Editor’s Note: This season we are bringing back author Walter Triebel, who recently published a guide to travelling the South Atlantic League, to share his experiences following Rays minor league baseball. Enjoy!
Game 1: Durham Bulls versus Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp at Durham Bulls Athletic Park April 12, 2022
The Tampa Bay Rays triple-A team, the Durham Bulls, opened their 2022 Minor League season on the road with a six game series starting on Tuesday, April 5th versus the Milwaukee Brewers AAA team—the Nashville Sounds. The Bulls went 2 wins, 4 loses against the Sounds. Then, the Durham Bulls returned home to Durham, North Carolina to play a six game series against the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Miami Marlins) that began on April 12th.
I attended their home opener versus the Jumbo Shrimp at Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP) on the 12th.
Attending a Durham Bulls games enables fans of the Bull, Rays, and baseball in general to see a number of players take the field that have already played in games at the Major League level.
The table lists thirteen members of the Bulls 2022 opening day roster, nine pitchers and four field player, who had already played in the majors. Note that the table identifies the position they typically play, whether they bat right handed, left handed, or switch hit, and throw right or left handed. Moreover, it identifies the date on which they made their Major League debut and the MLB Club for which they played on that day.
Note that among the group of thirteen just three of the players made their debut in the Tampa Bay Rays uniform. They are pitchers Colin Poche and Ryan Thompson and “outfielder” Vidal Bruján.
After playing college ball for Dallas Baptist University, Colin Poche was drafted and signed in the 2016 June Amateur Draft by the Arizona Diamondback, not the Tampa Bay Rays. After pitching briefly at the double-A class in the Diamondback’s Minor League organization in 2018, Poche was traded to the Rays on May 1st. He made three brief relief appearances for Tampa’s AA team—the Montgomery Biscuits, and was them promoted to the Durham Bulls(AAA). By the end of the 2018 season, Colin Poche went 5W:0L in 26 relief appearances and 2 starts for the Bulls.
Poche returned to pitch for Durham’s relief corps in 2019, but as shown in the table of Figure 2 was called up by Tampa and made his Major League debut in the Rays uniform on June 8th. That day, in an away game versus the Boston Red Sox, he entered the game with 1 out in the bottom of the second inning; pitched just 1.1 innings, and gave up 2 runs on 2 hits. Boston went on to win the game 5 runs to 1 and Poche got the loss. He quickly took on the role of a regular late innings reliever for Tampa and went on to make 51 relief appearances by the end of the 2019 season. Poche posted a 5W:5L record while recording 16 holds and 2 saves.
However, during the 2020 Spring Training, Colin Poche injured the elbow on his pitching arm and that eventually led to the need for Tommy John Surgery. Due to the recovery from that injury, Poche missed both the entire 2020 and 2021 seasons.
He made his return to active play with the Bulls in game three of the 2022 season. That day, he entered the game to start the bottom of the seventh inning; pitched a shutout inning; and recorded a hold as Durham went on to defeat the Nashville Sounds 6-3. He pitched another shut out inning in relief in game 5 of the series and in that outing struck out the side. Colin Poche also pitched an inning of relief in the Bulls home opener on April 12th.
As mentioned earlier, I attended the Durham Bull’s 2022 home opener game versus the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp on April 12th.
That evening Durham sent right hander Adrian De Horta to the hill as their starter. De Horta was making his second pitching appearance of the new season, but first start. He made a brief relief appearance in game three of the season. That day he threw a shutout eighth inning in the Bulls 6 run to 3 victory over the Nashville Sounds and received a hold for that outing. The photo of Figure 4 shows the Durham Bulls on the field in the game versus Jacksonville and De Horta delivering the first pitch of the game.
The Jumbo Shrimp sent right hander Max Meyer to the mound. He entered the game with a 0W:0L record in one start. Meyer was Jacksonville’s 2022 season opening day starter. That day, he went 4 complete innings, but departed with the scored tied 2 runs all.
The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp got on the scoreboard first and quickly built a 6 run to 0 lead. In the top of the first inning, number 2 hitter, left fielder Peyton Burdick hit De Horta’s 1 ball, 2 strike pitch over the left center field wall to put the Jumbo Shrimp up 1-0.
Then, in the top of the second, Adrian De Horta retired the first two Jacksonville batters he faced but then got into trouble. The Jumbo Shrimp loaded the bases on a single by their number nine batter Joe Dunand (3B), walk to their leadoff hitter Brian Miller (CF), and then another walk to #2 batter Peyton Burdick (LF). That was the end of De Horta’s day. He was replaced by left hander Zach Erwin. But, Erwin gave up back to back to back RBI hits to Jacksonville’s number 3 through 5 hitters—Lewin Diaz (single), Lorenzo Quintana (double), and JJ Bleday (single). With those hits they posted five runs to take a 6-0 lead after just two innings of play.
Jacksonville scored a solo run in the top of the fifth inning to extend their lead to 7-0. The Jumbo Shrimp #5 hitter, right fielder JJ Bleday led off, walked, and advanced into score position at second on a ground out by number six hitter Hick Fortes(C). Then, #7 batter, second baseman Charles Leblanc delivered. He doubled to drive in Bleday from second base.
Meanwhile, Jumbo Shrimp’s starter Max Meyer completely shut down the Durham Bull’s offense. He threw perfect inning after perfect inning. Overall, Meyer went five innings and recorded eight of those fifteen outs via the strikeout. In fact, he struck out the side in 4th inning and only one of the remaining seven outs was on a ball hit out of the infield. The photo of Figure 6 shows the scoreboard when Meyer departed the game after completing his 5th inning on the mound. As shown on the scoreboard, the Durham Bulls had no runs and no hits. Also, no Bulls hitters had reached base on a base on ball, hit by pitch, or error. Therefore, when Max Meyer departed the game, he was pitching a “Perfect Game.”
Meyer was replaced by righty reliever Zach Pop. That was his third short relief outing of the season. Pop retired the first two Durham Bulls batters he faced in the bottom of the sixth inning, but went to a full count on number nine hitter, center fielder Cal Stevenson. Then, he threw another ball and Stevenson took first base on a base on balls. The Bulls fans cheered loudly! The game was no longer a perfect game. On the other hand, Pop struck out the next batter to maintain the no hitter through six innings.
Zach Pop returned to pitch the bottom of the seventh inning. The first batter he faced was Durham’s #2 hitter, third baseman Isaac Paredes.
Paredes lined Pop’s 1 ball, 1 strike pitch to left field for a single. The Bulls fans at the stadium again cheered loudly—the no hitter was broken up. The photo of Figure 7 show the swing on which Isaac Paredes got that no-hitter breaking hit. However, Paredes was quickly erased from the base pads when the next hitter, left fielder Ryan Boldt hit into a double play. But the Bulls were not yet done. The next batter, cleanup hitter Rene Pinto(C) lined another Pop pitch to left for a single. That was the end of Zach Pop’s day. He was replaced by lefty reliever Jake Fishman, who struck out the next hitter to retire the side.
From the sixth through the ninth innings, the Durham Bulls relief pitching settled down and held the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp’s offense scoreless. Three Bulls pitchers closed out the game—left hander Colin Poche (IP(1), R(0), H(1), BB(0), SO(1)), and right handers Seth Blair (IP(2), R(0), H(1), BB(0), SO(2)) and Joel Peguero (IP(1), R(0), H(2), BB(0), SO(0)),
Jake Fishman, who closed out the seventh inning, returned in the bottom of the eight and pitched a 1, 2, 3, inning. Then, righty reliever Huascar Braoban came out in the bottom of the night to close out the game for the Jumbo Shrimps. He pitched another 1, 2, 3, inning and struck out two of the three Durham Bulls batters he faced to secure a 7-0 Jacksonville victory.
The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp’s pitching was excellent. Starter Max Meyer and the three relievers that followed him had thrown a 2 hit shutout; allowed just three Bulls batters to reach base; and did not permit a Durham base runner to advance past first base. Moreover, they recorded 14 of the 27 outs in the game via the strikeout. Max Meyer, who pitched 5 perfect innings, got the win to make his pitching record 1W:0L.
The Durham Bulls lost game 1 to the Jumbo Shrimp 7 runs to 0. In game 2 of the series on Wednesday April 13th, the Bulls were tied 3-3 with Jacksonville entering the sixth inning when their offense ignited in the bottom of that inning. They rallied for 3 runs to take a 6-3 lead and cruised on to a 10-5 victory. The last run that crossed the plate in the 6th inning was scored by number six hitter, shortstop Tristan Gray, and driven in with an RBI single by number 9 hitter Miles Mastrobuoni (2B). Right hand reliever Calvin Faucher, who entered the game to start the top of the 5th inning and departed after the sixth, got the win to even up his pitcher record for the season at 1W:1L.
The next day the Bulls again won but this time in come from behind fashion.
Initially they were behind by three run to zero, but rallied in the 3rd and 4th innings to take a 5-3 lead. However, the game ended up tied 6-all entering the bottom of the 8th. However, in the bottom of that inning, Durham’s number 6 hitter Tristan Gray (SS) hit a leadoff single. Then, with two outs and Gray still at first, number 9 batter, center fielder Cal Stevenson tripled to drive in the go ahead run. With the Bulls now up 7 runs to 6, lefty reliever Colin Poche came in for the close. Poche recorded each of the three outs in the top of the ninth by striking out the Jumbo Shrimp batters for a Durham 7-6 victory and recorded his first save of the season.
But that was the Durham Bulls last win of the series. In each of the remaining three game, the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp’s offense scored multiple runs in the first inning and eventually won big—8-3 in game 4, 13-5 in game 5, and 8-1 in game 6. Jacksonville won the overall series 4 games to 2. Therefore, after the first two weeks of the 2022 season, the Durham Bull overall record was 4W:8L and they ranked #9 among the ten teams in the International League’s East Division.
For the six game series with the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, only two of Durham’s field players appeared in all six games: third baseman Isaac Paredes and catcher Ford Proctor. Both were a starter in five of those games and entered the other game in a replacement role. Relative to offense for the six game set, #2 hitter Isaac Paredes led the Bulls team with 7 hits in 23 at bats (.304 batting average) and runs batted in (7). Earlier I mentioned that he got the single in the 7th inning of game 1 that ended the Jumbo Shrimps pitching staff’s no hitter.
Next, Niko Hulsizer, who only appeared in 4 games, hit in either the #7 or #8 slot, and played left or right field, ranked #1 on the team in runs scored with 5. Finally, #9 batter, center fielder Cal Stevenson, who also only appeared in four games, led the team in bases on balls with 5. Also as highlighted earlier, Stevenson is the player that walked in the sixth inning of game 1 to break up Jacksonville’s perfect 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.