Division title in Bulls' sights
A season that’s mostly been forgettable for Hak-Ju Lee is all but certain to end with postseason play at least.
The shortstop, struggling at the plate this season, delivered a big hit Sunday night to draw that projection a little closer to reality.
Batting just above the .200 mark, Lee drilled a two-run, two-out triple in the sixth inning that put the Bulls ahead for good in a 5-3 win over Gwinnett before a crowd of 9,308 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Durham’s win, coupled with Charlotte’s 8-7 win over Norfolk on Sunday, pushed the Bulls lead over the Tides to nine games with nine regular-season games to play. Durham’s magic number to clinch the International League South Division dropped to one, meaning a Bulls win or a Norfolk loss on Monday night would give Durham the division title and the playoff berth.
“That was a big hit and we are going to play (close) games like that,” Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo. “Any hit like that is huge.”
Rated as the Tampa Bay Rays No. 2 overall prospect entering this season, Lee carried a .203 batting average and a .283 on-base percentage into Sunday’s game. His poor output has caused him to fall to No. 8 in the Durham batting order.
But Lee coaxed walks in his first two at-bats against Gwinnett starting pitcher Kanekoa Texeria. Lee walked and scored as part of a two-run, second-inning rally that put Durham up 2-1.
In the sixth inning, the Bulls received back-to-back walks from Texeira before Gwinnett brought in Pedro Beato from the bullpen.
Lee, thanks to a tip from teammate Ray Olmedo, looked for a fastball. When Beato obliged, Lee lined the ball down the line in right field and into the corner. Two runs scored as Lee raced to third base with his first triple of the season and the Bulls were up 4-2.
“Ray Olmedo told me `you have to wait for fastballs,’” Lee said of the advice for facing Beato. “I am feeling more confident with that last at bat.”
A knee injury cost Lee nearly all of the 2013 season when the Bulls won the Governor’s Cup as International League champions. Fighting to combine health and production, Lee picked a good time of the season to have one of his better games.
“He had a good game and it was good to see,” Montoyo said.
Jeremy Moore added a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to put the Bulls up 5-2.
That run proved important when Gwinnett’s Todd Cunningham blasted a solo home run off Adam Liberatore in the ninth inning.
A Brandon Boggs double allowed the Braves to bring the tying run to the plate with one out. But Liberatore turned to his fastball and escaped the jam.
The left-hander struck out Sean Kazmar and Elmer Reyes, using his 95 mph fastball as his out pitch both times, to record his second save.
August 24, 2014
|Cunningham, T, CF||5||1||1||1||0||2||8||.283|
2B: Kazmar (16, Romero), Boggs (15, Liberatore).
3B: Boggs (3, Romero).
HR: Cunningham, T (8, 9th inning off Liberatore, 0 on, 0 out).
TB: Reyes; Boggs 5; Lerud; Martinez; Kazmar 3; Cunningham, T 4; Constanza 2.
RBI: Lerud (18), Boggs (30), Cunningham, T (57).
2-out RBI: Boggs.
Runners left in scoring position, 2 out: Cunningham, T 4; Kazmar; Martinez; Reyes.
Team RISP: 3-for-14.
Team LOB: 12.
SB: Constanza (30, 2nd base off Romero/Acosta, M).
E: Martinez (8, throw).
Outfield assists: Salcedo (Franklin at 3rd base).
|Beckham, T, DH||4||0||1||1||0||1||1||.359|
|Figueroa, C, 3B||4||0||0||0||0||1||1||.288|
|Lee, H, SS||1||1||1||2||2||0||0||.205|
|Acosta, M, C||3||1||1||0||0||1||2||.133|
3B: Lee, H (1, Beato).
HR: Moore (10, 8th inning off Rodriguez, 0 on, 2 out).
TB: Acosta, M; Beckham, T; Moore 4; Lee, H 3; Franklin 2.
RBI: Beckham, T (4), Lee, H 2 (22), Moore (30).
2-out RBI: Beckham, T; Lee, H 2; Moore.
Runners left in scoring position, 2 out: Belnome; Acosta, M.
Team RISP: 3-for-6.
Team LOB: 5.
SB: Franklin (2, 2nd base off Texeira/Lerud).
E: Romero (2, fielding).
|Texeira (L, 3-5)||5.2||4||4||4||5||3||0||5.32|
|Kelly, M (W, 8-4)||2.0||3||0||0||2||1||0||2.92|
|Riefenhauser (H, 10)||1.0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1.49|
|Liberatore (S, 2)||1.0||2||1||1||0||2||1||1.74|
Pitches-strikes: Texeira 108-57, Beato 25-16, Rodriguez 10-7, Romero 91-53, Kelly, M 41-24, Riefenhauser 9-6, Liberatore 28-19.
Groundouts-flyouts: Texeira 8-4, Beato 1-0, Rodriguez 1-0, Romero 5-1, Kelly, M 2-2, Riefenhauser 2-0, Liberatore 0-0.
Batters faced: Texeira 25, Beato 6, Rodriguez 3, Romero 23, Kelly, M 11, Riefenhauser 3, Liberatore 5.
Inherited runners-scored: Beato 2-2.
Umpires: HP: Derek Mollica. 1B: Jeff Gosney. 3B: Jon Byrne.
Weather: 79 degrees, cloudy.
Wind: 9 mph, In from LF.