by Adam Sobsey
They didn't exactly round up the Indians, but the Bulls hitters went 3-8 with runners in scoring position and made the most of the opportunities they had in beating Indianapolis on Wednesday afternoon, 3-1. If you want to be a buzzkill, you could argue that Chris Richard went 2-3 with RISP and the rest of the team was an unimpressive 1-5; but that's acting like Richard isn't really part of the team. In terms of productivity if not batting average, Richard is probably the second-best Bull with men on base. He knocked in the go-ahead run yesterday in the top of the eighth inning after putting the Bulls on the board in the third. It was somehow refreshing that all three of Richard's hits were singles---as were all of the Bulls' seven hits---as if to prove (me wrong by demonstrating) that he and his teammates don't have to hit home runs in order to win. They do have to keep striking out, though: twelve more against major league-seasoned Tom Gorzelanny and a pair of relievers.
Other ways in which Wednesday's game (once again) proved me wrong:
* Dale Thayer totally read yesterday's post and was all, "No, Sobsey, you don't need to worry about me, I'm fine"; then he retired the Indians in order in the bottom of the ninth to earn his 14th save. He even got a pair of groundouts in order to demonstrate that he's pitching down in the zone, as the Rays' organization has been urging him to do.
* Neither Matt Joyce nor Justin Ruggiano struck out on Wednesday. That's just the third time those two have both gone K-less in a game since Joyce returned to the Bulls from Tampa on June 14. I admit that it's a little weird to note their strikeout-free day when their teammates fanned a dozen times, but as my man Dave Levine pointed out in the Comments section yesterday, the Bulls' RISP issues have to do with variance and distribution in re the mean, not with the mean itself, and he sent me scurrying back to the stats in order to buttress my flimsy thinking.
First of all, I was wrong to say that "a clutch-deficient Bull is nearly always twice as likely to come to the plate as a decent or excellent clutch hitter." He's actually exactly as likely to do so: there are six sub-.232-hitting Bulls with RISP, and six either decent or really-good RISPers. But Levine's comment illuminated for me that that raw stat ignores an important datum: it's not only who comes up with runners in scoring position, but how often those guys come up to bat (that's the "variance and distribution" part). The four Bulls with the most RISP plate appearances are, in order, Ruggiano, Ray Sadler, Ray Olmedo and Joyce. Collectively, they are hitting .246 and slugging .416 with RISP, and three of the above four are 1-2-3 in strikeouts on the team. That means they're not only failing to hit enough but also failing to advance runners (or potentially score them with outs-in-play, like sacrifice flies). The on-base percentage is alright---around .330, very near the team's overall OBP---but with men in scoring position you usually need to hit, not walk, Craig Albernaz's bases-loaded walk on Wednesday notwithstanding. Two slots down from Joyce in RISP opportunities, John Jaso is 9/58 with a dismal .155 slugging percentage. All nine of his hits have been singles.
I'm sure there are plenty of other ways in which I'm wrong, but in doing the above number-crunching I've forgotten what they are (so I'm not only wrong but forgetful!). A few notes, though, before I sign off:
* Wade Davis turned in a superb start for the Bulls on Wednesday, limiting the Indians to three hits in 6 2/3 innings and striking out nine. He walked four men, but this was his best start in a month. Davis departed with a man on and two outs in the seventh, and reliever Jason Childers and shortstop Reid Brignac added pectin in the form of a single and an error to create a jam. But Childers recovered to strike out Neil Walker, who had homered off of Davis in his previous at-bat, spreading the jam on toast (ha ha) and earning his eighth win of the season. He's now tied with Wade Davis for most victories on the team---not entirely a surprise, since Childers leads the Bulls with 38 appearances. He has also knocked nearly a run and a half off of his ERA over the last five and a half weeks.
* According to Bulls' broadcaster Neil Solondz, Andy Sonnanstine has recovered from mononucleosis and will start for the Bulls on Thursday. Furthermore, The Heater, via WDBB, reports that Jeremy Hellickson has been promoted to Durham and will start for the Bulls at the DBAP on Friday, the team's first home game in two weeks (be there!). The 22-year-old Hellickson is probably the Rays' top pitching prospect after Wade Davis. Chris Wise further speculates that Hellickson might be up for a one-off start given that the Bulls play a doubleheader at the DBAP on Saturday against Norfolk, after which he might return to Double-A Montgomery, where he's been kicking a** and taking names. I'm inclined to agree, although I'd qualify that by adding that if Hellickson does well, he could force the movement of James Houser or Matt DeSalvo off of the Bulls' roster: might as well let a hot prospect continue to cook on a front burner, as we saw with Rhyne Hughes, who was originally called up to Durham as a temporary fill-in for the injured Chris Richard and then played his way onto the team indefinitely.
* Speaking of the roster, a trio of rehabbers could hit the DBAP inpatient clinic in late July or early August. Catcher Shawn Riggans (a former Bull) and pitchers Jake McGee and Brian Shouse are all down in Class-A Port Charlotte right now, reattaching various body parts (no puerile jokes, kids!). We're likely to see all three in Durham before long. Shouse is a lefty sidearmer, like recent Bull Randy Choate, who is holding down Shouse's role in Tampa so well that Shouse may be feeling some job insecurity. Another reason Shouse might be pondering his ballplaying future is that he's 40 years old. That's not much younger than Jake McGee and Jeremy Hellickson combined.
So all of that is a lot of roster instability, but the overall effect on the Bulls will probably be to improve them. We don't have a problem with that, do we?