First of all — turmoil in the ranks! The Rays are doing great, but there’s a price being paid here in Durham. We’ve had 119 transactions so far this year! That compares with 97 for all of last year. Have to congratulate (manager) Charlie Montoyo and his crew for being able to figure out a lineup card each day. The most egregious was calling up Mitch Talbot, having him sit around in the bullpen for a couple of days, then sending him back. In that same window of time Tampa also called up two middle infielders to fill in for one Ray on the DL. Results? Talbot got hammered on July 6th. And the Bulls have lost three of four games, with more than a little confusion in the middle infield.
Now I appreciate that the Rays are a serious contender this year, but there’s gonna be a price to be paid inside these guys’ heads for this back and forth.
OK. Rant over. Let’s talk about the Bulls.
We’re in first place in admittedly the weakest division in the International League this year. Nevertheless, we’re 6 games above .500. The oddity is that we’re doing better on the road than at home. Not sure why that should be.
Jon Weber: He’s been with the team since the middle of last year and makes a difference in almost every game. Mostly plays left field and he has mastered our “Blue Monster”. Great arm that has routinely caught runners trying to stretch a single into a double (except for the last two nights when the throw was darn near perfect and the 2nd basemen weren’t ready to make the tag. At bat he can be streaky, but always a threat, draws his share of walks, can steal a base, and never gives up. He may be considered by Tampa to be AAAA ballplayer but we sure like him down here.
Chris Richard: Above average 1st Baseman. Not sure why he didn’t get a chance when Carlos Pena went on DL, but glad he stayed here. Hitting above .300, rarely fails to make the right play/decision at first. Leads team in OPS (.952), HR (tied with Joel Guzman — 16), and second in RBI (54). Real asset.
Mike DeFelice: From the stands appears to be a very steadying influence behind the plate. Continues in the Bulls great tradition of having a Crash Davis on the team (We retired the Crash Davis number the other night, in honor of the 20 year anniversary of the movie). Not much of a threat at bat or on the bases, but a very smart batter and runner, so he can’t be ignored. Terrific arm for a 38 year old and when his pitcher doesn’t give the base away, he’ll throw them out. On a three-game in, one game out schedule that seems to work.
Reid Brignac: Have to say that I think Tampa’s done this young man a real disservice by calling him up for a couple of days. Has hurt us badly as well. He is becoming a master of his position who very rarely makes a mistakes (you will remember we suffered through 2 years of BJ Upton at shortstop). He was learning every day at the plate, but had a ways to go. Still, he was your future and I worry that he’ll have troubles coming back.
Justin Ruggiano: Very solid all-round outfielder. Probably wins in some sort of trivia category by playing in both minors and majors in the same day this year (Durham and Rays in Boston). Usually plays right field here and does a fine job. Over .300 at the plate, and our second best base stealer. Have to think that he’s always waiting for the phone call, though.
Elliot Johnson: Was changing my views about him this year based on solid performance at 2nd base and decent at-bats. But he was moved over to shortstop to cover for Brignac and doesn’t seem to have risen to the occasion. Still, he’s part of the ideal lineup for the Bulls this year.
Dan Johnson: Since he came to us via Tampa, I’ll put him here. Usually DH, but decent 1st baseman. Has played left field a couple of times and did a good job there too. Formidable threat at the plate. Great discipline (45 walks), OPS of .874. He was part of that peculiar deal where Tampa claimed him off of waivers and then didn’t quite know what to do with him. Well, guess I’ll have to thank Tampa for him.
Joel Guzman: He is our leading home run and RBI man and he can really crush the ball. Has hit two of the longest balls I’ve seen at our park. And he has a surprisingly strong arm. The peculiarity about him is that he doesn’t look quick. He looks awkward, even when he makes a good play, running the bases or at bat. I’m always surprised at his home runs since at other times it looks like he’s just flailing at the ball. And he seems to get his big hits and RBIs when it doesn’t matter.
Nathan Haynes: Getting a good bit of playing time in the outfield. Running out of time to make his mark.
Josh Labandeira (IF), Andy Cannizaro (IF), Hector Gimenez (C), Josh Johnson (C): All interesting players who don’t get much time. Hard to tell how they’d develop if they got more time.
Fernando Perez: Saved the best for last. I really like this guy. Plays a solid center field. Is very fast. And shows real potential at the plate. A Joey Gathright with a better bat. Downside is that Tampa is insisting that he keep on with his experiment at switch hitting he began a couple of years ago and it doesn’t seem to be working out. Strikes out way too much for a leadoff man, and his OBP shows it. But if the ball gets off the bat, he’s so fast he’s got a great shot at making it to first base, if it’s out of the infield, he could end up on second, and if it’s to the wall, he’ll be on third. Fun to watch.
Ah, the pitching.
First of all, the starters. Don’t get your hopes up TB, none of these guys is ready for prime time. Won’t go into details except to note that Jeff Niemann looked great on the 2nd of July (complete game, 12 strikeouts) and then started well last night and came unraveled in the 5th (couple of walks, throwing error). Maybe near the end of the season when someone needs a break. He is the best prospect you’ve got and is winning games here, but working awfully hard at it.
But the best pitcher we’ve got is Jeremy Cummings. Since he’s made it clear that he doesn’t think anyone in the Majors is interested in him, he stays focused on what’s right in front of him.
Among the relievers Tampa has already taken our most promising (Grant Balfour) and probably has an eye on Scott Dohmann if Troy Percival can’t stay healthy. Dohman’s got 9 saves since he came down. I like Dale Thayer a lot (33 appearances, 9 saves, 2-0, 1.42 ERA). Was pretty high on Nick DeBarr, but he’s had some problems in his last five appearances. Hope it’s just transient.
On a final note, our section of the stands is happy to see the Rays doing so well — particularly since we have a few Yankee and Red Sox haters among us. We fantasize about an end of season scenario with neither team even in the playoffs (Twins or White Sox in the wild card slot). Can’t say that any of us are truly Rays fans, but we are, of necessity, Rays watchers. What we want is the Governor’s Cup, which we missed by one game last year. Have to say that if we’re in contention at the same time that the Rays are making an end of season run, continued turmoil is going to hurt us–CW