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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Durham Bulls Bounce Back, Beat Mud Hens

Posted by on Wed, Jun 24, 2009 at 3:33 PM

I guess Durham outfielder Matt Joyce reads Triangle Offense. I ended my previous post by urging Joyce to break out of the horrific (3-38) streak in which he'd been mired since his return to the Bulls from Tampa; so he hit a two-run homer in the first inning to open the scoring in the Bulls' eventual 4-2 win at Toledo on Wednesday afternoon. This was an important, tone-changing win for Durham, coming barely more than 12 hours after a tough, 4 1/2-hour 11-10 loss in 13 innings the night before.

Joyce's tag-team partner in the middle of the lineup, Justin Ruggiano, added a tie-breaking solo shot in the top of the eighth. He's The Roodge today. Ruggiano is a mercurial player, often making both great and terrible plays in the very same game, but at his best he's a dangerous hitter who complements his straightaway and opposite-field power with deceptively good speed. Ruggiano has great recovery speed in center field, and he leads the Bulls in stolen bases with 12; he's been caught only twice. If he can eliminate the SBGs, the excessive strikeouts (he actually draws a fair number of walks), the struggles against left-handers, and the times when he seems bored or even petulant, he has the tools to make himself into a solid major-league outfielder.

Wade Davis made this win possible for Durham, tossing six strong innings and allowing two runs. He needed 99 pitches (70 strikes!) to do it, but that had something to do with having to pitch around three errors; one of his runs allowed was unearned, and Davis has now been victimized for six unearned runs over his last three starts. The culprit today was our old friend Ray Olmedo, who gave Reid Brignac a day off at shortstop.

Well, perhaps "day off" isn't quite right, since Brignac was probably getting plenty of exercise (and perhaps ulcers) fidgeting a lot on the bench while he watched Olmedo make a pair of fielding errors. Matt Joyce made one too, out in right field, but still Davis found his way around the miscues and turned in another strong performance. Chad Bradford, working for the second straight day as per orders from the Tampa brass (they wanted to make sure he can handle the workload) threw a scoreless seventh inning, and Dale Thayer retired all six batters he faced to earn his 10th save, a two-inning job that helped preserve the overtaxed bullpen. Thayer was reasonably efficient to boot, throwing 24 pitches.

Another bright spot: the still-hot Rhyne Hughes, who had another multi-hit game, went 2-4 with a double and raised his average to .323 as a Bull. When Chris Richard returns, Hughes will be returned to Double-A Montgomery; but the Rays will do it with a sigh, as when you realize that a wine you've been cellaring is, surprisingly, ready to drink sooner than you expected, but you have other, maturer bottles waiting to be consumed first, and so back down it goes.

Amazingly, the Bulls, who despite today's win have lost 11 of their last 14 games, are back in second place in the tightly-bunched International League South division. If Norfolk and Gwinnett happen to lose tonight, Durham will be all alone in first place. Who'd have thunk it?

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