The Durham Bulls got off to a slow start in April, but have got hot in the month of May. They returned to Durham to start their fourth series of the month on Tuesday May 24th. In that series, which is their second home series this month, they faced the other International League team that is located in North Carolina—the Charlotte Knights (Chicago White Sox).
The Bulls won each of their prior three series this month and entering the series with the Knights were 12W:7L in May. That improved their overall season record to 20 wins and 22 losses. Also, it moved them up to 5th place (tied with Norfolk) in the East Division standings of the INT. Entering the series, the Charlotte Knights were 16W:26L and ranked 8th in the East Division.
I attended game one of the Bulls series with the Knights on Tuesday evening May 24th. Durham Bulls Athletic Park has a concourse that wraps around the entire ball field. The photo above shows the Durham Bulls team on the field during that game as seen from the center field section of the concourse.
Durham Bulls Offense Leaders
Since the Durham Bulls have played 42 games prior to the start of the home series with the Charlotte Knights, they are closing in on the one-third way mark of their 151 game 2022 regular season. At this point, they have played enough games, to begin to look at the players that are leading their regular season offense. The table lists the team leaders for 12 of the 16 traditional Standard Offense Statistics listed on the Durham Bulls and International League official websites.
Four of the twelve offense statistic categories in the table require a player to have a minimum number of plate appearances (PA) to qualify as a team or league leader. They are batting average (AVE), on-base percentage (OBP), slugging percentage (SLG), and on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). To qualify as a team/league leader, a player must have accumulated 3.1 plate appearances per team/league game. PA represents the number of times a player has come to the plate to bat.
Prior to game 1 of the series with the Charlotte Knights, the Bulls and league had played 42 games. To qualify as a team leader in AVE, OBP, SLG, or OPS a player must have 3.1 x 42 = 130 or more plate appearances. That requirement is shown as a caption below the table.
The table clearly shows that up to this point in the 2022 season the leader of the Durham Bulls offense has been infielder Jonathan Aranda.
Aranda, who was born in Mexico, was signed by the Tampa Bay Rays as a free agent on July 2, 2015. Since then, he moved up through the levels of the Rays Minor League system and was a member of the Durham Bulls 2022 opening day roster as a member of the Rays 40-man roster.
On opening day of the 2022 season, Jonathan Aranda made his debut in the Durham Bulls uniform at first base and hitting in the number three slot in their batting order. He walked in his first at bat; went 2 for 4 on the day; and scored 1 run. Since then, Aranda has taken the field at first base, second base, third base and occasionally served as the Bulls designated hitter.
The table shows that entering the series with the Charlotte Knight Jonathan Aranda ranked #1 among all qualifying players on the team in eight of those twelve Standard Offense Statistic categories. Note that he was the team leader in R(26), H(50), 2B(10), RBI(25), AVE(.323), OBP(.399), SLG(.477), and OPS(.876).
However, Aranda was also an International League leader. He was tied for #1 among all players in the league in hits. Moreover, he ranked in the top 10 among all qualifying players in the league in two other stats—AVE(#5) and OBP(#4).
In game one of the series, the Durham Bulls sent a starter to the hill that had already pitched at the Major League level as both a starter and reliever. That was left hander Josh Fleming. Prior to this outing, he was 2W:0L in two starts for Durham. The Charlotte Knights starter, right hander Brody Koerner, had also pitched in the major, but not for the White Sox; instead, with the New York Yankees. Entering the game Koerner was 0W:2L in two starts and two relief appearances with Charlotte.
The Knights got on the scoreboard first. In the top of the first inning, Josh Fleming retired the first two batters he faced, but then gave up a double to Charlotte’s #3 hitter, third baseman Danny Mendick. That brought cleanup hitter, catcher Carlos Perez to the plate. Perez lined the first pitch delivered to him to left for an RBI single. Fleming shut down the Knights rally, but the Bulls were down 1 run to 0 after one-half inning of play.
The Bulls offense came to life in the bottom of the second inning. They scored 3 runs off Brody Koerner to take a 3-1 lead. In that inning, Durham’s number five hitter, second baseman Xavier Edwards led off and walked. But then, Koerner struck out the next two batters. That brought #8 hitter Tristan Gray (SS) to the plate. He singled to right and on the play Edwards advanced to third base.
With #9 batter Cal Stevenson at the plate Tristan Gray took off for second base on a pitch. As the throw was being made to second, Edwards raced for home. Both runners were safe. So the Bulls first run was scored on a steal of home by Xavier Edwards.
Next, Stevenson connected with Koerner’s 3 ball, 2 strike pitch and drove it over the right center field wall for a 2-run homer. The photo shows the swing on which Cal Stevenson connected for his home run.
But the Durham Bulls offense was just getting started. In the third inning, Bulls cleanup hitter, Rene Pinto (DH) hit a leadoff double and came home on a one out single by #6 hitter, first baseman Luke Raley. That extend Durham’s lead to 4-1.
For the start of the bottom of the fourth inning, the Knights brought in reliever Jhan Marinez. Durham’s #8 batter Cal Stevenson greeted him with a bunt single. But then Stevenson was out at second and Mile Mastrobuoni replaced him at first on a 4-6 force out. However, the Bulls next three hitters, Jonathan Aranda, Josh Lowe, and Rene Pinto each singled. Mastrobuoni scored Durham’s fifth run on Lowe’s base hit, and Aranda crossed the plate with run six on Pinto’s hit.
And the Durham Bulls offense was still not done.
They rallied again in the bottom of the 5th inning. Number 7 hitter, catcher Ford Proctor hit a leadoff double and came home with run 1 of the inning on a double by the next hitter, shortstop Tristan Gray. Then, #9 batter, Cal Stevenson and leadoff hitter Miles Mastrobuoni both walked to load the bases. That brought team offense leader Jonathan Aranda to the plate. He hit a sacrifice fly and on that play Gray crossed the plate with run 2. Finally, #3 hitter Josh Lowe (RF) singled to drive in Stevenson with run three. Those were the Bulls 7th, 8th, and 9th runs of the game. The photo shows Josh Lowe’s swing on which he drove in the Bulls 9th run.
Meanwhile, Durham’s starter Josh Fleming settled down and held the Charlotte Knights scoreless in innings 2 through 5. So at the end of five innings of play, Durham led 9 runs to 1.
Fleming came out to start the top of the 6th inning, but departed with two outs and runners in scoring position on second and third base. He was replaced by one of the Bulls regular relievers, right hander Luke Bard. Bard struck out the first batter he faced to shut down the Knights potential rally. .
From that point forward, Bard and two other Durham relievers, left handers Ben Bowden and Dalton Moats, closed out the game. The Charlotte Knight did score a solo run in the top of the 9th inning off Moats. That run crossed the plate on a solo home run by Knights number 7 hitter, first baseman Seby Zavala. So the Durham Bulls beat Charlotte in game 1 of the series by a score of 9 runs to 2. Josh Fleming got the win to make his record 3W:0L.
As mentioned earlier, the Durham Bulls have turned things around in the month of May. They won each of the first three six game series of the month 4 games to 2. In this final series against the Charlotte Knights, Durham won the first four games and then split the final two games to win the series 5 games to 1. During the month of May, they won 17 of their 26 games. That improved their end of April 8W:15 record to 25W:24L at the end of May and moved them up from last place in the East Division Standing of the International League into 5th place.
Among their five wins, game 2 on Wednesday, May 25th stands out. In that game, the Durham Bulls got excellent pitching performances from their starter Shane Baz and the five relievers that followed him, Calvin Faucher, Joel Peguero, Phoenix Sanders, Chris Muller, and Javy Guerra.
Baz had been on the disabled list until May 19th and was just making a short rehab assignment. He only pitched 2.1 innings, but departed with the Bulls winning by a score of 1-0. The Bulls five relievers shut out the Charlotte Knights offense the rest of the way. On the other hand, the Knights pitching staff also held Durham’s offense scoreless for the last seven innings. So the Bulls won the game 1-0. Durham scored their game winning run off Knights starter Jimmy Lambert in the bottom of the second inning on a solo home run by their #7 hitter, first baseman Jim Haley.
In game 3, the Bulls had a 4 run to 0 lead at the end of 5 innings of play and held on for a 7-3 victory. The eventual game winning run 4 was the last run scored in a 4 run rally in the bottom of the 3rd inning. That rally was kind of unique in that it consisted of four solo home runs by Durham’s #9 hitter Joe Hudson (DH), leadoff batter Miles Mastrobuoni (RF), #3 hitter Jonathan Aranda (3B), and cleanup batter Rene Pinto (C). So Pinto crossed the plate with the game winning run. Bulls starter Kevin Herget, who pitched the first six innings and allowed just 2 run (one earned) on 3 hits and 1 walk, got the win to make is record 3W:0L.
Then, in game 4, Durham again got on the scoreboard first. Then, built a 6-1 lead by the end of 5 innings of play and went on to win 7-1. The game winning run 2 scored on a third inning solo home run by #3 hitter, second baseman Jonathan Aranda.
On the other hand, in game 6 the Charlotte Knights got on the scoreboard first. They scored a single run in the top of the third inning to take a 1 run to 0 lead. But in the bottom of the fourth inning, the Bulls rallied to take a 4-1 lead.
The Bulls loaded the bases on a leadoff walk to #2 hitter, catcher Ford Proctor; double by #3 batter Josh Lowe (RF), and then cleanup hitter, designated hitter Rene Pinto getting hit by a pitch. The next batter, shortstop Tristan Gray doubled home Proctor and Lowe with runs 1 and 2 of the inning. Then with #6 batter Jim Haley (3B) at bat, Rene Pinto crossed the plate with run 3 on a passed ball. Haley struck out, but that brought up left fielder Jordan Qsar. With Qsar at the plate, a wild pitch was delivered and Tristan Gray, who had advanced to third base on the passed ball, came home with the 4th and final run of the inning.
At the end of 5 innings of play, this time the Durham Bulls had a 4 runs to 2 lead. Both team’s relief corps held the opposing teams offense scoreless the rest of the way. So the final score for the Bulls game 6 victory was 4-2. Durham’s starter Josh Fleming went six complete innings and got the win to make his record 4W:0L.
Series Pitching Leader
Typically I highlight the leaders of the Durham Bulls offense for the series, but this time a starting pitcher really stands out as a key player for the team’s success in the series. That is right hand starter Josh Fleming. Fleming was signed by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2017 June Amateur Draft. After playing briefly with the Durham Bulls in 2019, he made his debut in the majors with the Rays on August 20, 2020. Then in 2021 he pitched for both Durham and Tampa, but mostly at the Major League level. Fleming opened the 2022 season on the Rays roster and made four starts and two relief appearances before being reassigned to the Bulls on May 7th.
Josh Fleming made two starts for the Bulls in this six game series versus the Charlotte Knights. As highlighted earlier, he was Durham’s starter in the game 1 of the series that I attended on May 24th. That day he pitched 5.2 solid innings; departed with the Bulls leading 9 runs to 1; and was the winning pitcher of the game. His overall pitched line for the days was 5.2 innings pitched, 8 hits, 1 run, 1 base on balls, and 3 strikeouts.
Fleming returned to the mound as Durham’s starting pitching in game six of the series on Sunday May 29th. Again Josh Fleming had an excellent outing. He went six innings and Durham was on top 4 runs to 2 when he turned the game over to the Bulls relief corps. The Bulls went on to win by that score and Fleming won his second game of the series to improve his season record to 4W:0L. In this game, Josh Fleming’s pitching line was IP(6), H(10), R(2), BB(1), and SO(4).
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.