The Durham Bulls third home stand of the 2022 season began on Tuesday, May 10th. That day they began a six game series versus the Atlanta Braves triple-A team in the International League—the Gwinnett Stripers. Entering the series the Durham Bulls record was 12W:18L and they were tied with the Charlotte Knights for seventh place in the East Division standings of the INT. On the other hand, the Stripers entered the series with a 15W:15L record and were tied with two other teams for sixth place in the West Division. I attended game five of the series on Saturday April 14th.
In my prior Durham Bulls home game post, I introduced the MLB eligibility criteria for a player to retain rookie status. Two criteria that a field player must meet are that he has had less than 130 at bats with Major League Clubs and not have been an active member of the roster of MLB clubs for 45 or more days. On the other hand, a pitcher loses his rookie stats when he has pitched 50 innings in the majors or been an active member of MLB club rosters for 45 days.
A benefit to a player of retaining his rookie status is that if he gets recalled to the majors and has an exceptional season he is eligible to be considered for that year’s Major League Baseball Rookie of the Year Awards. Another is that if the player continues to play in the minors, he is eligible to be ranked as one of the Major League Clubs top 30 prospects on the MLB Pipeline prospect list. Here I will focus on the Tampa Bay Rays MLB top 30 prospects on Durham’s roster.
The table of identifies that seven players on the Durham Bulls roster were ranked as Tampa Bay Rays MLB top 30 prospects prior to entering the series with the Gwinnett Stripers. Among this group of TBR top 30 prospects, three have not yet made their Major League debut: pitcher Colby White (#25), second baseman Jonathan Aranda (#22), and catcher Ford Proctor (#23). On the other hand, two of them made their debut in the majors with the Tampa Bay Rays this season—right hand pitcher Tommy Romero on April 12, 2022 and catcher Rene Pinto April 26, 2022.
The two highest ranked Rays prospect recently on the Durham Bulls roster are center fielder Josh Lowe (#2) and shortstop Vidal Brujan (#4). Both of them made their Major League debut with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2021. In my prior Drays Bay articles, Brujan was identified as one of the members of Durham’s rosters that had made his Major League debut in the Rays uniform. The table identifies that he is classified as a shortstop; is a switch hitter, and played for the Bulls and Rays in 2021.
Vidal Brujan was a member of the Durham Bulls 2022 opening day roster and in their opening day game versus the Nashville Sounds played third base and hit in the #1 slot in their batting order. However, on April 23, 2022 Brujan got recalled by Tampa Bay, but only appeared in the next day’s game against the Boston Red Sox before returning to Durham on April 25th. With the Bulls this season, he typically hit in the leadoff slot in their batting order and played shortstop or third base. However, on the opening day of the series with the Gwinnett Stripers, Tuesday May 10th, Vidal Brujan was again called up to the majors by the Rays.
On the other hand, Josh Lowe, the Rays #2 MLB prospect, opened the 2022 season on the Tampa Bay Rays roster and regularly played in the outfield or as their designated hitter. However, on May 2nd he was optioned to the Durham Bulls. With the Bulls, he has served those same roles. However, he has quickly taken over the #3 slot in their batting order and as a key member of their offense.
In game five of the series with the Gwinnett Stripers on Saturday May 14th, the Durham Bulls pitching and offense all came together. The Bulls sent a new comer to their pitching staff, right hander Kevin Herget, to the hill as their starter. Herget, who has not yet played at the Major League level, was signed by the Tampa Bay Rays on May 11, 2022. Upon signing, he was assigned to the Durham Bulls roster. So this was his first pitching performance in the Bulls uniform.
Gwinnett countered with one of their regular starters, left hander Kyle Muller. He entered the games with a 2W:1 L record in sixth starts this season. In fact, Muller, who has not yet made his Major League debut, is ranked as the MLB #4 prospect in the Atlanta Braves Minor League system.
Kevin Herget had an excellent debut for the Durham Bulls pitching staff. He threw five complete shutout innings. In fact, over that stint he threw three 1, 2, 3 innings. However, in the top of the third inning, Gwinnett’s number 7 hitter, first baseman John Nogowski hit a leadoff single. But, then he was erased from the base pads when the next batter hit into a double play. Next, Herget hit #9 batter Delino DeShields with a pitch. Then, he retired the side on the first pitch he delivered to the Stripers leadoff hitter Hernan Perez (RF).
In the top of the 5th inning, Herget gave up a one out single to Gwinnett’s #5 hitter, third baseman Pat Valaika. However, it was another 1, 2, 3, inning when Kevin Herget got the next hitter out a pop fly to center field and the batter following him hit it into a 6-4-3 double play. When Herget departed after the bottom of the 5th, the Durham Bulls had a 4 run, to 0 lead over Gwinnett. His pitching stats for the day were IP(5), R(0), H(2), BB(0), HBP(1), and SO(4).
Meanwhile, the Durham Bulls offences scored quickly.
With one out in the bottom of the first inning, #2 hitter, first baseman Isaac Paredes hit Kyle Muller’s full count pitch over the left center field wall to put the Bulls up 1-0. The photo in Figure 5 shows the swing on which Paredes hit that homer. Then, #3 batter Josh Lowes (RF) reached second base on a fly to shallow left field and crossed the plate on an RBI single by cleanup hitter Jim Haley (3B). At the end of 1 inning of play, Durham was up 2 runs to 0.
Then, in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Bulls offense again rallied for 2 runs to give Kevin Herget a four run lead before he departed the game. With two outs, number 9 hitter, shortstop Tristan Gray reached first on an infield single. That brought Durham’s leadoff batter Miles Mastrobuoni to the plate. He hit the first pitch delivered by Muller over the right center field wall for a 2 run homer. The photo of Figure 6 shows Mastrobuoni’s home run swing.
Three right hand relievers, Chris Muller, Phoenix Sanders, and Javy Guerra closed out the game for the Durham Bulls. Together they pitched four no-hit shutout innings. Meanwhile the Bulls offense added solo runs in the bottom of the 7th and 8th innings to extend their lead. With two down in the seventh, Durham’s #2 hitter Isaac Paredes walked.
Paredes advanced to second on a passed ball and came home when #3 hitter Josh Lowe doubled off the left center field wall. Then in the 8th, number seven batter, catcher Ford Proctor hit a two out homer over the right center field wall. Therefore, Durham won by a final score of 6-0 and Kevin Herget got his first win in the Bulls uniform. In fact, the game was the first shut-out win by the Durham Bulls this season.
The Durham Bulls fell behind the Gwinnett Stripers by three runs quickly in both game 1 and 2 of the series and eventually lost both of them by a score of 8-4. Then in game three on Thursday, May 12th they were down 7 runs to 0 after the top of the fourth inning. However, then Durham’s offense ignited. In the bottom of the 4th, they launched a 2 out rally and scored six runs to close the gap to 7-6. The first run scored on an RBI triple by number seven hitter, shortstop Miles Mastrobuoni. The rally ended with a bases loaded 3-run triple by number 3 hitter Josh Lowe (RF). Then, Miles Mastrobuoni knocked in the game tying run in the bottom of the 5th with an RBI double. After that both team’s relief corps kept the game tied at 7-all.
To start the bottom of the 9th, Gwinnett sent in a very experienced reliever—right hander Nick Vincent. Vincent had pitched in the majors during each of the ten seasons from 2012 through 2021. However, Durham quickly loaded the bases with no outs on a walk to Miles Mastrobuoni and singles by the next two hitters—Jim Haley (2B) and Cal Stevenson (LF). With one out, number 2 hitter Jonathan Aranda (2B) came to the plate. Aranda lined Vincent’s 1 ball 1 strike pitch into right field for a single to drive in Mastrobuoni with the game winning run. The Durham Bulls had an 8-7 walk-off victory.
The Bulls had broken the wave. They went on to win each of the remaining three games and the series with the Gwinnett Braves 4 games to 2. In fact, that was the first home series the Bulls had won this season. In game 4, Durham scored early; built a 5 run to 1 lead by the end of the 4th inning; and held on for a 6-3 victory. Their game winning run 4 was scored in a two run rally in the bottom of the third inning. The Bulls leadoff hitter Miles Mastrobuoni walked. Then, with one down #3 hitter Josh Lowe hit a 2-run homer to extend the Bulls lead to 4-1. On that play, Mastrobuoni scored Durham’s third run and Lowe crossed the plate with what turned out to be the eventual game winning run 4.
In game six on Sunday June 15th, the Stripers again got on the scoreboard first. But, that was just a solo run in the top of the first inning. As the game rolled on, the Durham Bulls built a 6-2 lead entering the top of the ninth inning. However, in the 9th, Gwinnett rallied for 2 runs to close the gap to 6-4 before being shut down by right hand reliever Luke Bard.
The Bulls game winning run 5 was scored in a two run rally in the bottom of the 8th inning. With one out, leadoff hitter Miles Mastrobuoni singled and then stole second base. Next, #2 hitter Jonathan Aranda walked to put runners on first and second. That brought up number 3 batter Josh Lowe. Lowe doubled to drive in Matrobuoni with the eventual game winning run. Then, Aranda crossed the plate with an insurance run on a sacrifice fly by #4 batter Isaac Paredes.
Series Offense Leaders
A number of players contributed to the Durham Bulls offense against the Gwinnett Stripers. However, two of them, leadoff batter Miles Mastrobuoni and #3 hitter Josh Lowe, really stand out. They both started in five of the six games and each of the Bulls four wins. As identified in the earlier game and series reviews, they both contributed too many of the Bulls important offense rallies.
Josh Lowe supplied Durham’s middle of the order power and drove in runs. During the series, Lowe had 9 hits in 19 at bats for a .474 batting average. Those 9 hits led all players on the team. He also ranked #1 on the team’s offense with 12 runs batted in, 4 doubles, and 2 home runs (tied with Tristan Gray). The photo of Figure 7 shows Lowe’s swing on which he hit an RBI double in the 7th inning of game 5.
On the other hand, Miles Mastrobuoni served the role of a table setter in most games. In the last three of Durham’s four victories, Mastrobuoni was their leadoff batter, while in games 1 through 3 he hit in the #7 slot of their batting order. Mastrobuoni had 8 hits in 16 official at bats for a team leading .500 batting average. However, he also ranked #1 on the team in runs scored (7), base on balls (7), and on-base percentage (.652).
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.