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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Durham Bulls rained out; doubleheader tomorrow; plentiful roster notes

Posted by on Thu, Aug 5, 2010 at 9:04 PM

Former Bull Chris Nowak has left the Rays organization
  • photo: milb.com
  • Former Bull Chris Nowak has left the Rays organization
Look out the window tonight? So, the Durham Bulls' first game back after a 6-2 road trip to Lehigh Valley and Pawtucket—a trip that saw them extend their South Division lead to basically unreachable lengths—has been called off. The Bulls and the Indianapolis Indians will play a doubleheader on Friday starting at—set your watch!—6:05 p.m.

The rainout gives the Bulls a second straight day off, and due to an oddity of the International League schedule they have another one coming up on Monday. I trust they're all already enjoying their cache of bon-bons and Henry James novels.

While I have you, a few notes on the state of the team follow, if you care to make the jump. Otherwise, I'll see you for two seven-inning mini-matches tomorrow at 6:05 p.m.

With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline came a few personnel moves that changed the Bulls' roster, although none was the result of an actual trade. As you probably know, Dan Johnson was promoted to Tampa, mainly because of an injury to starting first baseman Carlos Pena (Ben Zobrist had been hurting as well, although he has returned to action). Johnson has only one hit in three games so far with the Rays, but it was a game-tying, ninth-inning single in a game (on Wednesday) that Tampa wound up losing in 13 innings.

Also, as you probably know, Bulls' ace Jeremy Hellickson was called up to make a spot-start on Monday (in a rotation-resting gesture by the Rays) and was excellent, earning his first big-league victory with seven strong innings of two-run ball. He was then immediately sent back to Durham so that Johnson could come up. As it happens, Johnson's clutch hit on Wednesday notwithstanding, the Rays might rather have called up another pitcher, because their bullpen—thinned with Johnson essentially taking a pitcher's spot on the roster—coughed up a pair of potential wins on Wednesday and Thursday. But the Bulls' Mike Ekstrom and Dale Thayer, both on the Rays' 40-man roster, weren't summoned to Tampa.

Neither, for that matter, were eligible Double-A hurlers Jake McGee and Alexander Torres. One of them, though, McGee, was promoted from Montgomery—not to Tampa but to Durham, along with outfielder/first baseman Leslie Anderson. These promotions are not, I don't think, bisquick moves; rather, Anderson and McGee are intended to finish the season as Bulls, assuming that they perform well in Triple-A. The move calls to mind last year's midsummer elevation of Hellickson and Desmond Jennings to Durham.

I've mused about Anderson and McGee a bit before. Anderson is a 28-year-old Cuban defector—don't let the Anglo name fool you—whom the Rays threw a fair amount of money at just before the season began. He started in Class A, moved up to Double-A Montgomery, where he has put up very solid numbers (a .304 average and an .857 OPS in 48 games) to earn the promotion to Durham. Anderson was one of Cuba's best players before he came to the US. Here's an excerpt from an article by the esteemed sportswriter Michael Lewis (the author of Moneyball) that features Anderson. I'm pretty excited to see what he does in Durham.

McGee, who turns 24 tomorrow (the promotion makes a nice birthday present!), might very well have been a Bull much sooner, but he tore his ulnar collateral ligament and had Tommy John surgery in 2008. Still a hard-throwing lefty—he used to hit 99 mph, now reaches the mid-90s, according to this scouting report—he may wind up in the Rays' bullpen. But he was a starter for Montgomery, and struck out an impressive 100 batters in 88+ innings, along with 33 walks (which is a little high).

Where does McGee fit into the Durham pitching staff? According to Chris Wise over at WDBB, Bulls' manager Charlie Montoyo said that McGee will pitch out of the bullpen, even though he was used exclusively as a starter in Montgomery. Given that Jeremy Hellickson was placed on a heavily-curtailed innings limit shortly before his one-day callup to Tampa, I wouldn't be entirely surprised to see some piggybacking, whereby Hellickson pitches the first three or four innings of a game and McGee relieves him for a few more. There has been speculation, in any case, that McGee will wind up in the bullpen down the road anyway.

A few other roster notes before I sign off for the night:

* Will Dan Johnson be back? The promotion of Leslie Anderson would seem to suggest no, but on the other hand, Carlos Pena should be back from his injury soon enough, and then the need for Johnson more or less evaporates until the Sept. 1 roster-expansion makes him available again at no cost to the other personnel. We'll have to wait and see; in any case, at best he won't be in Durham much longer, if at all. Frankly, with his gaudy numbers in Triple-A, why bother stashing him here again? (For that matter, I was a proponent of leaving Hellickson in Tampa as a bullpen asset, where he could, for example, have pitched deep into extra innings in the Rays' 13-inning loss on Wednesday. He has to be an improvement over Lance Cormier, who wound up taking the loss despite pitching pretty well—the problem was that he was extended into a fourth inning because Rays' manager Joe Maddon had no one else in his bullpen.)

* Just a few minutes ago, my editor, David Fellerath, emailed me (from his vacation, no less) with a tweet from Bulls outfielder Fernando Perez, which went: "Doc- do you believe in god? F- I... D- (interrupts)-well when god made the shoulder he messed up." One can only speculate what this means. Perez had shoulder surgery in October after a 2009 season almost totally lost to injuries. It may be that the recuperation hasn't gone as well as hoped (which would perhaps explain Perez's poor numbers this year); worse, it could indicate a flaring up of the original damage, possibly shelving Perez again—would that have something to do with Anderson's callup? Again, this is all just speculation, and perhaps a cautionary tale about placing too much faith in Twitter, where I myself post occasional trifles and nothings.

* Chris Nowak, the 27-year-old corner infielder who played for the Bulls for parts of 2008 and 2009 (he had about 250 plate appearances here last year), requested his release recently and was granted it. He has since latched with the Milwaukee Brewers, who assigned him to their Class AA affiliate in Huntsville, Ala. Nowak had spent his entire professional career with the Rays; he signed with them in the 19th round of the 2004 draft. Big and tall (6-foot-5, 225 pounds), he looked like a Ryan Shealy-type slugger but never hit for a lot of power—his 15 home runs for Montgomery in 2008 remains his highest season total—and he seemed to have leveled off as a Double-A talent: this was his fourth year with the Biscuits. I don't know why he asked for his release immediately upon reaching his six-year threshold, but here's hoping that the change of teams and scenery will do him some good. Nowak, who is from Milwaukee, may have found a home yet. In his honor, I'm giving him the lead photo tonight. We'll never see it up there again.

Till tomorrow, then, at 6:05 p.m. If you think the Bulls have undergone some changes, you should see the Indianapolis Indians, whose parent club, the Pittsburgh Pirates, were very busy at the July 31 trade deadline. First of all, they dealt... ahh, never mind. This is a Bulls blog post, and there will be plenty of time to delve into the Indians' summer tomorrow.

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