The2009 Durham Bulls finished the season as the South Division Champions of the AAA International League and are squared up against the Louisville Bats in the first round of the league playoffs. The Bulls have undergone a pretty severe roster raiding from the big league club prior to the playoffs. Reid Brignac, Wade Davis, Andy Sonnanstine, Fernando Perez, Jeff Bennett, Chris Richard and Shawn Riggans have all left the Bulls over the past few weeks. They also have lost starting pitcher Carlos Hernandez to injury. How have the makeshift Bulls fared so far?
Game One featured the "Narwhal" Jeremy Hellickson taking the hill in an 8-4 Bulls victory. Hellickson was his usual scintillating self going 5.2 innings while striking out 12 and walking 3. He did allow 3 hits, 2 of which left the park leading to 3 runs. The offense was led by the middle of the order featuring Matt Joyce who went 3-4 with a walk, Joe Dillon (1-3 2B and 2 BB), and Sean Rodriguez (2-4 HBP). Joyce and Rodriguez also had successful stolen base attempts. A DRB staple has become the Hellickson Swinging Strike count, and to this end he did not disappoint finishing with 19 in 109 pitches.
Game Two featured the return to AAA of Mitch Talbot who had been rehabbing a mysterious arm/shoulder injury for much of the season in a 5-2 Bulls loss. Talbot has been feasting on the weaker hitting Gulf Coast League and Florida State League in short starts. He went 3 innings with less success in Durham allowing 3 runs on 6 hits, while striking out 3 and walking 1. The offense was led by Elliot Johnson (2-4 2B), Joe Dillon (2-4), and Sean Rodriguez (0-2 2 BB).
Game Three of the five game series is tonight as the "Strandman" Jason Cromer takes the hill. Cromer posted an ERA of 2.25 this season, thanks to a 81.9% strand rate which was good for 2nd in the IL amongst pitchers with 100 IP. Beyond that, it gets a little hairier for the Bulls as Montgomery Biscuit call ups Rayner Oliveros and Paul Phillips are scheduled to start games 4 and 5. Both pitchers began the year down in A+ ball. Both pitchers were featured in A Look at 2009 Mid-Season Promotions and are nice reclamation projects for the organization.
In other minor league playoff news, the Stone Crabs of the Florida State League advanced to the finals where they will face the Tampa Yankees on the road tonight. The Crabs defeated the Ft. Myers Miracle 3-2 behind yet another excellent outing by David Newmann. The soon to be Minor League Profiled Newmann went 6 innings of 1 run ball while striking out 10, walking 1 and allowing 4 hits.