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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Durham Bulls' Win Streak Ends at Charlotte: Terror Torres

Posted by on Sun, Jul 5, 2009 at 5:40 AM

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="275" caption="Carlos Torres is armed and dangerous."]Carlos Torres is armed and dangerous.[/caption]To recap the Buck Showalter Theorem and modify it to the Triple-A season: You can count on losing about 50 games a year and winning about 50, regardless of how you prepare; it's what you do with the other 44 that determine whether you're playoff-bound or a cellar dweller. It's easy enough to categorize Durham's 11-2 loss at Charlotte last night by glancing at Matt DeSalvo's pitching line in the box score: the Durham starter was tagged for nine runs in just 2 2/3 innings; this one was lost early. Each of DeSalvo's last four starts has been poor, and you can't help wondering if the current membership of the International League (Hitters' Division) has now seen enough of his application for readmission and has initiated rejection proceedings. The 29-year-old has to start showing some new and consistent efficacy, like his teammate Jason Cromer has, in order to show the Rays that there's anything interesting left there. But although DeSalvo assured the Bulls of defeat last night, the game might have been over before it even began.

Durham is now 6-5 against Charlotte this season. Had the Bulls not played four games against Knights' starter Carlos Torres, they'd be 6-1. Torres, who was picked for the International League All-Star team, is 8-4 this year, 3-0 against Durham (with a no-decision in a fourth Knights' win). His overall line versus the Bulls: 24 innings pitched, 15 hits, two runs, eight walks, 25 strikeouts. That's nasty. He's an All-Star in large part because of his dominance of one team.

What's nastiest is that last night's start was the best one yet for Torres---not just against the Bulls, but arguably against any team this season. Well, actually, the best was probably this one. But last night's performance was in some ways even better. Torres went eight innings, his longest outing of the year, and recorded his second-highest strikeout total so far (he leads the league with 93 overall). The only blemish was a fourth-inning solo home run by Reid Brignac, his third in two days. (Chris Richard added anotherr solo shot, his team-leading 14th, in the ninth off of reliever Kelvin Jimenez. Richard is second in the league in homers despite having missed nearly a third of the season due to injury.)

One revealing piece of information from the game: After DeSalvo was knocked out, he was relieved by James Houser, whose most recent turn in the starting rotation was claimed by Andy Sonnanstine. Houser went 3 1/3 innings last night. He allowed only one run, on a solo homer by Cole Armstrong, one of two for Armstrong in the game (he also touched up John Meloan for a long ball in Meloan's first appearance as a Bull). Extrapolating from Houser's relief appearance, it's tempting to conclude that he and DeSalvo are now in competition for the final slot in the rotation (the one formerly held by none other than David Price). If Mitch Talbot ever returns from his arm problems---he's now been out a whopping 5 1/2 weeks---they might both be out of a job in Durham.

Also, right after I wrote today that Chris Nowak's demotion to Montgomery left Ray Olmedo as the Bulls' lone third baseman, wouldn't you know acting manager Dave Myers decided to play havoc with the infield configuration and prove me wrong yet again. Henry Mateo, who has played second base exclusively for over a month, moved to third for the first time this season. He hadn't played there since 2006. Reid Brignac ceded shortstop to Olmedo and moved over to second base. Oh well. It seems like the 2009 Durham Bulls Axiom is: Every player will play every position he can possibly play (and perhaps one or two he can't) before the end of the season.

Mateo, Brignac and Olmedo handled all of their chances cleanly, but catcher John Jaso and first baseman Richard each made an error in the Knights' eight-run second inning to seal DeSalvo's fate. Jaso continues to struggle behind the plate, and the normally surehanded Richard committed his second miscue in his last three games at first base. Meanwhile, his OPS has plummeted 115 points and his batting average has dropped by 36 since his return from the disabled list.

The good news is that Wade Davis, strong in five of his last six starts and Durham's best starter these days, tries to help the Bulls get on another winning streak tomorrow. The other good news is that Carlos Torres will not be pitching for Charlotte.

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