by Adam Sobsey
That ringing in your ears is the postman at the door, and the Bulls keep neglecting to answer. Actually, check that: the Bulls keep leaving the door open for the Gwinnett Braves, who respond each time by charging through it. For the second straight night, Durham took a one-run lead into the ninth inning; for the second straight night, their closer---Winston Abreu on Tuesday, Dale Thayer on Wednesday---let two runs score. Last night's version was a 2-1 loss. Thayer had Gwinnett down to its final strike before giving up a game-winning, two-run single to Brandon Jones, who had the game-winning homer off Abreu the previous night.
So much about the tune is familiar. The Bulls left 11 men on base and were 2-13 with runners in scoring position; they had 13 baserunners but scored just a single run. Starter Jason Cromer had another excellent outing (it's becoming almost routine for him), tossing six scoreless innings but getting no run support, as usual. He's come away with a no-decision in nearly half his starts, even though all but one have been win-worthy. The first two Bulls to bat in the seventh inning reached on errors (both by Braves reliever Vladimir Nunez), but Reid Brignac botched a sacrifice bunt attempt---or so I gather from the play-by-play game recap---and the Bulls ultimately failed to score. Justin Ruggiano struck out again---nothing new there; he's second in the league---but this time he went postal on home plate umpire James Thomas and was ejected for arguing balls and strikes (well, really just strikes, since he was probably happy with the balls). That forced Ray Olmedo and his .627 OPS to come in and hit cleanup in Ruggiano's place. As it happened, Olmedo led off the sixth inning with a double. Jon Weber followed with a walk, but guess what? The Bulls failed to score.
Which is to say: the postman kept ringing, but it was the Bulls who couldn't deliver, and they returned this victory to sender. The best position they can hope to be in when they return to Durham on Friday is a game behind Gwinnett. If they lose to rehabbing Braves stalwart Tim Hudson on Thursday, they'll be three games back with North Division leader Scranton/Wilkes-Barre coming to the DBAP for a four-game wraparound weekend series. Yikes.
Meanwhile, more roster moves are in the mail. Details follow.
Akinori Iwamura, the Tampa Bay Rays' starting second baseman for the last couple of seasons, was in a collision at the bag in late May and suffered a bad knee injury. At the time, it was thought that he'd torn his ACL and would be lost for the year. But it turned out to be only a partial tear, and Iwamura recovered more quickly than originally expected. He'll join the Bulls in Durham on Friday for a two-week rehab assignment, after which he's expected to move up to Tampa when rosters expand on September 1.
Iwamura's arrival basically means less playing time for Henry Mateo and, probably, Ray Olmedo. Both of those infielders have their pluses, but only a pedant would argue that Iwamura, assuming he's close to 100% healthy (which he claims to be), isn't an upgrade.
Also, catcher Michel Hernandez, who had been designated for assignment when the Rays traded for Greg Zaun, cleared waivers and accepted an assignment to Durham. Bulls' backstop Shawn Riggans is currently on the 7-day disabled list, and unless the Tampa front office is making other plans we don't know about yet, perhaps Riggans will stay out of action until further notice, while Hernandez splits time with John Jaso. It's not out of the question that the Rays will simply shut Riggans down for the season and let his tangle of injuries unravel while Hernandez, a double indemnity policy in case of Riggans's demise, takes care of business for the Bulls.
A few other packages in transit: Chad Bradford, Fernando Perez and Mitch Talbot are down in the low minors (both in Florida) rehabbing after injuries. If they continue to improve, there's every reason to expect them in Durham soon. (It would be Bradford's second visit.) Perhaps that will happen around the time of major-league roster expansion, which will soften the blow for the Bulls when Tampa inevitably comes to pillage the Triple-A roster for September reinforcements. If DFA'd utility man Joe Dillon, who has apparently cleared waivers, decides to accept an assignment to Durham, he'll also help bolster the team late.
And in the matter of changes of address, erstwhile Bulls reliever John Meloan was claimed off waivers by Pittsburgh, which assigned him to their Class AAA affiliate in Indianapolis. And R. J. Swindle, who was almost a Ray, and maybe/almost/potentially a Bull, was claimed off waivers by the Cleveland Indians. (H/T to Chris at WDBB for the Meloan and Swindle updates.) What's funny about this is that Meloan was traded to the Rays from the Indians for Winston Abreu about six weeks ago. So basically, the Indians traded Meloan for Swindle, with Abreu as an iron filing, the Rays as magnet, and the Pirates as (yet again) Receiving Lot A in Clunkers for Cash. Something like that, anyway. Or maybe it's just something to do with circulars...
But for now, all of these moves are just checks in the mail. You have to put what money you have where your mouth is, and the Bulls have coughed up three straight games they should have won---to their division rival, no less. Winston Abreu isn't himself since re-signing with the organization. Dale Thayer seems to be giving an encore performance of his 2008 season, when he melted down after the All-Star break and followed his superb first half (1.46 ERA) with a dreadful second (6.16). This year, he's 1.76/5.59. After two games when they looked to be breaking out of RISP-cuffs, the Bulls have gone right back into them (5/26 in the Gwinnett series so far). And it's their opponents who are storming back in the late innings, like the Bulls used to do.
Looking for a jump-start? The Bulls just had one of those, when they roared back with four ninth-inning runs against Indianapolis a week ago and seized a shocking win. Looking for a power surge? The Bulls scored 11 runs against Syracuse on getaway day Sunday at the DBAP before heading down to Gwinnett. Looking for decent starting pitching? The Bulls have gotten it five straight nights. What they haven't gotten is wins. Meanwhile, the postman keeps ringing. If the Bulls don't start answering soon, their season will wind up in the dead letter office.