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Friday, August 14, 2009

Durham Bulls beat Gwinnett Braves, salvage last game of series

Posted by on Fri, Aug 14, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Leave it to the Bulls to get their only win of this grim series against the Braves by overcoming a two-time major-league All-Star. Rehabbing Atlanta pitcher Tim Hudson wasn't anything like the victim in last night's 9-5 Durham win, but he didn't shut the Bulls down either, permitting five hits and two runs in four innings before departing after reaching what I assume was a predetermined pitch-count limit. The Bulls then sloshed around for a while before finally deciding to unload on Gwinnett closer Luis Valdez, whom they bombarded for six runs in the ninth inning and handed his eighth blown save. Had they lost, the Bulls would have staggered home after a sweep at the hands of the Braves, two games back of the division lead. As it stands, they return just a game back, and coming off another electrifying comeback win. No matter how or when or for how long they struggle, this team never quits. You have to give them credit for that.

A few notes follow.

Joe Nelson remains a mystery. Since his first appearance with the Bulls, which was a resounding success, he's had lots of trouble. Last night, he faced 10 batters in two innings, and half of them reached base. The triple he allowed is one thing---triples are basically just carbonated doubles---but the two walks and the hit batter are alarming given that Nelson's control problems caused his demotion in the first place. He has walked five and hit two batters in six innings with the Bulls, and opponents are batting .375 against him. He's probably lucky that only one run scored against him last night, thanks in part to a runner picked off and/or caught stealing, depending on how you interpret the recap and box score (which is all I have to go on). There were also a pair of lineouts in Nelson's second inning of work. If he doesn't turn things around soon, he may hasten his departure from the Rays' organization.

The Durham bullpen as a whole is still scuffling. Dale Thayer pitched a scoreless eighth inning, but he allowed a hit and a hard-hit out to left field. He got his first win of the season for his efforts, and is now 1-5. Jason Childers gave up a run in the bottom of the ninth, doling out two hits, a walk and a wild pitch. His ERA climbed to 3.99. I bet no one in the world hopes that number stays under 4.00 more than Childers does (although I hope so, too; Childers is a good guy).

Jon Weber homered and hit his league-leading 41st double of the season. He also leads the International League in extra base hits (no one else is even close) and total bases, and ranks fourth in on-base percentage. For good measure, he's 11th in walks, but just six off the league lead. He has also hit safely in 11 of his last 12 games. There is a movement afoot to champion Weber's late-season promotion to the majors, which would be the first ever for the 31-year-old career minor leaguer. In terms of the Rays' overall organizational plans, Weber is somewhere around fifth on their depth chart for minor-league outfielders, but his overall numbers (.302/.383/.497/.881) recommend him for a callup. The question is where he would play. His natural position is left field, where Carl Crawford is comfortably installed. He could also DH, but is he really a better choice than the guys who usually get the call from Joe Maddon?

Joe Dillon cleared waivers and has accepted his assignment to Durham, according to the Bulls' Twitter feed and this blog. More fun for Charlie Montoyo, who will have to send someone off his roster again. Keep in mind that, when rosters expand, which happens in about 2 1/2 weeks, all kinds of reshuffling will happen, so some of the upcoming additions and subtractions may turn out to be temporary. Also, the Hudson Valley "roster" may get clogged up with Bulls for a while. It's also quite possible that we'll see a trade. For one thing, Tampa still owes the Baltimore Orioles a Player-to-Be-Named-Later for Greg Zaun; for another, the Rays put Jeff Niemann and Andy Sonnanstine on waivers this week, just for fun, and both were claimed (the Rays pulled them back). The Rays probably weren't trying to move either player---it's common practice this time of year for teams to put players on waivers just to gauge interest level---but all of this is to say that there is plenty of instability around the organization. With Tampa hovering in that are-we-or-aren't-we-contending zone, it may take a bit more time for all of it to shake down.

An extra-curricular note. One of my favorite former Bulls, Jonny Gomes, who played at the DBAP against the Bulls for Louisville earlier this season, hit three home runs for the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday night. It was the second time in his career that Gomes has done that in the majors. Not even Babe Ruth did it more. The game was started by Bronson Arroyo, which I mention only because Arroyo had some unusually candid and eye-opening thoughts about PEDs recently.

Meanwhile, the Bulls are charging up I-85 as I write this, and they begin another eight-game homestand on Friday. One thing seems sure in this otherwise uncertain moment: the Bulls really need to do better than they did during their last eight-game DBAP residency, when they went just 4-4. They've lost five of their last seven games. Winning six of their next eight would make a nice antidote. Andy Sonnanstine is on the mound Friday for the Bulls and Akinori Iwamura is at second base. Speaking of Japanese ballplayers at the DBAP on Friday night, the Yankees' starter will be Kei Igawa. Igawa was the consolation prize in the Daisuke Matsuzaka sweepstakes a few years back, which Boston won (and now perhaps wishes it hadn't). The New York Yankees paid out $46 million for Igawa; their money has turned out to purchase the guy who holds the rather dubious record for career wins by a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre pitcher, and probably also the distinction of being the highest-paid player in the minor leagues. Did the Yankees learn nothing from Hideki Irabu? And are you ready for a whole bunch of New York transplants clustering by the visitors' dugout at the DBAP, clamoring for Shelley Duncan's autograph? Ready or not, see you at the DBAP!

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