by Mike Potter
The current series stands at a win apiece after the Bulls rolled 14-7 with a 20-hit performance on Friday night, and Durham is looking to take the lead in the overall season series with its South Division rival as well.
The Bulls come into the game tied for first place with the Charlotte Knights atop the International League’s South Division.
There aren’t many better afternoons for baseball in the Triangle than this one, on which the Bulls will send Carlos Hernandez to the mound against Brandon Erbe.
To review, former Bulls hitting coach Richie Hebner now has that role with Norfolk, while former Bulls Joey Gathright and Rhyne Hughes start today for the Tides. It turns out to be a very good day for the home team, which racks up runs in the fourth through eighth innings in a 7-2 romp.
Norfolk takes advantage of a big error from Hernandez to take a 1-0 lead in the first. Robert Andino knocks a one-out single up the middle, then goes all the way to third on the pitcher’s wild pickoff throw. Hughes’ single to center scores the run.
Justin Ruggiano ties it for the Bulls in the fourth, leading off by blasting a 1-0 pitch high into the Diamond View seats in right.
Durham takes the lead in the fifth. With one out, Jose Lobaton singles to left and is erased on Fernando Perez’s fielder’s-choice ball to second. Elliot Johnson’s double to left scores the run.
The Bulls break loose in the sixth. Hank Blalock and Dan Johnson lead off with back-to-back singles to right before Ryan Shealy’s sacrifice fly to right. Chris Richard then doubles to the left-field corner to chase Erbe and bring on Ross Wolf.
Durham tacks on another in the seventh, as Ruggiano singles up the middle and eventually scores on Shealy’s two-out single to left to make it 5-1.
The Tides get another run off Heath Rollins in the eighth, as Gathright singles to right and scores on Hughes’ one-out double to right.
But the Bulls get two more in the eighth to put it away. Angel Chavez leads off with a single to left, and then with two out Elliot Johnson rockets a 1-1 offering into the Diamond View seats to make it 7-2.
Hernandez gets the quality start, going six innings and allowing one run on five hits with five strikeouts against a walk.
The Bulls outhit the Tides 13-7 as four players have multiple-hit games. Elliot Johnson finishes with the homer and double for three RBI to raise his average to .206 while Ruggiano has three hits and scores twice.
They said it …
Bulls skipper Charlie Montoyo: “You know how hitting is contagious. I thought it was going to be a 2-1 game today because that’s how baseball goes after 20 hits. The last four innings we swung the bats like we did yesterday so that was good to see. Elliot’s been with me for five years now and he’s usually a slow starter. When they happens you’ve got to hit. 400 just to get to .250, really. I want him to start good so he doesn’t have to battle back. (Hitting coach) Dave Myers has been working with him the last few days and it’s working. Carlos was very good, and he gave us six innings that we needed. Our bullpen was thin. Him going six innings was big.”
Elliot Johnson: “Thursday was more of a breakthrough day for me. Better at-bats, better timing, better seeing the ball no matter the pitch whether it be fastball, changeup or slider. The work I’ve done with Dave ever since we got here has really started to pay off. He kind of put together a drill he tailored to me. We saw results every day and it’s been successful.”
Hernandez: “The main thing was just to give the team a chance to score some runs, keep the ball game close so they could do their thing, and also let the guys behind me play defense. That was not my best game, but at least I was able to go six innings and get the win. I think I was trying to do too much early and make every pitch perfect. Then I settled and was able to make pitches.”
What does it all mean?
That the Bulls are running on all cylinders at the moment against some pretty good opposition.
Stars of the game
1. E. Johnson.
Play of the game
Bulls lead 4-3.
Durham: Won 2.
Norfolk: Lost 2.
Norfolk at Bulls, Sunday, 5:05 p.m.
Chris Tillman (R, 0-2, 5.19) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (R, 1-0, 1.59)