The Durham Bulls have lost just one game in the first week of the season, but that didn’t stop manager Jared Sandberg from holding a meeting with his pitching staff before Wednesday’s game.
“We had a little meeting today to talking about free passes,” Sandberg said. “I wanted them to truly commit to the strike zone.”
Bulls pitchers had walked a batter every two innings, the second-highest walk rate in the league. Durham’s 28 free passes were also the second-most in the International League.
Message received. Starter Chih-Wei Hu walked just one batter in six innings, and the Durham bullpen had just one walk in its three innings of work. The strong outing on the mound helped the Bulls win their third straight, 6-2 over Charlotte.
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It was exactly the way Sandberg envisioned things.
“Start limiting the free passes,” he said, “and that limits the extra pitches you thrown. Look at Hu, from a pitch count perspective, he was outstanding. He probably could have pitched through the seventh inning, but it’s early. There was no reason to push it.
Hu threw just 81 pitches over his six innings of work, striking out five and allowing one earned run. That lowered his ERA on the season to 1.64.
“He was incredible,” Sandberg said. “He was pretty much in control the entire game. He had a good fastball. He moved it around, both in and out to the hitters.”
Hu was also happy with his night.
“I came in with control, location and movement,” he said. “All the things you want to do.”
With only one walk through 11 innings this season, Hu didn’t need Sandberg to tell him the importance of throwing strikes.
“A first pitch strike is all a pitcher needs,” he said. “You get behind in the count, and everything gets harder. (Sandberg) just told us to keep throwing strikes at first. Everybody needs to do that.”
Hu was also pleased with his low pitch count—81 pitches.
“I could have gone more, but it’s just the second game,” he said. “It’s a long season. I’m fine with that.”
The Bulls also got plenty of help at the plate. Patrick Leonard continued his hot start to the season, going 3-for-4 with two doubles, including one that cleared the bases, knocking in three runs in the third to put the Bulls on top to stay.
Designated hitter Mike Marjama added a three-run home run in the fourth, his second homer in as many games, to cap the Durham scoring.