short video clip of the Governors’ Cup ring ceremony here.
  • Only 1:00 pm game of the year today!


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Wrong Guys Hitting the Bull


Season: 1-1; Home Stand: 1-1
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Another pleasant night at the ballpark. Enjoy it folks because there will be a couple of really ugly days before we get to the summer.

Far be it from me to wish a player ill—and it is very early in the season— but do I need to point out that the G’Braves Ernesto Mejia has an OPS of 2.270, 3 home runs, and 6 RBI in two games? Couldn’t he just take a day off? I know it’s early in the season, but maybe?

On the Bulls side, Kevin Kiermaier is off to a very hot start. Two games, two home runs, 4 RBI and several very nice plays out in center field. He just might be the best center fielder we’ve seen in a Durham Bulls uniform.

Otherwise, it was an early season game: Too many errors, too many pitches that got touched for hits.

We did get to see reliever Juan Carlos Oviedo, a Rays rehab project who has been on the Rays payroll for something like a year and a half. This was officially a rehab assignment and we are likely to be seeing a bit of him before the Rays make a decision on where he fits in their scheme of things.

Outside the game —
  • I didn’t have anything negative to say about opening day because it was so clearly a work-in-progress. But Mike Birling, the Bulls GM has had plenty to say in an email that went out to everyone who bought a ticket. A classy apology on his part and an offer of a free ticket to any Monday-Thursday game for the rest of the year. But the offer is only on the table from April 7 to April 13. 
  • The new video and sound capabilities are very impressive. I’m expecting to see a lot of tweaks to the basic display, but I certainly appreciate the data that are out there. I didn’t notice the display up below where the press box used to be. That’s handy sometimes.
  • I’ve got to wonder just how the radio guys are able to call pitches (location and type) from where they now sit. Terrific eyesight? 
  • Speaking of the radio, pleased to hear Scott Pose back on the air with Patrick Kinas. They make a pretty good team.
  • About the turf: All I can say is that if you didn’t see it 10 days ago (I think I had a webcam shot of it) you have no idea how much progress has been made getting it in shape. We have it on good authority that all should be right for the next home stand. 
  • Patience, grasshopper.
  • But we sure were looking forward to cup holders, those of us on the front row of the Terrace Reserved sections. Sigh. Maybe part of the next $20 million.
  • Great to see the racers back and the Bulls are running a very clever introductory video with the racers on their way back from Spring Training. Choice of the South of the Border parking lot for some shots was inspired. Nuke still having trouble getting across the finish line.



Friday, April 4, 2014

Great Start

Season: 1-0; Home Stand: 1-0
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun, N&O, Indy Week, WRAL

First game and the baseball was just fine (once the Bulls bullpen went to work).

Neither Chris D nor I were particularly accurate in our lineup predictions. Vince Belnome got called to St. Pete, sat on the bench for about half the game and is on his way back. So we both missed that one. Justin Christian started in left field. We had him as DH, so we both missed that one, too. But we both had Kevin Kiermaier in centerfield (but then we both had him early in the order. Montoyo had him batting #6). We both had Jerry Sands in RF, he started at 1B. I had Ray Olmedo on the list, but in the wrong place. He started at 3B. Chris D correctly picked Cole Figueroa to start at SS and he did a fine job there. We both liked Mike Fontenot at 2B and we were right. Mikie Mahtook started in RF, so we had the right guy, but in the wrong place. Wilson Betemit started in DH slot and did very well. We were both right about the catcher, Roman Ali Solis.

Not bad.

And I could find nothing to fault about the Bulls position players. A lot to like there. A good spread of youth and age. Some power (3 homers last night), some speed (3 stolen bases), decent hands (a double play on the only real opportunity), and a nice running catch by Christian to break the Braves’ back in the 8th.

Mr. Nate Karns was very shaky in his first Triple-A start. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Merrill Kelly, Adam Liberatore, new guy Brad Boxberger, and Kirby Yates started the season much like they finished last season. That is, they looked great. 6⅓ innings of scoreless ball.

How about the park? Very impressive. The crew obviously has been working very, very, very hard to get things in place. More than one commented that they were getting by on only a few hours rest in the last week or so. Give me a couple of more days before detailed comments.

Check out the links above for more stories. Particularly cool is Vince Belnome taking batting practice wearing Google Glasses at the WRAL link.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Opening Day 2014


It looks like the team is ready to go.



Renovations to the park appear to be complete.


Parking may be a problem, so come a bit early.


Don't let the weather prediction keep you from the park.

Play Ball!

Photo credits (Top to bottom) Durham Bulls, 1913; Durham Athletic Park, 1940's; East Durham Baseball Park, 1920's; Hurricane Fran comes inland, 1996.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Lineups

Tomorrow!

A couple of days ago Chris D came up with his opening day lineup.

But we  now know (from Stacy Long) that the scheduled starting pitcher is to be Nathan Karns in what I think will be his first start at AAA. Karns came to the Bulls out of the Washington system. Long also reports the rest of the starting rotation to be Enny Romero, Matt Andriese, Mike Montgomery, and Erik Bedard.

Chris D's list:

1) Kevin Kiermaier - CF
2) Cole Figueroa - SS
3) Wilson Betemit - 3B
4) Vince Belnome - 1B
5) Jerry Sands - RF
6) Mike Fontenot - 2B
7) Justin Christian - DH
8) Mike Mahtook - LF
9) Ali Solis - C


Here's my guesses

1) Cole Figueroa - 3B
2) Kevin Kiermaier - CF
3) Vince Belnome - 1B
4) Jerry Sands - RF
5) Justin Christian - DH
6) Mike Fontenot - 2B
7) Mikie Mahtook - LF
8) Ali Solis - C
9) Ray Olmedo - SS

Who else wants to jump in?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

On the Field

Here's a sight we've been waiting for — the 2014 Durham Bulls on the field. 7:00 pm April 1.


Remembering Sidd Finch

Once each year Watching Durham Bulls Baseball invites our readers to take a moment to recall the all-too-brief career of an exceptional baseball player, and horn player of some note, Sidd Finch.

Photo courtesy Sports Illustrated

For those among you who were witness to those unforgettable events back in 1985, this is a chance to bring that gentle young man back from his undeserved obscurity, if only for a brief stay among us. For those unfamiliar with Mr. Finch’s contributions to the game we commend to you the brilliant essay by George Plimpton in Sports Illustrated that first brought this gentle soul to our attention. 

Photo courtesy Sports Illustrated.