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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Richard the Lionhearted! (And More Bulls on the Move)

Posted by on Sun, May 24, 2009 at 3:04 PM

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="244" caption="From Bluefish to Bull: Henry Mateo was signed for today's game"]From Bluefish to Bull: Henry Mateo was signed for todays game[/caption]Somewhere around the bottom of the eighth inning last night in Allentown, PA, Chris Richard must have heard that Shelley Duncan had hit two more homers for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, raising his league-leading total to 14. Richard may also have been informed that the Bulls, playing by then in a patchwork state of astounding lineup weirdness, were trailing the Lehigh Valley IronPigs by a run. He may even have asked what an IronPig is, and received in return from his teammates blank and helpless stares.

So Richard stepped to the plate after Joe Dillon was hit by a pitch and hit a two-run homer to give Durham a 5-4 win. Richard's homer was his 11th of the season. It was the Bulls' eighth win in their last 11 games.

Richard has been making a recent habit of not only hitting home runs but hitting important ones. His 10th homer, which he hit the previous night, was a three-run shot that trimmed the Bulls' deficit from 5-0 to 5-3. They lost the game, but they'd have had no chance to win it at all without Richard's hit. His eighth and ninth homers were both grand slams, and they came in the same game on May 15th. The first got the Bulls within a run of Rochester; the second won the game in the 11th inning. Richard should have had another grand slam on Tuesday, but his long fly ball to left-center was knocked down by the wind and he had to settle for a two-run double.

I know Richard is 34 years old, but surely there's a team out there that could use his bat---and his expert glove at first base, where he has been regularly bailing Bulls' infielders out of throwing errors this season.

Jon Weber had the other big hit for the Bulls last night, a three-run job that trimmed the Bulls' deficit from 5-0 to 5-3 (hmmm, that sounds familiar). This time, Richard capitalized.

Oddly, it wasn't Richard's heroics that were the story of the game. A look over the box score is enough to set your head spinning. With David Price headed to Tampa, for whom he's apparently slated to pitch tomorrow, he was scratched from his scheduled start for the Bulls yesterday. Without another starter added to his roster, manager Charlie Montoyo tapped reliever Jason Childers. (Montoyo told me at one point during the homestand that Childers would be the team's long man and emergency starter.) Childers wasn't especially effective, allowing all four of Lehigh's runs on seven hits in just three innings---not exactly a long-man outing---but he "kept the team in the game," I suppose, as the saying goes.

The hero of the day, in fact, wasn't Richard but Julio DePaula, who came on in relief of Childers and tossed four hitless innings. It's only too bad that DePaula was gone by the time Richard hit his ninth-inning game-winner, because he would have gotten the win he deserved. Instead that honor went to Winston Abreu (2-0), who threw two hitless innings himself---in fact, he recorded all six of his outs via strikeouts. The Durham bullpen has not allowed a run since Tuesday afternoon, a streak that spans 15 innings.

With Reid Brignac still in Tampa (he pinch-ran yesterday for Evan Longoria, who had been hit by a pitch), Ray Olmedo started at shortstop. Olmedo appears to have been injured on the basepaths, because he was lifted for a pinch-runner: John Jaso, who runs surprisingly well for a catcher (also, who else did Montoyo have?). Olmedo's injury caused a string of weird moves: second baseman Joe Dillon took over for Olmedo at shortstop, Jaso stayed in the game and replaced Craig Albernaz at catcher, and Albernaz moved from catcher to second base---where, naturally, he handled all three chances cleanly.

Later in the game, Montoyo sent in a pinch hitter for Jaso: Alex Jamieson, the oblate Bull who was apparently added to the team roster again. Jamieson struck out in his only at-bat (as Jaso did in his) and replaced Jaso behind the plate.

Questions: How serious is Olmedo's injury, and is something wrong with Jaso again? The latter had a minor knee ouchie earlier this month that kept him out of a few games. The Bulls are playing an afternoon game as I write this post, and the box score helps answer those questions. The Bulls' shortstop today is newly-acquired Henry Mateo, another early-30s utilityman like Joe Dillon and the recently traded Adam Kennedy. Mateo saw some action in the majors with Montreal and then Washington from 2001-2006. He was playing for the Bridgeport (CT) Bluefish in the independent Atlantic League prior to signing with Tampa/Durham. Mateo must be relieved to have learned that bluefish are plentiful off of the North Carolina coast. He may also have asked for a ticket out because he heard a rumor that Jose Offerman was returning to play against the Bluefish again. Just kidding. Really. Offerman's in jail or something.

(The Atlantic League serves as, among other things, a holding pen for unsigned former major leaguers trying to play their way back: Armando Benitez and Keith Foulke are relievers for the same team---the one that Rickey Henderson did some time with a few years ago.)

Albernaz is behind the plate again today, so you can't help but wonder about Jaso's health. With any luck, both he and Olmedo will be back to full strength before I have an opportunity to ask Montoyo about them when the Bulls return to Durham on Friday.

A final thought about these transactions: Jamieson's addition back onto the roster suggests that Brignac will be returned to Durham from Tampa soon; otherwise, the Bulls would probably have gotten another infielder. As it stands now, they're carrying three catchers---or they were, anyway, before Albernaz did his Joe Morgan impersonation yesterday. And in fact, Jamieson is at first base for the Bulls today; Richard needed a day off, not only because he hasn't gotten very many of them but because he's also been dealing with a chronically tight hamstring. If he's not careful, the Bulls will have to go out and get, I don't know, Rob Deer?

And I can't help adding this before I sign off: Yesterday, the IronPigs' pitching corps looked like this:

Bastardo

Register

Walker

Koplove

So much fun could be had with these names (are you serious, a pitcher named Walker? If Antonio Bastardo becomes naturalized in the US, will he change his name to Tony Illegitimate? Is "Koplove" the name of an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of gay policeman? etc.) that I'll leave it for you as a Sunday-night parlor game. Meanwhile, the Bulls are already in the fifth inning at Lehigh Valley, and Wade Davis is working on a shutout. I guess you'll be hearing from me again soon.

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