Bulls, Mudcats open baseball season Thursday night | Sports

Bulls, Mudcats open baseball season Thursday night

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Jeremy Hellickson will get the Opening Night start for the Bulls at Norfolk.
  • Photo courtesy Durham Bulls
  • Jeremy Hellickson will get the Opening Night start for the Bulls at Norfolk.
Minor League Baseball’s season opens Thursday night, and with the perfect weather we’ve been having lately there’s only one bad thing about it.

Both local teams are on the road.

The Durham Bulls will begin defense of their Triple-A National and International League Governors’ Cup Championships tonight at 7:15, when they visit the South Division rival Norfolk Tides at Harbor Park in the opener of a four-game series.

And in the Southern League, the Carolina Mudcats will visit the Birmingham Barons for an 8:05 p.m. start at Regions Park in the opener of a five-game series.

For Durham, Jeremy Hellickson (6-1, 2.51) will take on Chris Tillman (8-6, 2.70) in a battle of right-handers as the Bulls begin their fourth season under Charlie Montoyo. The Puerto Rican skipper has set the expectations high, as the Bulls’ worst finish under him has been as the runner-up in the 14-team IL.

“You know how these rosters change, so it depends what kind of division we’re going to have,” Montoyo said. “You never know how the teams are going to be. Last year we had the best division in our league, and that made winning the championship more special. But I think we’re going to have a good team.”

For the Mudcats, right-hander Matt Klinker (3-2, 2.95) will take the hill as the club begins its second season under David Bell. Carolina, which is in its second season as the Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, missed the first-half title in the North Division by one game.

“They already know the expectations,” Bell said of his club. “It’s a good group of guys that play the game the right way, a solid defensive team with good pitching. I like the way they go about their business, and I’m excited about the style of play that we’re going to have.”

Durham’s first seven games are on the road before they take on the Tides April 15 at 7:05 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

The Mudcats’ home opener is April 14 at 7:15 against the Montgomery Biscuits, the team right below the Bulls in the Tampa Bay Rays’ organization.

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