by Mike Potter
DBAP/DURHAM The Durham Bulls come into to tonight’s game sporting the best record in Triple-A Baseball, and they’re looking for a sweep of a Charlotte Knights team that has so far been pretty good against everybody else.
Wednesday’s contest was the only one decided by fewer than five runs during the Bulls’ current six-game winning streak.
The rains from Wednesday are gone, it’s 72 degrees at first pitch and the proverbial perfect evening for baseball.
Veteran lefty Carlos Hernandez will be on the mound for the Bulls tonight against Daniel Hudson, who was the starting pitcher of the year in the minor leagues last season.
It’s not Hudson’s night, as he gives up eight runs — four earned — in 4 1/3 innings as the Bulls roll 10-2 in front of 4,665. Durham outscores the Knights 38-9 in the series.
Desmond Jennings gets the Bulls off to a good start with a manufactured run in the first. The leadoff man walks, steals second, takes third on Elliot Johnson’s bunt and scores on a wild pitch.
And the Bulls explode for four runs in the second. Chris Richard starts the rally with a one-out double to right and scores as Angel Chavez reaches on an error to shortstop Brent Lillibridge. Jennings then draws a two-out walk before Elliot Johnson launches a 2-0 pitch into the Diamond View seats in right for a 5-0 lead.
Durham completes the damage to Hudson in the fifth, with Chavez’ two-run single the centerpiece of a three-run rally that makes it 8-0.
Charlotte finally gets on the board in the sixth on a two-out single from Javier Castillo.
But the Bulls add two more in the eighth, with a Jose Lobaton double and Elliot Johnson’s RBI triple to right the keys.
Hernandez (2-0) goes seven innings and allows one run on four hits, striking out five against three walks. The Bulls finish with 10 hits, three for extra bases, as Elliot Johnson leads the way with his four RBI.
They said it …
Bulls skipper Charlie Montoyo: “I know we scored 10 runs, but Carlos going seven innings was huge. All we had in the bullpen was Rollins, (Joaquin) Benoit for one inning and maybe Baker. He did a great job. He saved our bullpen and we’re in better shape for tomorrow because he went seven innings. I don’t remember us swinging the bats that well for a whole series. That’s fun to watch. Elliot looked very good today from both sides of the plate. Now I’m looking for more consistency.”
Elliot Johnson: “I’m definitely getting more comfortable. Seeing a lot more pitches and giving the credit to Dave (hitting coach Myers). We’re working hard every day and he’s putting me in a good place right now. I’m feeling comfortable and confident at the plate every day.”
Hernandez: “So far this is my best outing here. I felt good all the way to the seventh inning. It’s one of those outings where you feel you have all your stuff — my curveball, my changeup, my cutter. Everything was working tonight. The guys scored a few runs early and that gave me a chance to relax. I was focused tonight. My game is just letting them hit the ball and letting the guys behind me make the plays, and that was the key tonight.”
What does it all mean?
That the Bulls remain the International League’s hottest team, with no signs of slowing down.
Stars of the game
1. Elliot Johnson.
3. Justin Ruggiano, with two singles, two steals, an RBI and a run scored.
Play of the game
Elliot Johnson’s three-run homer.
Bulls lead 4-0.
Durham: Won 7.
Charlotte: Lost 5.
Durham: RHP Richard De Los Santos assigned to Montgomery.
Bulls vs. Gwinnett, Friday, 7:05 p.m.
Jeremy Hellickson (R, 3-0, 1.42) vs. James Parr (R, 1-1, 4.02)