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Rays Minor League Baseball Road Trip: A guide to North Carolina — Game 4

Durham Bulls versus Charlotte Knights at Durham Bulls Athletic Park on July 25, 2021

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I attended another Durham Bull home game on Sunday July 25th. That day, they were faced off against the only other North Carolina based Triple-A East League team—the Charlotte Knights.

The Knights are the AAA affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. Entering the game the Bulls record was 48W:21L. They ranked number 1 in the league’s Southeast Division and had a 7.5 game lead over the number two team—the Nashville Sounds (Milwaukee Brewers). The Knights are also a member of the AAA E Southeast Division, but were 26W:43L and ranked #6 22 games behind Durham. The photo above shows the Durham Bulls players on the field during the game at Durham Bull Athletic Park.

Durham Bulls — Tampa Bay Rays Top 30 Prospects

Top 30 Prospects on the Durham Bulls current roster.

Recently there have been a number of changes to the list of Tampa Bay Rays MLB Top 30 Prospects on the Durham Bulls roster. On July 23rd two members of the Durham’s list of Rays Top 30 Prospects, right hand pitchers Joe Ryan (#11) and Drew Strotman (#18), were sent to the Minnesota Twins in a trade that brought a very seasoned Major League player to Tampa. That was outfielder/designated hitter Nelson Cruz.

The current players of the Bulls roster that are members of Tampa’s top-30 list are shown in the table. A number of them have moved up in rank and there is one new entrant into the list. Those that moved up are center fielder Josh Lowe (up 1 slot to #9), right hand pitcher Brent Honeywell (up two notches to #15), and third baseman Kevin Padlo (up 3 positions to #18). On the other hand, right hand pitcher Tommy Romero is a new member of the Bulls roster and ranks #28 among the top 30. Romero was promoted to Durham on July 20th from Tampa’s team in the Double-A South League, the Montgomery Biscuits.

Padlo was originally drafted by the Colorado Rockies out of high school in the 5th round of the 2014 draft. After playing two seasons in the Rockies Minor League system, he was traded to the Tampa Bay Ray during the 2016 offseason. Padlo played in both 2019 and 2021 with the Durham Bulls.

Kevin Padlo began his 2021 season in the majors with the Rays and made his Major League debut on April 6, 2021 in an away game versus the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. That day he started at third base and hit eighth in their batting order. But after appearing in just three games in the majors, Padlo was optioned to the Durham Bulls. But, then he was recalled in May and played in another seven games with the Rays.

With the Bulls, Padlo normally starts at third base or second base and during July typically hit in the cleanup slot in their batting order. The photo shows Kevin Padlo at the plate taking a swinging at pitch in the game versus the Charlotte Knights,

Game Highlights

The game was a slugfest. Combined, the Durham Bulls and Charlotte Knights scored a total of 24 runs on 27 hits. Moreover, one or both teams scored one or more run in six of the nine innings. Last, in four half innings, 3 or more runs were scored. But, the scoreboard does not tell the whole story!

The starting pitchers for the Durham Bulls and Charlotte Knights were right handers Tobias Myers and Jonathan Stiever. Myers had just been promoted to Durham from the Montgomery Biscuits (Double-A South League). In the game, he was making his first start at the AAA class with the Bulls. On the other hand, Stiever is ranked as the #4 prospect in the White Sox Minor League system. He has been a regular in Charlotte’s starting rotation this season, but played briefly in the majors with the Chicago White Sox in both 2020 and 2021. Entering the game, Stiever was 3W:5L in 13 starts for the Knights. Both starters got hit quite hard. However, neither of them entered into the final win/loss decision. Each team’s starter was followed by four relievers who pitched from 1 to 2 innings.

This was not a typical game. It was a super slugfest! There was a real lot of power demonstrated at the plate. Among the 27 hits, there were 7 home runs, 1 triple, and 4 doubles. In fact, the Charlotte Knights hit 5 of the seven home runs and drove in 8 of their 9 runs with those homers. On the other hand, the distribution of the Durham Bulls extra base hits and runs scored was a little more diverse—4 runs on home runs, 2 on a triple, and 2 on doubles.

What does the scoreboard does not show? That is the other side to the story—the pitching. Runners reached base, moved into scoring position, and crossed the plate in other ways. Together, the two team’s 10 pitchers put 14 runners on base with base on balls and 2 more were hit by a pitch. Also, runners moved into scoring position due to 5 wild pitchers and 2 passed balls. In fact, one run scored on a wild pitch and another on a passed ball. Both of those runs were scored by the Bulls.

Micker Adolfo connecting with a Tobias Myers pitch.

A look at the scoreboard shows the Charlotte Knights scored first and broke out to a 5 run to 2 lead by the end of the third inning. In the top of the first inning the Knights number 2 and 3 batters, third baseman Jake Lamp and center fielder Blake Rutherford (Chicago White Sox #8 MLB prospect) walked and scored on a three run homer by #5 hitter, right fielder Micker Adolfo (CWS #6 prospect).

The photo shows Adolfo connecting with Tobias Myers’ pitch that he hit for the 3 run homer. Then, in the top of the 3rd Charlotte’s cleanup hitter Yermin Mercedes (DH) and the next batter Micker Adolfo hit back to back home runs to put runs 4 and 5 on the scoreboard. Tobias Myers departed after the third innings.

Meanwhile, the Bulls scored solo runs in the bottom of the first and third innings. Leading off in the bottom of the first, left fielder Vidal Brujan singled; stole second base; and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Then, number 2 hitter, right fielder Manuel Margot singled to drive in Brujan with Durham’s first run. In the 3rd, #9 batter, Miles Mastrobuoni hit a leadoff double; tagged up and advance to third on a flyout; and scored on Manuel Margot’s second consecutive RBI single. .

The scoreboard shows that the Durham Bulls scored six runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to take an 8 run to 5 lead. In that inning, Knights starter Jonathan Stiever walked the first batter he faced—Bulls #6 hitter Mike Ford (DH). Stiever retired the next two batters, but then #9 hitter Miles Mastrobuoni singled to put runners on first and second. Next, both runners moved up a base on a wild pitch. That set the stage for a big Durham Bulls two-out rally.

Bull’s #1 batter Vidal Brujan came up and doubled home Ford and Mastrobuoni with runs 1 and 2 of the inning. Then, Manuel Margot walked to again put runners on first and second. That brought up one of Durham’s regular season offense leaders—Josh Lowe. Lowe tripled home Brujan and Margot with runs three and four.

Bulls first baseman Dalton Kelly’s 4th inning home run swing.

That hit marked the end of Stiever’s day. He was replaced by lefty reliever Bennett Sousa. The first batter Sousa faced was another Bull’s offense leader—first baseman Dalton Kelley. However, his first pitch was a wild pitch that enabled Lowe to come home with run five. Then, Kelley connected with Sousa’s second pitch; drove the ball over the right field wall for a home run; and crossed the plate with the sixth and final run of the rally. The photo of shows Dalton Kelly connecting with that Sousa pitch for a homer.

For the top of the fifth inning, a new reliever entered the game for Durham. That was right hander Miller Hogan. The Charlotte Knights quickly answer back with 3 runs to tie the game at 8-all The first Knights batter Hogan faced, Blake Rutherford, knocked his 3 ball, 2 strike pitch over the center field wall for a solo home run. Then with one out, Micker Adolfo singled. That brought up Charlotte’s #6 hitter, left fielder Nick Williams. Williams hit the second pitched delivered by Hogan over the right field wall for a game tying 2-run homer.

In the bottom of the 5th, Bennett Sousa returned to pitch another innings for Charlotte. He was greeted with a single by the Bull’s #7 hitter, catcher Rene Pinto. Then, with 1 down, Miles Mastrobouni double to put runner in scoring position on second and third. That brought Durham’s leadoff batter Vidal Brujan to the plate. He walked on a full count to load the bases.

Up came #2 hitter, Manual Margot. At that point in the game, Margot already had two RBI singles in earlier trips to the plate. He singled again to drive in Pinto with the go ahead run. So, the bases were still loaded when #3 hitter Josh Lowe came up. A pitch to Lowe was missed by Knights catcher Deivy Grullon and on that passed ball Mastrobouni crossed the plate with run 2 of the inning. Sousa shut down Durham’s rally, but the Bull’s had retaken the lead—10 run to 8.

From that point forward, the Bull’s pitching settled down. Left hander Kenny Rosenberg took over in the top of the sixth and threw two scoreless innings. Rosenberg had also just been elevated from the Montgomery Biscuits (Double-A South League), but had briefly pitched for the Bull in 2019. He departed after pitching the top of the seventh inning.

The scoreboard shows that in the bottom of that inning the Durham Bull rallied for five runs to extend their lead over the Knights to 15-8. In that inning, a new reliever, right hander Zach Burdi took the mound for Charlotte.

The bottom of Durham’s batter order again ignited the rally.

Number eight hitter Tristan Gray hit a leadoff single; advanced to second on a walk to Miles Mastrobuoni; and then both runners moved up a base on an outfield fly by leadoff hitter Vidal Brujan. Next, Zach Manuel Margot grounded out for out 2 of the innings, but Gray scored run 1 on that play. That brought Josh Lowe to the plate. He singled to right to drive in Mastrobuoni with run 2. Then, with Dalton Kelly at the plate, Burdi threw a wild pitch that enabled Lowe to move to second. Kelly walked to put runners on first and second.

That brought Tampa Bay Rays #18 MLB prospect, third baseman Kevin Padlo, back to the plate, and Padlo made the bull on top of the left field wall blink its eyes and wag its tail. He hit Burdi’s first pitch over the left center field wall for a 3 run homer that scored runs 3 through 5 of the inning.

For the top of the 8th, Bull’s lefty reliever Brian Moran took over from Rosenberg. He closed out the game by pitching a 1, 2, 3 eight inning, but allowed 1 run to score before shutting down a potential Charlotte rally in the ninth. Miller Hogan, who gave up the game tying runs in the top of the 5th, got the win because he was still the pitcher of record when the Bulls regained the lead in the bottom of that inning.

The Durham Bull’s Offense Leader of the Game

So many hits, so many runs, who should the offense leader of the game be? All three of the Ray’s MLB Top 30 Prospect field players were starters in the game for the Bulls and had a very productive day at the plate: #2 prospect Vidal Brujan (4AB 2R 1H 2RBI 2BB), #9 Josh Lowe (5AB 2R 2H 3RBI), and #18 Kevin Padlo (5AB 1R 2H 3RBI). But two other players that were new to the Bulls lineup had an exceptional day. Right fielder and #2 hitter Manuel Margot, who was playing in the majors with the Rays, but was sent down to Durham for an injury rehabilitation stint, had 3 RBI singles in three 5 trips to the plate, walked in another at bat, scored 1 run, and drove in 4 of the teams runs.

The Bull’s offense leader of the game—Miles Mastrobuoni.

However, the player I feel was the leader of the Durham Bulls offense in this game was #9 batter, shortstop Miles Mastrobuoni. Mastrobuoni had played briefly for Durham in 2019, but opened the 2021 season at the AA class with the Montgomery Biscuits. In fact, he was just promoted to the Bulls on July 13th and this game was just the tenth he played at the AAA level this season.

Miles Mastrobuoni reached base in each of his five trips to the plate and played a key role in Durham’s 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 7th inning rallies. For the day, he had 3 hits, but reached base on a walk in his other two at bats. What really stands out is that Mastrobuoni scored 4 runs—one in each of the earlier mentions Bulls rallies. In fact, in the 5th inning, he scored Durham’s second run, which was their 10th of the game and the eventual game winning run of their 15-9 victory.

The photo shows Miles Mastrobuoni at the plate connecting with a pitch in the third inning. With that swing, he hit a leadoff double and later in the inning scored his first run of the game.

Walter Triebel is the author of “Road-Tripping the South Atlantic League: A Guide to the Teams, Ballparks and Cities” published by McFarland. It is available for purchase on their website as well as Amazon. Walter previously spent 15 years as an adjunct faculty member at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and has led an extensive career as a textbook and reference book author. You can follow him on twitter here.