by Adam Sobsey
So far in Syracuse, two drastically different outcomes, with a lot of very crooked numbers put up by both teams. The Bulls erupted for a seven-run seventh inning and hammered the Chiefs, 9-2.
In the second, they participated in a hitter's getting into the record books. You might guess that that hitter would have been Justin Ruggiano, who already owns a couple of team career batting records and is within striking distance of several others; but in fact the Bulls were feeling charitable and arranged for the Chiefs' Michael Aubrey to tie a Syracuse record (and, incidentally, a major-league record) by serving him up four home-run balls in a row (!). Two of those came courtesy of Jeremy Hall, Even though Syracuse blanked Durham by the overwhelming score of 11-0, they did it on just eight hits—Aubrey's homers plated seven runs—and Aubrey didn't get a fifth at-bat. Had he homered in that hypothetical one, he'd have set what I imagine would have been an American professional baseball record.
Aubrey had hit no homers so far this season prior to yesterday's foursome. He did hit 22 last year, and the year before that, although he hit only eight (plus four more in the majors), three of them were against the Bulls' Wade Davis. Go figure. Personally, the Aubrey at-bat I remember best was in this game toward the end of the 2010 regular season, when he battled the Bulls' Joe Bateman for 10 pitches, fouling them off one by one, with the Bulls up by a run and the tying run on base in the top of the ninth inning. On the 11th pitch, Bateman finally threw an offspeed pitch and struck Aubrey out to end that very exciting game, in which the Bulls scored three runs in the last of the eighth to take the lead.
Such is the wonder of baseball, especially in the minors: You just never know what to expect, day to day, year to year, game to game. Fortunes rise and fall with the weather. One thing is sure, though: Some days you win, some days it rains, and some days Jeremy Hall pitches.
Actually, although Hall is now 0-2, the Bulls won his start in Game Two of a doubleheader at Indianapolis on May 3, even though Hall pitched only three innings and allowed two runs on three walks and a double. (That was the game in which his replacement, Dane De La Rosa, hit the first batter he faced in relief, apparently in retaliation for an earlier plunking delivered by Indians' starter Rudy Owens, and was ejected and then suspended.)
Hall was an emergency callup from Class AA Montgomery when Dirk Hayhurst went on the disabled list, probably intended as a bisquick move. But Hayhurst's injury has kept him out a bit longer than one might have guessed, and the rest of the Biscuits staff comprises young prospects whom the Rays don't want to rush up their farm system, guys like Chris Archer and Matt Moore. Hall, a 28-year-old originally signed by the Rays as a non-drafted free agent in 2007, was the organization's provisional solution to the Bulls' pitching problem. He actually pitched reasonably well for Montgomery in 2010, thanks largely to a miraculous 35 2/3-inning scoreless streak—another team record—and in years prior he did well in the lower minors.
But with the Bulls he has had trouble throwing strikes, and when he has thrown them, he has paid for it. Hall has walked 13 batters in just 13 2/3 innings pitched and surrendered 15 hits, four of them homers. Those crooked numbers have earned him a 9.88 ERA as a Bull. If you want to be optimistic, though, think back to last year, when Darin Downs struggled badly immediately after his callup to Durham from Montgomery, but then settled in nicely, posting a 2.83 ERA from July 25 to the end of regular season after opening with an ERA near 9.00 in his first month as a Bull. Adjustments do get made, crookedness does get straightened out.
(Downs, by the way, is now in the Marlins' organization. He has moved into the starting rotation with Class AA Jacksonville, where he's had decent success so far, with a 3.55 ERA over seven starts. In one of those, he faced the Montgomery Biscuits and allowed a home run to an infielder on major-league rehab named Evan Longoria. Downs was a good guy in the Bulls' clubhouse last year, and we wish him continued good fortune.)
The Bulls come home for four games against the Louisville Bats starting tomorrow night at 7:05 p.m. at the DBAP. Edgar Gonzalez starts for Durham (probably—off chance it's Alex Cobb). By the time the Bats leave town after Friday's game, the Bulls will have crossed three teams off of their list already for the season: Louisville, Syracuse and Indianapolis.
I'd encourage you to come to some of these games versus the Bats. At 22-15, Louisville's record is identical to the front-running Bulls' (Durham has maintained a two-game lead over Gwinnett in the IL South Division), and they'd be leading the IL West were it not for the sailing Columbus Clippers, who are a superb 25-12 after losing four straight games. Louisville, which has had a very talented, very young Triple-A team for the last year or so, now has a very talented, very seasoned Triple-A team, with the maturation of players like Yonder Alonso, Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier (whose brother Jeff we just saw in Durham as an Indianapolis Indian). The Bats also now have Dontrelle Willis, once the darling young left-hander of major-league baseball, now just another washed-up pitcher trying to straighten out a career that got very, very, crooked. The Bats also have a rich recent history with the Bulls, having faced and lost to them in the IL playoffs for three years running (that's got to be yet another record), with some heart-stopping games in those annals. Their manager, Rick Sweet, is easily the most personable and forthcoming skipper I've encountered in the league, and he and his team always seem to be good for some outburst or other, either with the bats or with the tempers.