As mentioned in my prior DRaysBay post, the Durham Bulls got hot at the start of May. Their winning streak continued into June. On Tuesday June 14th, they returned to Durham Bulls Athletic Park to open their second home stand of the month. In that series, they were faced off against the Cincinnati Reds AAA team in the International League—the Louisville Bats.
From May 1st through June 12th the Bulls had won five of their six home/away series and posted a 23W:14L record. Entering the six game series with Louisville, Durham’s overall season record was 31W:29L and that ranked them #5 in the East Division standings. On the other hand, the Bats record was 22W:37L and that ranked them in last place in the West Division of the International League.
I attended game one of the Bulls series with the Bats on Tuesday June 14th. The photo above shows the Durham Bulls and Louisville Bats teams on the field during the national anthem.
Durham Bulls Players that made their MLB Debut in the Tampa Bay Rays Uniform
Entering the series with the Louisville Bats, seventeen members of the Bulls roster had already made their debut in the majors. However, nine of them made their debut with a different Major League Club then the Rays. The table lists the eight member of Durham’s roster that played their first MLB game in the Tampa Bay Rays uniform.
Note that the table includes six pitchers, right hand pitchers Shane Baz, Calvin Faucher, Tommy Romero, Phoenix Sanders, Ryan Yarbrough, and lefty Josh Fleming and two field players center fielder Josh Lowe and catcher Rene Pinto. Also, it shows that four of them made their MLB debut with Tampa this season—Faucher, Romero, Sanders, and Pinto.
Among the pitchers, left hander Josh Fleming and righty Ryan Yarbrough have pitched many more than the 50 inning limit needed to retain eligibility for rookie status. For instance, Fleming already appeared in 39 Tampa Bay Rays games and in those outings compiled 155.0 innings on the mound.
Josh Fleming played college baseball for Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri before entering the 2017 June Amateur Draft. He was selected in the 5th round by the Tampa Bay Rays and signed to a professional baseball contract. From 2017 through 2019, Fleming worked his way up from the rookie class (Princeton Rays, Appalachian League) to the AAA class—Durham Bulls (International League). The photo shows Fleming delivering a pitch from the mound at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
With no Minor League baseball in 2020, Josh Fleming was invited by Tampa to Spring Training. When the regular season started, he was assigned to the Rays Alternate Training Site. Fleming was called up by the Tampa on August 23, 2020 and made his debut that day as their starter in a home game versus the Toronto Blue Jays. Fleming threw five complete innings of 2 run, 4 hit ball and departed with the Rays on top 3 runs to 2. Tampa went on to win the game 5 runs to 4 and Josh Fleming got the win.
In 2021, Fleming pitched most of the season in the majors with Tampa. That season he appeared in 26 games and made 11 starts. Then, in 2022 he was a member of the Rays opening day roster. When optioned to the Durham Bulls on May 7, 2022, he was 2W:3L in 2 starts and 4 relief appearances. Since rejoining the Bulls, Josh Fleming has pitched in the starter role and is 6W:0L in 6 starts and is pitching with an exceptional earned run average (ERA=0.98) and walks plus hits per innings pitched (WHIP=0.80).
The two field players the table, Josh Lowe and Rene Pinto, still meet the requirements for rookie status. In fact, they are both Tampa Bay Rays MLB Top 30 Prospects, Lowe (#2) and Pinto (#26). Moreover, they have played key roles in the Durham Bulls offense.
Three of the players listed in the table, Shane Baz. Calvin Faucher, and Rene Pinto were recalled to the majors by Tampa a few days prior to the start of the series with the Louisville Bats.
Durham sent right hander Kevin Herget to the mound for the start. As highlighted in my earlier 2022 Minor League Road Trip Game 3 Article on Drays Bay, Herget made his first start in the Rays Minor League organization in that game on May 14th. Prior to this game, he had made a total of 5 starts and compiled a 3W:0L record in those outings. The photo shows Kevin Herget delivering a pitch in the game.
The Louisville Bats sent right hander Robert Dugger to the mound. Interestingly, Dugger was a member of the Durham Bulls opening day roster and starting rotation. He was 0W:2L in five starts in April before being designated for assignment by Tampa during the first week of May. He was claimed off waivers by the Cincinnati Reds; signed to a contract; and assigned to the Louisville Bats. This game was his fifth pitching appearance with the Bats and his 4th start.
Game one of the series was quite exciting and very enjoyable for Durham Bulls fans. However, the Louisville Bats got on the scoreboard first and quickly. In fact, the Bats leadoff hitter, shortstop Jose Barrero connected with the first pitch delivered by Kevin Herget and drove it over the right center field wall for a home run. The photo shows the swing on which Barrero homered and Bulls players looking and their centerfielder moving in the direction the ball’s flight.
However, the Bats 1-0 lead did not stand long. In the bottom of the first inning, Durham’s leadoff hitter, second baseman Miles Mastrobuoni tripled on a hit into the right field corner. Then, Mastrobuoni crossed the plate with the game tying run on a sacrifice fly by number 2 batter Jonathan Aranda (3B). At the end of one inning of play the game was tied 1-all.
But, Louisville scored single runs in the top of the third and fourth innings to take a 3 runs to 1 lead. Again, the Durham Bulls struck back. In the bottom of the fifth inning, they rallied for two runs to tie the game at 3-all. Bulls number seven hitter first baseman Jim Haley hit a leadoff single. But then, Robert Dugger retired the next two batters. That brought Durham’s leadoff hitter Miles Mastobuoni to the plate. He walked to put runners on first and second. Next, #2 batter Jonathan Aranda (3B) hit an infield grounder that should have been the third out. However, an error was made of the play. So Haley and Mastrobuoni each moved up a base and Aranda was safe at first. Therefore, number 3 hitter Josh Lowe (DH) came to the plate with the bases loaded. Lowe hit Dugger’s 1 ball, 0 strike pitch off the left center field wall for a double. On that play, Haley and Mastrobuoni scored and Aranda advanced to third base. The photo shows the swing on which Lowe hit that two run double. That was the end of Robert Dugger’s day. He was replaced by right hand reliever Buck Farmer. Farmer shut down the Bulls rally by getting the first batter he faced to hit a 4-3 ground out for out three of the inning.
Meanwhile, Kevin Herget kept Louisville scoreless in the fifth and six innings. He departed at that point with the game tied 3 runs to 3. His pitching line for the day was IP(6) H(8), R(3), BB(0), and SO(8). The relievers that followed him, left hander Ben Bowden and righties Phoenix Sanders, Cristofer Ogando, and Dustin Knight held the Louisville Bats scoreless in the top of the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. Similarly Bats relievers, Buck Farmer and Jared Solomon shut down the Bulls offense in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings. So entering the bottom of the ninth inning the game was still tied 3-all.
In the bottom of the 9th, Louisville’s regular closer Fernando Cruz took the mound. He got in trouble quickly. Cruz gave up singles to the first two batters he faced: #8 hitter, shortstop Tristan Gray and the next hitter Jordan Osar (RF). That put runners on first and second base. Next, Cruz walked Durham’s leadoff hitter Miles Mastrobuoni to load the bases with no outs. Then, #2 hitter Jonathan Aranda hit a grounder to third base. Tristan Gray raced for home, but was thrown out. However, Durham still had the bases loaded with #3 hitter Josh Lowe coming to the plate. Lowe hit Cruz’s 3 ball, 2 strike pitch to right for a single that scored Jordan Osar with the game winning run. The Durham Bulls had a 4-3 come from behind victory and a walk off win.
Durham won four of the six games in this series against the Louisville Bats. That improved their regular season record to 35W:31L and kept them in 5th place in the East Division standings of the International League. As just highlighted, Durham had a walk off win in game 1 of the series. Then, they went on to win games 3, 4, and 5. The Durham Bulls game 3 victory really stands stood out. In fact, five players combined to hit six home runs as the Bulls rallied to win the game 10 runs to 2.
In game 3, the Louisville Bats opened the scoring with 2 runs in the top of the second inning. Bulls starter Luis Pateno gave up 4 hits before being replaced with 2 outs in the third inning and a runner in scoring position on second base, However, the three Durham relievers that followed him, Chris Mazza, Cristofer Ogando, and Phoenix Sanders, shut down the Bats offense the rest of the way. In fact, those three relievers allowed just 1 hit over the final 7 and 1/3 innings.
On the other hand, the Durham Bulls offense came to life and rallied to open a 5-2 lead with a single run in the bottom of the third inning and 4 runs in the 4th. In the third, the Bulls number eight batter, designated hitter David Rodriguez hit a two out solo home run. Then in the 4th, number 3 hitter Josh Lowe (LF) lead off with a double. That brought cleanup hitter Luke Raley (RF) to the plate. He homered to put the Bulls up 3-2. The run scored by Raley on that play turned out to be the eventual game winning run. Then, later in that inning David Rodriguez hit his second homer of the game—a 2 run shot.
Each of the Durham Bulls five run scoring rallies included a home run. In the fifth inning they scored 2 more runs to extend their lead to 7-2. Those runs crossed the plate on solo home runs by leadoff batter Miles Mastrobuoni and #3 hitter Josh Lowe. Then, in the sixth inning, the Bulls scored a single run to take an 8-2 lead. Number 2 hitter Jonathan Aranda homered to put that run on the scoreboard. Finally, in the bottom of the 8th, Durham scored two more runs to increase their lead to 10 runs to 2. The first of those two runs crossed the plate on a leadoff home run by #9 hitter Jordan Osar.
The Bulls victory in game four of the series was also a little unique. What stood out in that game was Durham’s pitching. All of the pitchers that appeared in the game were primarily members of the Bull’s relief corps. For instance, Seth Blair, who started the game, had made 17 relief appearances this season. Similarly, the five pitchers that followed him, Joel Peguero, Ben Bowden, Chris Muller, Dusten Knight, and Javy Guerra, together had already made over 80 relief appearances this season for the Bull. Only two of them had made a start and together those two pitchers had started just 5 games. Together, those six relievers threw 9 innings of shutout ball. In fact, they threw six 1, 2, 3 innings and only allowed the Louisville Bats offense 3 hits.
Meanwhile, Durham’s offense rallied to score 3 runs in the bottom of the third inning and two more in the 8th for a 5 run to 0 victory over the Bats. The key hits in their third inning rally were a two run single by #2 batter, center fielder Cal Stevenson and a single by cleanup hitter Luke Raley (1B) that drove in Stevenson with run 3. Then in the 8th, number 9 hitter, catcher Joe Hudson hit a 2-run homer run.
Series Offense Leaders
During the six game series with the Louisville Bats, the players at the top of the Durham Bulls batting order played a key role in leading the team’s offence. In fact, leadoff batter Miles Mastrobuoni led the team in four stats typically associated with a top of the order tablesetter: runs(5-tied with Jim Haley), base on balls(5), triple(1), and stolen bases(3). The photo shows Mastrobuoni at the plate in the game.
Mastrobuoni played college baseball at the University of Nevada prior to entering the 2016 June Amateur Draft. He was selected and signed by the Tampa Bay Rays in the draft and began his professional baseball career that year playing short-season A class ball with the Hudson Valley Renegades (New York-Penn League). He quickly worked his way up through the Rays Minor League system and played briefly, 4 games, for the Durham Bulls at the end of the 2019 season. Then, in 2021, Mastrobuoni opened the season playing with the Montgomery Biscuits (AA, Southern League), but was promoted to the Bulls in mid-July and finished out the season playing AAA ball for Durham in the International League.
Miles Mastrobuoni returned to the Bulls roster for the start of the 2022 season and on opening day was their starting second baseman and number two hitter. He is listed as a right fielder on Durham’s website. However, this season he has taken the field for the Bulls in many infield and outfield positions as well as their DH. Mastrobuoni has most frequently started at second base, but has also often played left or right field. In this series versus the Louisville Bats, he started in five of the six games. hit in the leadoff slot in each of those games, but started in four different field position 2B, SS, LF, and RF. Overall in the series Miles Mastrobuoni had 7 hits in 21 official at bats for a .333 batting average and as mentioned earlier lead the team for the six game set in R, BB, 3B, and SB.
Next in line relative to players leading the Bulls offense during the series with Louisville are #3 hitter Josh Lowe and cleanup hitter Luke Raley. They each led or were tied for #1 on the team in three batting statistic categories. Raley led all players in hits(9), runs batted in(6-tied with Lowe), home runs(2-tied with Jonathan Aranda, Josh Lowe, and David Rodrigues). On the other hand, Lowe was #1 in RBI(6-tied with Raley), home runs(2-tied with Raley, Aranda, and Rodriguez), and doubles(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.