DBAP/Durham—The last time I covered the Durham Bulls was the night of April 10. They were shut out by the Charlotte Knights 5-0. After the game manager Charlie Montoyo joked that his older son Tyson said that his younger brother Alex had fallen asleep because the game was so boring. It was just one loss. No big deal. That’s baseball.
The Bulls won an 11am start the next morning, April 11, and everything seemed normal. The team departed Durham for their first road trip with a 5-2 record. Granted, that looming trip was a monster: 14 games in 14 days in Gwinnett, Charlotte, Pawtucket, and Norfolk. But the Bulls sported a talented starting pitching staff and a solid lineup and appeared well on the way to contending for a 6th consecutive division title under manager Charlie Montoyo.
Then the team lost 15 of 16 games, including 12 in a row and counting after tonight’s 2-0 loss to the Indianapolis Indians, leaving their record at 6-17. After tonight’s game, second baseman Will Rhymes, who has spent part of eight seasons in the minor leagues, looked back at that road trip, with a wry smile on his face: “It was brutal. I think it was the worst road trip I’ve ever experienced in baseball. It was poorly planned by the league, in terms of day games after night games, and long travel between games with no days off.”
Then Rhymes paused, clearly not blaming the schedulers for the Bulls’ record, and said: “There are a lot of good baseball players in this locker room. One day something will happen and we’ll turn things around. It’s still April.”
Tonight’s game was nearly a duplicate of the last game I covered eighteen days ago: An excellent performance by a Bulls’ righthander (then Alex Cobb, tonight Chris Archer) was wasted when the Bulls couldn’t score off an opponent’s lefty of the proverbial crafty variety (then it was the Knights’ Eric Stults, tonight it was the Indians’ Rudy Owens).
The Bulls outhit the Indians 6-3 tonight, but the only time they had more than one hit in an inning was the third, when CF Jesus Feliciano led off with a single and C Craig Albernaz followed with a long single into the leftfield gap that sent Feliciano to third. But Albernaz was thrown out at second trying to stretch it into a double. On the next pitch Rhymes popped up to second base and then SS Reid Brignac struck out. It would be the Bulls’ only threat of the game.
Attendance tonight was 8411, a nice turnout.
It was an overcast 59 degrees for the 5:09pm first pitch and by the end of the game at 8:35pm it was a few degrees cooler. There have been rowdier crowds of 3500 on a random Tuesday night at the DBAP. The crowd was cooled by the weather and lack of offense.
Indianapolis recorded only 28 at-bats in the game, the Bulls 31. Rudy Owens mixed a fastball in the 88-90 mph range with a changeup and breaking ball, both around 77-79mph. Archer hit 95mph several times and mixed in offspeed pitches in the low 80s.
The hardest hit balls by the Bulls were a double to the rightfield wall to open the first inning by Rhymes (he was stranded by two K’s and a weak pop fly) and a shot by LF Stephen Vogt to the 400-foot marker on the center field wall, run down by Indians CF Starling Marte on a dead sprint.
Other highlights of the game were four slow bouncers by Indians’ batters fielded impressively on the run behind the mound by Reid Brignac who managed to get all four runners in bang-bang plays at first place. You know it’s an event-less game when slow rollers are among the most memorable plays.
For the Indians, all they needed was a second inning triple that RF Brandon Boggs hit off the Burt’s Bees sign just left of centerfield, scoring SS Jordy Mercer from first base. Boggs scored two batters later on a sacrifice fly by C Jose Morales.
The season is long. The 2009 Durham Bulls team, which won the AAA national championship, lost 8 in a row that June. It will be interesting to see if this team can bounce back. The first week of the season, a commentator on the MLB TV channel remarked that the Durham Bulls opened the season with a starting rotation that might be better than a few rotations in the major leagues. Archer lived up to that billing tonight. But it wasn’t enough.