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Friday, July 24, 2009

Durham Bulls lose at Indianapolis: sliding into home

Posted by on Fri, Jul 24, 2009 at 3:30 PM

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The Bulls finally come home tonight"]The Bulls finally come home tonight[/caption]A laggard post about the Bulls' trip-ending, 10-inning, 4-3 loss last night at Indianapolis. The delay owes at least a little to the fatigue that comes from trying to cover a team that hasn't played a home game in two weeks: you just lose focus a bit.

It would be easy to pin last night's loss on a key player move: closer Dale Thayer was promoted to Tampa (more on that below), for whom he promptly pitched a fine inning of scoreless relief. Too bad nobody gave a rat's a**.

Without Thayer, the Bulls' late-inning solution was Julio DePaula and Joe Bateman. Even though it's Bateman who has struggled with control (25 walks in 39 innings pitched), DePaula's wildness struck the big blow in the eighth inning. With one out and the Bulls leading 3-2, he walked consecutive hitters, one of them batting .182 in AAA with only two walks in over 40 at-bats to that point. Bateman came on and gave up a game-tying bloop single. He then added a hit batter in sympathy with DePaula's location problems, but escaped further damage.

In the 10th inning, though, still tied 3-3, Calvin Medlock relieved and allowed the go-ahead run on an errant toss that was either scored a wild pitch or a passed ball, depending on whether you believe Neil Solondz's game wrap or the Minor League Baseball recap (safer to go with the former). Either way, the pitch wasn't a strike, and the Bulls' relievers gave this one away by simply missing targets.

But the hitters helped, too, tallying 13 hits but scoring only three runs. The game recap also contains a suspicious-looking home-plate-to-second-base double-play grounder by Jon Weber that has visions of an SBG dancing (or perhaps limping) in my head; but I didn't listen to the game, so I'll hang fire. Suffice it to say that there were plenty of chances, and that the Bulls didn't capitalize on them. When a team is struggling, which the Bulls are---they went 2-6 for the road trip---yesterday's is the sort of game they often seem to have: pretty good pitching (Andy Sonnanstine was sharp in his return, going six innings and allowing two runs), pretty good hitting, decent fielding; all of it good enough to lose.

Don't forget, though, that the Bulls haven't played at DBAP since July 9, a two-week stretch awkwardly divided by the All-Star break. This is a disjointed time and a disjointed team: lots of traveling, some unexpected player moves, and you never know who's going to start the next game.

Speaking of that, youngster Jeremy Hellickson makes his first-ever Triple-A start tonight at at the DBAP (I repeat yesterday's message, only in all caps: BE THERE). Hellickson is a highly regarded 22-year-old pitcher, and if the trade rumors win out and Wade Davis is dealt as the July 31 waiver-deadline approaches, Hellickson becomes the No. 1 pitching prospect in the Rays' organization. As I said, be there tonight, not only because Hellickson's on the mound, but because the opponent is Norfolk, whom the Bulls trail by just half a game in the International League South division.

Other things, mostly to do with pitching:

* The Bulls have a day-night doubleheader tomorrow, and since of course you'll be at both games, I recommend a late-afternoon stroll down to P&O between contests for the Triangle's best cappuccino (you'll need the caffeine jolt). It seems like the Bulls have about 17 starting pitchers these days, several of whom are injured at any given moment, but on Saturday we should see some combination of Carlos Hernandez, James Houser and Matt DeSalvo; given the reinstalled governor on Hernandez's pitching motor, we may very well see all three, with Houser throwing long relief in Hernandez's start, as he did for DeSalvo a few weeks ago. With Hellickson's promotion, the swirls of trade rumors surrounding Davis, and the shifting injury issues that include Hernandez, Sonnanstine and (who-is-that-again?) Mitch Talbot, what we may be seeing here is a general shaking out of the rug that is the Bulls' starting rotation.

* It would be nice if that chore was completed quickly, because things are getting very humid in the International League South division. Although it was polite of the Norfolk Tides to keep losing while the Bulls were scuffling through their eight-game racing trip to Louisville and Indianapolis, the Tides didn't think through their game plan very well: the team they kept losing to was Gwinnett, which is in third place in the division. The upshot is that all three teams are now within a single game of one another in the standings, and in fact all have 54 wins. So the Bulls could conceivably take four of five from Norfolk and still not take over first place if Gwinnett keeps streaking. It's a bit of a patty-melt, and one hopes that the Rays' front office will at least poop-scoop the Bulls' pasture a bit so that the team can focus on the task at hand---which doesn't get any easier after the Tides go out: the Bulls then make their annual visit to the water park known as Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for four games against the Yankees, who have been the league's consistently strongest team this season.

* Speaking of shifting personnel, a final note on Dale Thayer. His promotion is probably temporary, given that it was done just after the Rays' Chad Bradford (who pitched a few games in Durham during his rehab assignment) went down with an injury while warming up during a game on Wenesday. Brian Shouse is coming up through his own rehab assignment, and I'd be willing to bet that Thayer is only holding the place down for Shouse.

But the shifting could go polyrhythmic by the time baseball's July 31 trade waiver-deadline comes and goes. If you take some time to check out the blogosphere, you'll soon find that the Rays have been actively exploring options---unusual for the small-market, cash-poor franchise---and it's hard to believe that they won't make a move of some substance in the next week. If that happens, players like Thayer, Reid Brignac, Wade Davis and Justin Ruggiano could find themselves not only no longer Bulls but property of a entirely new owners. That's another good reason to get out to the DBAP soon and often: you never know who you might be seeing the last of.

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