DBAP/DURHAM OK baseball fans, today I'm "Safe at Home in Durham" (although I live in Brier Creek now) for Game 4 of the USA National Team's five-game set with Canada.
The Red, White and Blue, which has won all three by comfortable scores, will be favored once again. Not just because the U.S. is just better than Canada in baseball at the amateur level, but also because the Canucks have sent an 18U team. Good for the young boys from Canada to get some experience - I mean every golfer would like to play a round with Tiger Woods, right? - but for competitive balance, not so much.
When I get to the press box I learn there will be a total of two keyboard journalists in the house, and that we will be the first to cover any game in the series, which started on Thursday night in Cary. Kudos to the News & Observer for getting to the game, and I'm not going to take shots at the papers in Burlington or Greensboro or any of the smaller surrounding cities for not being here. I'm just not. I would have been around for the first three myself, but I couldn't be in Zebulon and Durham at the same time.
Today the buffet menu includes both your standard meat-and-tomato sauce lasagna along with a vegetable alternative and Caesar salad.
Canada scored five runs in the first inning on Saturday night before losing 14-5, and today it's competitive early. After the USA, which is the designated "visiting" team, scratches out two in the first, the Canadians tie it in the bottom of the frame.
But when veteran Christian Colon of Cal State-Fullerton - the only school for which somehow game ops does not have the fight song - blasts a two-out, 0-1 offering over the Blue Monster wall in left in the second, the tricolor boys are off to the races. USA scores two in the third, two in the fifth, five in the sixth, four in the seventh and it's a challenge to stay engaged in the process.
The homeboys eventually win it 20-3, with 11 different players hitting safely and Coastal Carolina's Cody Wheeler (pictured) getting the win. In other USA Baseball action on Sunday, Babe Ruth beat Bryce Harper and the American Legion team 8-7 for the championship of the Tournament of Stars.
WAKEMED SOCCER PARK/ CARY—When the final whistle blew after five minutes of stoppage time, and the RailHawks were once again without a victory, losing 2-1 to the Puerto Rico Islanders, the normally unflappable Martin Rennie gave vent—ever so briefly—to his feelings. A water bottle on the grass felt the brunt of Rennie's one-time professional kick, before the young coach composed himself and shook hands with Puerto Rico's formidable coach, Colin Clarke.
June has been brutal for the RailHawks: With only one game remaining this month—a friendly against Panama on Tuesday (a substitute for what woulda/coulda/shoulda been a 3rd round US Open Cup match against the Chicago Fire—the record for the month is this: 0-2-2 in league play and 1-3-2 overall. The only victory came in the month's first game against the USL-2 Richmond Kickers in the opening round of Open Cup play.
What's more, the team that entered June having reeled off four consecutive victories, with an aggregate score of 7-0, and had conceded only five goals all season, gave up nine goals in all competitions in June (four were conceded to USL-2 opposition).
The RailHawks are still in third place, four points behind the Islanders, who took the league lead with the victory. However, the RailHawks have played two fewer games than Puerto Rico, one fewer than second-place Charleston and two more than fourth-place Portland. In terms of points-per-game, the top of the table looks like this:
A week and a day ago at the DBAP, the Bulls jumped on Pawtucket Red Sox' starter Michael Bowden for six runs in the first inning and appeared to put a quick end to both the game and their five-game losing streak. But that contest came during a horrendous stretch in which Durham kept finding ways to lose: the Bulls didn't score again, and Pawtucket chipped away at the lead and finally came from behind to win, 8-6.
On Saturday night against the Columbus Clippers, the Bulls charged out of the gate again, this time even more quickly: Henry Mateo hit the second pitch of the game from Jack Cassel out of the park for a leadoff solo home run. The Bulls tacked on three more in the top of the first with generous help from the Clippers, who donated three infield errors.
Still, you could be forgiven for wondering whether the Bulls would find a way to make their hefty first-inning lead stand up. Not only had they choked on their last one against the PawSox, but Durham starter James Houser, who has been struggling badly, was on the mound.
Wouldn't you know it, Houser turned in probably his best start of the year, and the Bulls sank Columbus, 12-5.
Maybe it was the managerial skills of "Trader Jack" McKeon that inspired a Red, White and Blue comeback on Saturday night at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Canada burst out to a 5-0 lead after half an inning, but the USA National Team pounded out 14 hits to claim a 14-5 victory and win its third straight to start the five-game series. Florida State's Tyler Holt (pictured) reached safely six times with three hits including a pair of doubles with two RBI.
It was also another big day at the 18U Tournament of Stars at the National Training Complex in Cary, as uberprospect Bryce Harper and his American Legion team advanced to today's 4 p.m. title game against the Babe Ruth team.
In the National Team's win, Cal State-Fullerton's Christian Colon had two hits including a triple with two RBI, while Rice's Rick Hague added two hits including a double with two RBI.
T.J. Walz of Kansas got the win in relief, tallying nine strikeouts and allowing only one hit.
Cody Wheeler of Coastal Carolina is scheduled to pitch for the USA in Game 4 today at 5:05 at DBAP.
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON It's the finale of a long six-game series between the Carolina Mudcats and the Jacksonville Suns, and the homeboys are badly in need of a win.
The Mudcats lost the first-half championship of the Southern League's North Division by one game to the Huntsville Stars, but with one game left in the series with the Suns Carolina is in last place in the division and on a three-game losing streak.
It's Day One without center fielder and Major League Futures Game-bound Chris Heisey, and "Myron Noodleman" (pictured) is in the house to entertain.
Michael Griffin is down from Louisville to replace Heisey, and Juan Francisco is off the disabled list after nursing his pulled hamstring.
I'll just go ahead and let you know it's a looooong night for the Mudcats, as they take on a team half-full of guys who were Mudcats last season before Carolina switched affiliations from the Florida Marlins to the Cincinnati Reds and lose 9-0.
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="298" caption="Andy Sonnanstine, seen here practicing for the DBAP's "Sumo Challenge" contest, will join the Durham Bulls"][/caption]Basically, with the readmission of Chad Bradford and Scott Kazmir to the Tampa clubhouse, the Rays looked around at their starters and their starters' stats, and sent the worst one down to Durham. Yes, it's much more complicated than that, with the usual "options" arcana coming into play; but ultimately Andy Sonnanstine, who has started 69 games for Tampa since 2007, would be staying put at the Trop if he wasn't struggling so badly.
The folks at DRaysBay have more and cooler statistical analysis, but it seems to me that you can train your eyes on one column in Sonnanstine's line: hits. Too many of them, 103 in 81 2/3 innings. His strikeout rate has remained steady, but his walk rate has climbed from 1.7/9 to 2.4/9. His home run rate is up 70% as well. All of that is enough to cause big problems. When you put a lot of runners on base, too many will ultimately score. Sonnanstine started 11 games for the Bulls in 2007 and pitched his way into the big leagues. There's no reason the right-hander can't do it again. He's still just 26.
Someone will have to be moved out of the Bulls' starting rotation to make room for Sonnanstine. My guess is that the struggling James Houser, whose scheduled start last night was skipped, will be the odd man out.
More curious is the choice to designate Winston Abreu for assignment. The superficial reason for the move was to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Chad Bradford, but this was a weird way to do it. Abreu was called up to Tampa less than two weeks ago, and made only two appearances with the big-league club. I suppose the Rays knew what they were getting themselves into when they promoted Abreu, who, like Jeff Niemann (also in the transaction mix but finally left alone), is out of options for reasons far too obscure for me to understand. The upshot, though, is that the Rays can't send Abreu back down to Durham without passing him through waivers or a fine-mesh chinois. So essentially Tampa brought Abreu up to pitch all of 3 2/3 major-league innings, only to risk losing him immediately thereafter. The designated-for-assignment rules dictate that the Rays must do something with Abreu within 10 days: trade him, release him, or hope no one puts a waiver claim on him and outright him back to Durham. If this is goodbye, I'm a little perplexed, because it will have meant that the Rays/Bulls essentially swapped Abreu for Jorge Julio, who, even after his two scoreless innings on Friday night, has a 7.36 ERA. All I can think is that the folks up top saw something they didn't like from Abreu. The numbers he put up in Durham were too gaudy to disregard otherwise.
Had you been listening to the Bulls radio broadcast via streaming internet audio right after the Bulls beat Toledo, 5-3, in 15 innings on Friday night, you would have heard a brief, muted conversation between Neil Solondz and his Capitol Broadcasting producer/ engineer, Beth Ellison. After Solondz and Ellison coordinated the postgame wrap plan, Solondz, who had sounded exhausted since I turned on the radio in the 13th inning, around 11:00 p.m., exhaled heavily and said, "Let's not do that again."
The first game of this series, which Toledo won, 11-10, went 13 innings, the night after the Bulls took an 11-hour bus ride to get to Toledo. The Bulls used seven pitchers (215 pitches) in that game, and they used six (246 pitches) on Friday. Four pitchers appeared in both games. In 27+ innings over the two games, they walked 17 men, hit three, and struck out 26. Julio DePaula, who got the win with three scoreless relief innings on Friday, threw 78 pitches combined in the two games.
Bulls hitters had 58 plate appearances in last night's game. They had 12 hits, including two home runs, and struck out 14 times. Manager Charlie Montoyo made no substitutions among his position players. The nine starters played all 15 innings and committed no errors (although they did fail to turn a double play in the 14th when Henry Mateo bobbled Reid Brignac's throw at second base). They were the beneficiaries of an extraordinarily rare Umpire's Interference call in the 10th inning, which saved the Bulls from losing, and they threw out another potentially game-ending run at the plate in the last of the 14th, when Jon Weber gunned down Scott Sizemore trying to score on Clete Thomas's hit---from right field, no less, where Weber rarely plays.
All in all, just another average day at the park for the heart-attack Durham Bulls.
Rick Hague of Rice (pictured) had three hits including a pair of doubles with three RBI, leading a 19-hit attack as Team USA blasted Canada 8-1 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Friday night's win gave the USA victories in the first two games of the five-game set, which began with a 12-4 victory on Thursday night at the National Training Complex in Cary.
The NTC was also the site Friday of the fourth day of the 18U Tournament of Stars, which will see crossover action today.
Team USA will have a special guest manager for tonight's 7:05 p.m. National Team contest against Canada, as "Trader Jack" McKeon - former manager of the Florida Marlins, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres, Oakland A's and Kansas City Royals - will be running the show.
Gerrit Cole of UCLA was the winning pitcher in Friday's game, striking out 12 against one walk and allowing just three hits in 6 2/3 shutout innings.
Florida State's Tyler Holt had three hits including a double and scored three runs from the leadoff spot.
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON I get to the park extra early for fifth game of the Carolina Mudcats' series against the Jacksonville Suns, with the hosts needing two wins to salvage a tie.
The mission is to connect with Mudcats southpaw Travis Wood, for a feature story about him as one of the minor leagues' top prospects for another website.
But Wood doesn't seem to be around, and it takes a while to find out why.
"Didn't you hear?" one teammate says. "He got promoted to Triple-A."
Since it's not my first day doing this, I ask manager David Bell if his team has had any transactions since last night's contest.
Bell answers in the negative and confirms the more plausible clubhouse rumor that Wood - who does arrive in time to pick up a certificate for two earlier Southern League pitcher of the week awards in a pregame presentation - had to make an unplanned trip to the dentist.
That's about 45 minutes I'll never get back, but "hurry up and wait" has long been a reality of sports journalism.
At least I have plenty of time to fill out my scorebook - which is dangerously close to being full already - and get some computer things accomplished after making my pregame cheeseburger disappear.
(Spoiler alert, the Mudcats fall 6-2 for their third straight loss, and after the game center fielder Chris Heisey, pictured, - who will play in the Major League Futures Game on July 12 - is promoted to Triple-A Louisville.)
Good news for Bulls fans: Chris Richard has been activated after his second stint on the disabled list with hamstring tightness. Despite having missed 30 of the team's 74 games, most of them in the last month, the 35-year-old Richard still leads the team with 11 home runs, and his 37 RBIs are just one behind Ray Sadler's team-leading 38. Richard's .855 OPS is also tops on the team except for the very-small-sample-sized Rhyne Hughes's .978.
Speaking of Hughes, I had suggested more than once that he would be sent back down to Montgomery once Richard was activated, but as recent commenter Jack, uh, commented, pure performance logic argued that Hughes stay and share time with Richard. Jack got it right (and I got it wrong): instead of Hughes, outfielder Rashad Eldridge (pictured) was Bisquicked. The 27-year-old Eldridge played reasonably well for the Bulls, hitting .301 and covering ample ground in the outfield. But he had little power, and for a speedy guy didn't do much on the basepaths, stealing just two bases and getting caught three times. He was also the Bulls' fifth outfielder, and that surplus meant more games as designated hitter for Matt Joyce, Justin Ruggiano, Ray Sadler and Jon Weber. With Eldridge's demotion to Montgomery, the Tampa front office made the tacit choice to give more of those DH at-bats to Hughes and Richard, both left-handed sluggers who play the same position and will only get sufficient plate appearances by doing some time at DH. The transaction should give a boost to the team's hitting; it also affords immediate protection should Richard tweak the hamstring again.
It needs to be said that Hughes forced the Rays to keep him in Durham by swinging a hot bat in his short (so far) stint. He took advantage of the opportunity. Kudos to him for that.
Reliever Chad Bradford's rehab assignment ended, and he has been promoted to Tampa as expected. A pitcher will have to move off of the major-league roster, and the speculation on who that will be has included Winston Abreu, David Price and Andy Sonnanstine, all for different reasons. According to a couple of sources, Abreu is out of options, although I couldn't figure out why, based on his professional history. But transaction rules befuddle me sometimes. Sonnanstine has been mostly awful and still has options; so does Price, and the young phenom has performed erratically since his callup about a month ago. I'd like to see him back in Durham for more seasoning. But I'd also like my mortgage loan application to be approved, and that hasn't happened yet either.
Regardless of who's on and off the Tampa-Durham shuttle, Triangle Offense will keep you up to date.