Saturday, August 29, 2015

Fun While It Lasted

6th Inning: Hak-Ju Lee slides safely under/past the tag of Knights’ 1B Dayan Viciedo as pitcher Brad Penny and 2B Michah Johnson cluster in frustration. Thanks, Sue

Season: 67-67; Home Stand: 1-1
Games Remaining: 10; Home Games: 7
Wrap, Box

Each of the three Durham Bulls pitchers allowed at least one earned run last night and that was enough to break the streak. Those fans inclined to seek good news at the far reaches of probability, possibility, and plausibility are slowly coming back to earth. But wasn’t that a pretty run?

About that photo up at the top by our good friend Sue Roth (who sits not far from first base, obviously) — I am not a fan of even the idea of sliding into first base and have been pleased to see it seemingly disappear from most player’s trick bag. But this time it made sense. As the first batter in Durham’s piece of the 6th inning, Hak-Ju Lee made a hard bunt between pitcher and first base. Thereafter there was a gathering of Knights: Pitcher Brad Perrry, First Baseman Dayan Viciedo, and Second Baseman Micah Johnson. Viciedo has the ball and Lee is sliding under and past the tag to reach the base. A fraction of a second later Johnson kicks Lee in the head and they had what I hope was a friendly discussion about that.

Back to the rest of the game.

Matt Moore had brilliant innings followed by not very good innings all night. And easy 1st inning, then two walks and two K’s in the 2nd. In the 3rd a single, a run-scoring double, and two wild pitches let two runs score. Three up, three down in the 4th. Same in the 5th. In the 6th a single, then an error by Richie Shaffer, and another single loaded the bases. Moore hit the next batter for another run. Kirby Yates gave up a run on 2 hits in his 1⅔ innings. Andrew Bellatti gave up a home run in his inning.

But the hitters did have their chances. After being absolutely shut down for 14 outs, a double by Cory Brown broke up the perfect game Brad Penney had going. Then in the 7th the Bulls scored two runs before Mikie Mahtook struck out with the bases loaded. That got the Bulls within a run, but the Knights got two more runs before the Bulls even threatened in the 9th and that fizzled out.

Nevertheless, an 8-game run is a big deal. Thanks, Bulls, for the thrills as the season winds down.

Friday, August 28, 2015


Season: 67-66; Home Stand: 1-0
Games Remaining: 11; Home Games:8
Wrap, Box

The Bulls kept their streak alive at the DBAP last night. Remarkable.

Both managers pushed their luck, though. Jared Sandberg got away with it. The Knights’ manager, Joel Skinner, did not. The question both managers faced was how long to leave a struggling pitcher in the game. The Bulls Scott Diamond got out of a bases loaded situation in the 4th inning with a lineout to left field. However,  in a bases-loaded no-outs situation in the next inning, he got the first out on a popup, his second out on another popup, but the next batter singled and two runs scored. By that time Diamond had faced 27 batters and thrown 90+ pitches. The Bulls were down 3-2 going into the 6th.

Over on the Charlotte side their pitcher, Kyle Drabeck, went into the 7th inning, but a walk and two singles later he faced the same situation, bases-loaded, no-outs. He wild-pitched in a run, got a K, but then a two-run single by Luke Maile put the Bulls ahead 5-4. He left the game at 27 batters and 104 pitches.

Neither starting pitcher had stellar Game Scores: Diamond’s was 38, Drabeck’s was 40.

But the Bulls' relief crew only gave up one hit. Jim Miller was particularly impressive. I don’t think I’ve seen him more focused on each pitch this year. Two K’s and a pop-up and he got the save

Kudos to Luke Maile for his game-winning single in the 7th and to Mikie Mahtook for his two-run double in the 3rd.

Outside the game —
  • J.P. Arencibia started at catcher for the Rays last night and Joey Butler, who helped win the last two games for the Bulls, joined him in the lineup as the DH. The two of them made the difference in the Rays win before just 9,000 fans in St. Petersburg (the Bulls had almost 8,000 in Durham). Arencibia drove in run with a sac fly. Butler hit a game-tying RBI and then scored the winning run on a wild pitch.
  • Along with Butler leaving, José Dominguez is back. He passed through waivers. I didn’t notice him in the bullpen last night, but he was probably there.
You can get headaches trying to figure out the combinations and permutations of the next 11 games. However, I think that it’s safe to say that Columbus and Indianapolis have a lock on the Wild Card and IL West championship. Indianapolis certainly looks like the winner, but one or the other would have to lose almost of their remaining games to fall out of the wild card lead. Standings.

Norfolk, on the other hand, has lost their last four games and is only ahead of Gwinnett (who they are now playing) by two games.

Here's the pattern since mid-season (game 73).

Thursday, August 27, 2015


Wrap, Box, Virginian-Pilot

Season: 66-66; Trip: 2-0
Wrap, Box

The Bulls reached .500 for the first time in almost exactly a month (July 26) with their seventh win in a row, the longest streak of the year. On game six of the run, Tuesday night, Joey Butler broke it open in the 11th inning, and he had a lot to do with Wednesday afternoon's win. Names we’ve grown to love this last week looked terrific, Taylor Motter, Richie Shaffer, and Butler all had hits in the 11th and Hak-Ju Lee brought in the third run with a sacrifice fly, a run it turned out the Bulls would need as Kirby Yates made the bottom of the 11th a bit more thrilling than necessary.

Then yesterday Joey Butler was at it again, this time with two home runs in support of Bradin Hagens. Along with Mikie Mahtook’s 4 for 5 day at the plate, a timely sacrifice fly by Taylor Motter, and a disruptive stolen base by Lee.

Both games were also bit unusual for Jared Sandberg’s tactics or, rather, his use of some traditional tactics he seems to have avoided this season.

For example, he has only called for 8 intentional bases on balls all season. He did so in the bottom of the 9th on Tuesday and it worked.

Similarly, he has not been a big fan of pinch-hitting, but yesterday in the critical 7th inning, when the Bulls were behind 3-4, he put Nick Franklin in to bat for catcher Mayo Acosta. Hak-Ju Lee had singled with one out and Acosta has a dismal batting average. A few pitches into the at bat Lee stole second base and Franklin then drew a walk (note that the Tides’ catcher set up well off the plate for a 3-1 pitch so it was an unintentional, intentional in hopes of getting a double play). When Mikie Mahtook hit a double to bring in Lee and Franklin and the winning runs, Sandberg looked like master tactician.

Pitching? Blake Snell was terrific on Tuesday and Bradin Hagens got his second win in a row, getting past two important errors by Bulls fielders.

Outside the game —
  • J.P. Arencibia went up to the Rays! Congratulations. It turns out that his recent time behind the plate with the Bulls will serve him well. See this link for more than you probably want to know about how they pulled off the roster moves.
  • Desmond Jennings is hurt, again. That opens the door for any number of Bulls on the 40-man, to include Joey Butler, Mickie Mahtook, or Richie Shaffer
About these seven wins and the next 12 games —

This has been a remarkable run. The team ERA dropped from 3.99 to 3.90 (with 132 games played, it takes a lot to move the averages that much). The starters went from 3.92 to 3.88, while the relief crew outdid themselves with a drop from 4.09 to 3.93. The hitters moved the team seasonal wOBA from .317 to .321 over the seven games. That may not seem like much, but, again, at this point in the season that’s a big move. The team wOBA hasn’t been that high since July 22. The last time the team pitching has been in this range was back on July 16th.

The rest of the Bulls dozen games are against South Division opponents and 9 of their final 12 games are at home. The Bulls start with Charlotte, have a couple of games against Gwinnett, a few more with Charlotte, and end up with Norfolk. Recently Norfolk has fallen off its terrific run to the top and Gwinnett, which had been making quite an attempt, has also fallen off. With roster turmoil coming for all four teams, who knows what the future holds. For the time being, let’s celebrate a return to .500 baseball.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

September Song — Taylor Motter

About this time each year we try to make the call-up case for one or more member of the Durham Bulls who is not on the Rays 40-man roster. Folks who’ve been around for a while will recall Chris Richard, or Leslie Anderson, or even Jon Weber.

You will also note that WDBB has been notably unsuccessful in its endeavor — but not for lack of trying.

We listed the current Bulls who are on the 40-man a couple of days ago.

We tend to look at these players from the narrow-minded view of the Durham Bulls, recognizing that Durham Bull-ness is not a particularly big deal to Rays management. If the Rays are going to do what it takes to put a player on the 40-man (i.e., dump a player who is now on the 40-man), they need a reason. Well, we’re not going to try to make that argument for them. What we want to do is ask you, Bulls fans, who’s the guy you think should be in a Rays uniform this September because he was a terrific Durham Bull.

Here are the hitters from the current crew who are not on the 40-man [Note: I've left Joey Rikard off, not because he doesn't have terrific numbers, but he only has 68 plate appearances.]

Taylor Motter
Cory Brown
Boog Powell
J.P. Arencibia
Luke Maile

And my choice — Taylor Motter.

Most of statistical reasons are obvious, especially the wRAA above. In addition to these stats, he leads leads the team (and the International League) in doubles with 36. He leads the team in RBI with 66 and that's 5th in the IL. His number of stolen bases (26) also leads the team and that's tied for 5th in the IL. Although most of his 113 games have been in right field, most recently he's been spending a good bit of time at 3B. He's got games at 2B, SS, LF and CF as well. And his hair is almost as good as (better than?) John Jaso's.

So, he's our 2015 non-roster pick among the hitters.

We'll get to the pitchers another day.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Five in a Row; Is There Hope for the Future?

Season: 64-66; Home Stand: 5-0
Games Remaining: 14; Home Games: 10
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

For the first time in what seems like a very long time I was able to get to the DBAP to watch a game. I certainly didn’t expect the Bulls to pull off a 5-in-a-row, but they did. This was the best at-home series of the year.

The Bulls’ were hitting homers last night, Nick Franklin, J.P. Arencibia, and Hak-Ju Lee in the first three innings. But it was Lee who had the big night at bat, 4 RBIs.

Everett Teaford had his best start in a very long time. In fact, the last time he had a Game Score as good as last night (58) was in a no-decision game back on June 16. Nice to see him in good form. Particularly impressive was the moment in the 5th when the umpire apparently decided to ignore the pace of game rules and let two Columbus batters in a row step in and out of the box numerous times. Both batters drew walks, but Teaford managed to sort himself out and get out of the inning unscathed (we won’t count the inning-opening home run).

My first time seeing new guy Parker Markel. He looked pretty good with his 3 K’s over 2 ⅔ innings. At a guess, however, he’s the odd man out when José Dominguez returns. Dominguez passed through waivers yesterday and will be coming back to the Bulls.

For the first time in recent memory Boog Powell was not the leadoff batter, Mikie Mahtook was and Powell was second. However, he did start toward the plate at the very beginning of the game and came back toward the dugout with a big grin on his face. Habit.

Carolina Dreamin’

These five wins in a row got broadcaster Patrick Kinas running the math a bit. His colleague Scott Pose wasn’t challenging the numbers, but he also wasn’t buying into it either. Standings.

Let’s take a look. The rest of the season the Bulls are playing against International League South Division teams. Five against Norfolk (2 away, 3 home); 7 against Charlotte (4 home, 3 away); and 2 against Gwinnett at the DBAP. All of those teams are above .500 and Gwinnett in particular has been hot lately. Half of the remaining games will take place place after the September call-ups and it’s hard to say what Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore, or Tampa Bay will do to their South Division teams.

What we can point out is this:

Yes, the Bulls are hot, but so are the Braves. You have to think that Gwinnett could make a run at the top spot, but no one else is likely to sneak into the wild card slot. Could something happen? Sure. Likely? We can only hope.

A more reasonable wish is for the Bulls to establish a winning season. That’s what this chart will be showing. Getting above the 0 mark is a winning season. And that, given this July and August, would be a significant accomplishment.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


Season: 63-66; Home Stand: 4-0
Games Left in Season: 15; Home Games: 10
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

The game story from last night is, as it should be, Matt Moore’s 16 Ks (a Bulls record) and the 4 more by the relievers to set a season team high of 20 Ks. Certainly very fine performances by Matt Moore, Robert Zarate (who got the win) and Kirby Yates. And yet after Moore gave up the home run in the 6th, the Bulls were losing the game.

So, yes, there was some great pitching on both sides until the 7th. However, the Clippers put in Michael Roth to take the place of Toru Murata and Roth never got an out. In fact, it wasn’t until his 13th pitch that he even threw a strike. That is, he walked the bases loaded on 12 pitches, something of a pitching accomplishment all of its own. A Boog Powell sacrifice fly brought in the tying run and Roth was pulled from the game. A Nick Franklin single brought the go-ahead run in and a J.P. Arencibia single brought in two more.

The last time the Bulls won four games in a row was back in June, from the 7th to the 12th, but only two of those wins were at home. We have to go back to the end of May for four home wins. And lots of folks are showing up for the games as well.

A feature of the Bulls’ recent success has been plate discipline. They’ve drawn 21 walks over the last four games. Before we get too excited about that, however, we have to also note that they have struck out 35 times over the same four games (the Bulls lead the IL with 1,071 Ks on the season).

This win over Columbus is a modest help to Gwinnett in the wild card race. The Braves are still 2½ back, but aren’t out of it.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Looong Game and a Sweep

Season: 62-66; Home Stand: 3-0
Wrap, Box

Infielder Taylor Motter took the mound in the top of the 14th after the Bulls had run out of pitchers. He set down the Mud Hens in six pitches and the sense was that things had changed. The Bulls had been putting plenty of runners on base (they stranded 11 on the night), but couldn’t push anyone across. Until the 14th. Mikie Mahtook doubled, Richie Shaffer got an intentional walk, and Nick Franklin doubled Mahtook home.

That ended the longest game of the year for the Durham Bulls. For the first time since early June the Bulls won three games in a row. And throughout these three days the team seemed loose and ready to play.

Other good things that happened along the way were Joey Butler's home run (his 4th as a Bull), Richie Shaffer’s 19th home run (in 60 games), the smart base running by Shaffer in the 8th on a Nick Franklin sacrifice fly that tied the game, and solid relief work by Jim Miller, C.J. Riefenhauser, and Jhan Marinez (two days in a row). Worrisome? That would be Scott Diamond's 6th inning.

Outside the game —

Who’s going to St. Petersburg on September call-ups? Your guess is as good as mine, maybe better. But we have to start with players on the 40-man, so here’s that list. If anyone else is to be called up then room will have to be made for him one way or other (and the Rays are pretty good and finding that “other” gimmick). Note that this list is constantly in motion.

  • Andrew Bellatti
  • Matt Moore
  • C.J. Riefenhauser
  • Kirby Yates
  • Ryan Brett
  • Jake Elmore
  • Nick Franklin
  • Hak-Ju Lee
  • Richie Shaffer
  • Joey Butler
  • Mikie Mahtook

Friday, August 21, 2015

More Fun at the DBAP

Season: 61-66; Home Stand: 2-0
Games Left in Season: 17; Home Games: 12
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

The hitters just kept hitting.

Everyone, except Hak-Ju Lee, got a hit. Mikie Mahtook had what may have been his best night of the year with a double and three singles. After twice getting cheated of a home run, once at the DBAP and once in Indianapolis, J.P. Arencibia got his 21st of the year over the Monster. Arencibia is the leading home run hitter in the International League. Taylor Motter got a double, his 36th, and he leads the International League in doubles.

Bradin Hagens, who had accumulated five losses and a no-decision since the All-Star break, was the beneficiary, although he did just fine on his own. He gave up just 1 run in his five innings. Robert Zarate had a much, much better inning than the awful oddity he had in Louisville the night before last (1 hit, 2 walks, 2 hit batsmen, 3 earned runs, 3 Ks). A clean three up, three down.

New guy Parker Markel arrived from Montgomery and pitched a clean 9th. It was the AAA debut of the 24-year old. He has 53 relief innings in 42 games with the Biscuits and a 3.23 ERA.

Outside the game —
  • Markel was the only transaction reported yesterday. But with former Bull Jake McGee going on the DL for the Rays, we’d have to guess that there will be some more shuffling soon. One source is reporting that it’s Enny Romero.
  • We’ve mentioned Matt Buschmann a lot the last couple of years. Local baseball writer Adam Sobsey did a fine background piece on him in a recent Grantland issue. Buschmann was recently seen at the DBAP coaching first base for the Louisville Bats and then, after a trade, on the mound for the Norfolk Tides. 
  • A complete game, 1-hit shutout is a big, big deal. Congrats to former Bull Chris Archer. Stories here and here.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Bulls Explode Against Mud Hens

Season: 60-66; Home Stand: 1-0;
Games Left: 18; Home Games Left: 13
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

As the line score shows, this was an amazing game for the hitters and pitchers. Every Bull got at least one hit: 4 doubles, a triple (Boog Powell), four home runs (two by Richie Shaffer, one by Nick Franklin, one by Taylor Motter), and 11 singles. Cory Brown was the only Bull who didn’t get at least one RBI. An amazing, year’s best, night: 38 total bases, team OPS of 1.404, team wOBA of .577.

Meanwhile, Blake Snell continues to show his stuff. He only gave up one hit (a solo home run) in 5 innings of work.

Outside the game —
  • I can’t keep track of all the transactions. The Bulls have had 189 of them this year! That's 1.5 transactions per game! Pretty sure that I haven’t mentioned at least some of these. 
  • José Dominguez was designated for assignment (the Rays needed his 40-man slot, Smyly finished his rehab). No word on his status. Note that former Bull Dale Thayer is in the same "DFA Limbo" status. 
  • Leonardo Reginatto went back to Montgomery.
  • Joey Butler came back to the Bulls from Tampa Bay.
  • Edward Teaford went to Hudson Valley on the 15th and came back on the 18th. Hope he enjoyed the trip.
  • Enny Romero was called up to Tampa Bay and I think he’s on his way back.
  • Matt Andriese was called up (he took the loss in the 13th inning last night).
  • Richie Shaffer is back, with his bat, obviously.
  • Kirby Yates is back.
  • Dylan Floro has gone on the disabled list.
  • Meanwhile, I don’t think that I have pointed out that Vince Belnome was signed by the New York Mets and is playing with their AA team, the Binghamton Mets. Doing OK.
  • The Biscuits are doing well.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Leaving Indianapolis

Durham Bulls @ Indianapolis Indians, 16 August 2015
Bulls 1; Indians 4
Season: 58-65; Trip: 1-4

Scott Diamond was back in a starting role (after following rehabbing Tampa Bay Ray Drew Smyly for a couple of games). He did just fine, although he did get charged with an unearned run. Dylan Floro and Robert Zarate (back from the DL), however, did not. Floro might be getting the hang of this reliever gig, though. He took the loss, but was better than his last two times out. Was Zarate ready? Does not look like it. He’s given up 4 runs in his two innings since his return.

J.P. Arencibia was at catcher last night, the 8th time this season. 

Outside the game —
  • Joey Butler is back after an extended stay with the Rays. He was in 74 games with the Rays and just 24, so far, with the Bulls. Plus, although I’m sure it makes sense to somebody, I’m not sure why he’s back. At a guess some sort of matchup/platoon thing. 
  • The N&O’s Monday minor league feature today has a nice article on the bull, as in “Hit Bull, Win Steak”.
  • Interesting take on this year's season over at Triangle Cards podcast. Worth a listen.

Pitching and Hitting over the last 20 games. Pitching chart is cumulative ERA; the hitting chart is OPS on a game-by-game basis.

The Bulls were 7-13 over the 20 games. The relief crew was showing some improvement for a few games, but are now drifting back upwards. The hitters are roughly .100 below the International League average OPS.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Chasing the Wild Card(s)

As might be clear from my many charts, I like plotting a team’s games above/below .500 over time. I think it gives me a sense of the flow of a season. Since I’m having trouble following the Bulls recently, I thought I put up a couple of non-Bull charts just for fun.

We are at the end of season for the International League. I thought it would be fun to keep an eye on who’s got a shot at the one wild-card spot for the playoffs.

The International League starts the playoff season with the three division leaders (standings) and then adds a wild card team — the team with the best record who is not a division leader.

At the moment the leader for the wild card is the Columbus Clippers. The Gwinnett Braves are two games back and would appear to have a shot at the slot.

click on chart for larger image

Over in the American League they have two wild card slots. The Blue Jays and Yankees have recently been swapping places for the AL East lead and, at the moment, second place has the best shot at a wild card spot. The Angels would get the other slot if the season ended today, but the major leagues have a lot of games to go. The International League only has about 20 some games left.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

September in August


Season: 56-61; Trip: 0-2

Let me preface this rant with the usual caveat that I am far from being an expert on baseball or minor league baseball. I’m just a guy who follows the Durham Bulls.

It seems to me that the Bulls parent club, the Tampa Bay Rays, has given up on the Durham Bulls. To some extent that’s been true much of the year — we’ll some day get to the puzzle of hiring a bunch of players on opt out contracts at the beginning of the season — but these two games sure look like the Rays don’t really care if the Bulls win or lose.

Take Monday’s game, for example. The starting pitcher was Bradin Hagens who was last seen in a one-inning relief stint on August 8 (following Matt Moore’s 6 innings and Andrew Bellatti’s 1 inning). Hagens has been a starter with the Bulls since his return to the team in early July. Not very successful, 1 win and 4 losses, but his numbers are OK: ERA-3.12, FIP-3.35, WHIP-1.04, Average Game Score - 55. Still, you have to think that going from starter to reliever and back to starting is difficult and not to be done if your concern is winning games.

He was followed in that game by Dylan Floro in his first appearance this year as a reliever, after 22 appearances as a starter. Granted, Floro hasn’t been all that impressive this year; however, the events that seem to be dragging down his numbers are one-inning blowups. So are the Rays betting that if he’s a reliever he has a better chance of helping the Rays? Guess so. Not on Monday. On Monday he gave up 2 runs on 3 hits in his one inning. Hagens took the loss with his 3 runs on 5 hits over 5 innings.

Then we have last night’s game. Yes, the Tides are hot and their pitcher, Elih Villanueva, was superb, and the Tides did pull off a rare triple play. But the Bulls were handicapped by their starting pitcher, rehabbing Drew Smyly, who in his three starts as a Bull has done the team no favors (he’s given up 10 runs in 10.2 innings), last night being part of a package as he gave up 2 earned runs over 4 innings. Who was in relief? The Bulls best remaining starting pitcher, Scott Diamond. Since the All-Star break Diamond has had two starts and 3 long relief appearances. He cleaned up the debris left by Drew Smyly on July 26, actually got a win after another housekeeping follow-up to Smyly on Aug 8. We have to note that his two starts were not very effective.

Our larger point is that it certainly appears that the last consideration by the folks down in St. Petersburg is what impact their dictates might have on winning a baseball game.

Traditionally, followers of AAA baseball teams expect that the games of September will be those where we get a look at who’s had a good year in AA and who among our favorites might get a callup. Bulls fans, of course, spend the early part of September worrying about who is going to be available for the playoffs. 

But in August? We simply aren’t used to being so painfully a part of the day-to-day struggles of the parent team. Undoubtedly, once the players get between the lines on any given night they are playing to win. But you have to think that sometimes they are doing it handicapped by the uncertainty floating up from Florida. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Bats Away

Gotta admit he (she) is kind cute

Matt Andriese looked really, really good

Season: 56-59; Home Stand: 4-6;
Games Remaining: 27; Home Games Remaining: 15
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

From the way it started, we have to say that this home stand could have been among the worst in Bulls history. Instead, it ended on an up note when the Bulls won three of the last four. Plus we got to see the talent of young Blake Snell as he threw a no-hitter through his five innings. He was followed by a very decent 1-hit, two innings outing by Everett Teaford, his best outing since being moved to the bullpen. C.J. Riefenhauser K’d the side (with a walk thrown in there). And Jim Miller “closed”.

The other game story was Mikie Mahtook, Taylor Motter and Joey Rickard. As mentioned the other day, Mahtook is simply looking more comfortable since his last return from the Rays. Maybe it was just a change of scenery. He was 2 for 4 with 5 RBI yesterday. Taylor Motter had what seems to be routine for him: an RBI double, and two walks. New guy Joey Rickard kept up his bid to stick in AAA with a triple and a single and 3 RBI.

The 9-run differential matches the one from Friday and gives us hope that the Bulls will wrap up the season with at least a few respectable, fun-to-watch games.

Outside the game—
  • J.P. Arencibia is hanging out with the Rays, but has not gone on their roster. Rays catcher, former Bull Curt Casali was injured and the Rays wanted some insurance with the team. Mayo Acosta has been put on the active roster.
  • Somehow I wasn’t paying attention to this: Robert Zarate, the mystery pitcher who came up from the Charlotte Stone Crabs in mid-June and who has been doing a terrific job, is on the disabled list. If anyone knows why, please jump in. I’ve been distracted recently.
  • Desmond Jennings is not going to Norfolk for tonight’s game, but there’s been no official announcement of his status. 
  • First base coach for the Louisville Bats last night? Former Bull Matt Buschmann. Oddly enough, he is featured on the Bulls home page today wearing his Bulls hat. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Bats Muffled

Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Season: 55-58; Home Stand: 3-5

This was possibly the best all-around Bulls game of the year. The run differential of 9 runs was, by a couple of runs, the biggest of the year. The 16 hits and 8 walks were part of a team OPS of 1.064, 300 points above the IL average of .717. Matt Moore and 3 relievers held the Bats to just 3 hits, 2 walks, and 1 run with 11 K’s. 

It was a rainy night in Durham. I watched on TV and noticed all the fans huddled under their umbrellas. Ground balls in the outfield spun up rooster-tails as they ran over the grass. One long ball to the right field wall didn’t bounce, it just died on the warning track. Several times the grounds crew was out with Diamond-Dry for the mound and batter’s box (trivia question of the day: What is Diamond-Dry made from?). Batters were constantly wiping their bats down between pitches (How could that possibly do any good, I thought. Maybe?)

Every Bull got a hit, except for Hak-Ju Lee. However, Lee got an RBI on a bases-loaded walk in the the 1st inning. Mikie Mahtook is back and batted leadoff. He started with a single and followed up with a 3-run homer in the 6th. He looked more comfortable at the plate than I’ve seen him all year. New guy Joey Rickard is making the most of his time in AAA. He was 4 for 6 and is hitting .444 so far. Taylor Motter was 4 for 5 in one of his best games of the year. Luke Maile got back up above the Mendoza Line.

Meanwhile, the newest Bull is Rays star left-hander Matt Moore. He has been sent down to sort out his recovery from surgery and, after some real troubles with the Rays last month, he gave the Bats a tutorial on big league pitching. He may not yet be back to his best fastball, but his off-speed stuff was nasty. Indeed, he had four perfect innings before a couple of singles got through in the 5th. The rest of the inning was ground outs (with one walk), but a run got across. The 6th was 3 up, 3 drown. 

He was followed by Andrew Bellatti, not seen for quite a while. He K’d the side. Then Bradin Hagens for his first appearance as a reliever in this trip to AAA. He gave up a single before getting the next three batter out. José Dominguez walked one, but he was double up and a ground out finished the game.

Bulls-Bats games over the years have often been fun to watch. The Reds have a good system and, usually, manage their guys well. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Two More

Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Season: 53-58; Home Stand: 1-5
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Writing about the 2015 Durham Bulls has become a painful experience. I spent all day yesterday at a hospital and didn’t tune into the game until a few batters in to the 6th inning. Wish I’d left the radio off. Ugly, ugly inning.

Since coming back to Durham, the Bulls have scored just 12 runs over 6 games. Their pitchers (and defense) have let in 32 runs over those same 6 games. Hard to get ahead when that’s happening. Yes, there is a bit of chaos in the Rays system, but doesn’t seem too much worse than what has been going on all year.

If we expand out look out to the all-star break (July 16) the Bulls have played 21 games, won 6 and lost 15. They have been shut out or scored just one run in 7 of those games. I’d put up a bunch of charts, but you get the story. Somehow the Bulls got off track over the break and have not come back.

Apparently rehabbing Drew Smyly is to start tonight. As will Desmond Jennings.

We can keep hoping for a turnaround …

Personal Note: Most of you who have met me have also met Fran, my wife. She had knee replacement surgery yesterday and I’m pleased to report that she’s doing just fine. The old knee was the reason she had not been at many games this year. Maybe the new knee will at least let her get to a game or two before the season ends.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Pitcher Has Problems

Season: 53-56; Home Stand: 1-3
Wrap, Box

A starting pitcher at the DBAP had an awful inning and gave up enough runs to lose the game — and he wasn’t wearing a Durham Bulls uniform!

Indianapolis’ Radhames Liz is a ten-year veteran who can still throw a 98 mph fastball, but sometimes has problems. Last night’s 4th inning, for example. Taylor Motter popped up to 2B for the first out. J.P. Arencibia walked. Corey Brown walked. Jake Elmore was hit by a pitch to load the bases. New guy Joey Rickard hit a line drive single to left to drive in Arencebia. Hak-Ju Lee hit a sacrifice fly to center field that scored Brown. With Elmore on 3rd base and Rickard on 1st base the Indians left fielder dropped Luke Maile’s fly ball right in front of the video board and Elmore scored. Liz then walked Boog Powell to load the bases again, but Desmond Jennings grounded out to end inning (note for Rays fans: second time this rehab stint that Jennings has made a bases-loaded out).

Three runs on one hit! It says something for Liz’s erratic nature that he finished his night pitching two more innings with seven straight outs: A ground out (Jennings), a liner to left, two K’s, a ground out, and two more K’s. Fastballs were still in the 95-98 mph range after 90 pitches.

For trivia fans, last night’s two hit win matches one from way back on May 13th that the Bulls won 1-0.

Outside the game —
  • Richie Shaffer got on base, Mickie Mahtook got the game-winning RBI, and Kevin Kiermaier made a great throw. Good day for ex-Bulls up in Chicago. [story]
  • Lots of folks go to Bulls games whether they are home or elsewhere. The Bulls average 7,776 at home and are averaging 6,676 as a draw while on the road. Although some might say that the away games are possibly not all that good a measure of how much of a draw the most famous team in minor league baseball can be. Last night (a Monday) was one of the smaller crowds this year and still fun. Buffalo back in May and Gwinnett just last week appear to be the sites where the Bulls are the least popular. Although it's entirely possible that it's the Bisons and the Braves who aren't popular.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Slide Continues

Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

Season: 52-56; Home Stand: 0-3
Wrap, Box, Herald-Sun

The Durham Bulls slid deeper into the cellar of the International League South Division with last night’s shutout. Bradin Hagens had a decent start, but it’s hard to win without any run support. And then Everett Teaford, who has had a tough time of it since being sent down from Tampa Bay (10 earned runs in 6⅔ innings — ERA 13.5) had three runs scored on him (1 earned). Which brings up the problem of stone hands/rubber arms: the Bulls have committed 15 errors in the last 5 games.

Nonetheless, it was interesting to see J.P. Arencibia start the game as the Bulls' catcher. That has not happened much this year. Richie Shaffer started at first base, but got pulled from the game (apparently as a call-up to the Rays). Arencibia took off the gear and went to first. Mayo Acosta got to make a rare appearance as catcher.

Jared Sandberg got tossed from the game after a Boog Powell pickoff. Guess he couldn’t see the play on TV re-run. It was a good call by the ump (if that’s what he was arguing about). Powell also got caught attempting to steal and made a throwing error. Not a good day for the youngster.

Speaking of stolen bases, one of the few Bulls strengths this year. They have not stolen a base in the last six games. That might, however, simply indicate a respect for Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt’s arm.

Outside the game —
  • Let me put in a bit of skepticism regarding the Richie Shaffer call-up. Don’t get me wrong, I really like him and he has been a very exciting guy to watch (even though he seems to do better on the road than at home). Nevertheless, it’s worth pointing out that IL pitchers may have figured something out about him. He’s .241 over the last 10 games and has just one home run. 
  • Mikie Mahtook went up to the Rays; came back and put on a Bulls uniform for one game; and went back to the Rays (0-4 last night).
  • Grady Sizemore is up with the Rays.
  • Joey Rickard, a 24 year-old outfielder with the Montgomery Biscuits, has been called up to the Bulls. He has some very nice numbers with the Biscuits. And seems to be fast (19 stolen bases and 6 triples — I take a triple to be more a measure of speed than of power). Also looks like he crowds the plate a bit. He’s accumulated 40 hits by pitch in his 4 seasons of pro ball (just 5 this year, though). [stats]
  • Matt Moore has been optioned to the Bulls. I like watching him pitch. He’s working hard to come back from Tommy John surgery and didn’t do well with the Rays after his two (also not very good) rehab starts here in late June. Yeah, he’s not likely to really help the Bulls, but at this point WDBB is starting to focus on individual performance anyhow. We get a chance to see a great pitcher work on his comeback. He probably should have stayed here for a couple more games anyhow.
  • Another rehabber, Drew Smyly, may also be coming back for a start soon.
  • The N&O has a feature article on new guy Blake Snell. He should start the next day or so.
  • Today: Indianapolis Indians (Pittsburgh Pirates). First place in IL West. ERA - #5; Hitting (OPS) - #9.

The Slide

click on chart for larger image

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Blue Moon Over the DBAP

Desmond Jennings, July 21, 2010, Courtesy Durham Herald-Sun

Season: 52-54; Home Stand: 0-1

The Gwinnett Braves are the worst in the International League when it comes to hitting home runs, just 34 on the season, 8 behind the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (The Bulls are second in the League with 91). And that in spite of the fact that they play most of their games in a hitter-friendly park. So how come they got 2 last night? That’s 6% of all their home runs for all year! Sigh.

Former Bull Desmond Jennings is back in town and he met one of the two clothing items I watch for among rehabbing major leaguers. He was in long pants rather than the knickers and stockings all the Bulls are required to wear, but he was wearing the minor leaguer-required batting helmet (two ear flaps, more cushioning) instead of his major league version. Recovering from knee surgery, he was more aggressive on the bases than I expected. He drew two walks and participated in the Bulls’ best shot to get back into the game in the 6th inning when he came to bat with the bases loaded. He got a gift, a 3rd strike foul popup dropped by the Braves catcher. But then had another long foul ball caught on a gutsy grab by the Braves right fielder. 

In addition to the home runs, miscues by the Bulls didn’t help. They had three errors, a passed ball, and a wild pitch that kept the anxiety level high even if they only one led to a run. They’ve had 12 errors in the last four games.

This was our first chance to see Grady Sizemore in a Bulls uniform. He was playing left field and did not do well at the plate (most Bulls did not). The Bulls mostly got runners on base through the generosity of Braves pitching (8  bases on balls), although there was the dinger by Nick Franklin and timely shots by Ryan Brett and Richie Shaffer.

Ah, but the blue moon that rose up from the east around the 8th. Wasn’t that spectacular? Now that’s something you won’t see at Tropicana Field.

Outside the game —
  • I left at the 8th and saw the beginnings what looked to be a enormous traffic snarl developing on the ramps to the eastbound Durham Freeway. To his credit, I also saw Bulls General Manager Mike Birling out there personally trying to sort things out with the road repairing crew at the key intersection of Magnum St and the freeway service road. I got lucky and was able to get on 501 north and back to my part of Raleigh on NC 98. I’m guessing that the post-fireworks crowd had some serious problems. My point is that Bulls folks were trying to figure it out for us. Here’s hoping they did.

  • Mikie Mahtook got called up to the Rays and went 2 for 4 with an RBI playing left field in Boston.
  • Kirby Yates got called up.
  • Catcher Bobby Wilson was DFA'd and claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers, so he’s gone.
  • Catcher Mayo Acosta was assigned “from  Short-Season Hudson Valley”
  • Infielder Jake Elmore is back from a long stint with the Rays.
  • As noted above Desmond Jennings is with the Bulls on a rehab assignment. He would be with them through much of this home stand.
  • Rehabbing Drew Smyly has gone off the roster, but that’s a day-to-day thing. If the Rays want him to pitch against AAA hitting, he’ll be back.

Innings Pitched

The radio guys, Patrick Kinas and fellow Razorback Scott Poser, got chatting about August and innings pitched. Here’s how the current crew looks. The chart does not include innings pitched elsewhere. For example, Blake Snell, not on the chart at all, has 98.2 innings this year at all levels.

click on chart for larger view

NOTE: Sizemore has been called up and Mahtook is coming back — 1 August update