Bulls open playoffs after more changes
By now, watching Charlie Montoyo pilot the Durham Bulls into the International League playoffs surprises no one.
The Bulls, who face Indianapolis today (7:05 p.m.) at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in game one of a best-of-five league semifinal series, are in the postseason as the IL South Division champions for the sixth time in the last seven seasons.
The 2012 Durham team, which missed the postseason following five consecutive division championships, proved to be an aberration.
The parent Tampa Bay Rays keep supplying the talent and Montoyo, through all of the roster shuffling necessary to meet the needs of the big-league club, finds a way to create a winning atmosphere.
“It’s been probably the best Triple-A team I’ve been on,” Bulls outfielder Jason Bourgeois said. “Just a bunch of unselfish players that aren’t bitter about being in Triple-A (who are) really just happy to be on a winning ballclub.”
The 31-year-old Bourgeois speaks from experience. He has played eight seasons at Triple-A, with stops in Richmond, Charlotte, Nashville, Round Rock, Oklahoma City and Omaha before heading to Durham this season.
He said the Bulls’ clubhouse is conducive to winning.
“We all try to stay positive and play like we are kids,” Bourgeois said.
Montoyo credits his veteran players for the winning attitude.
“I’m very lucky to have good kids,” Montoyo said. “It’s not that easy ... with all that movement. When the big-league team wins, ... they’re going to take everybody. That’s all right with me; I love telling guys that they’re going to the big leagues.
“The nucleus of (Mike) Fontenot, (Cole) Figueroa, (Vince) Belnome, (Shelley) Duncan, (Leslie) Anderson, (Chris) Gimenez — they’ve been here the whole time.”
Montoyo said that the night the Bulls clinched the South Division. Since then, Gimenez was recalled to Tampa Bay to help the Rays in their push for an American League playoff berth.
Bourgeois also has been one of many Bulls to come and go this season. He was with the Rays in late August before returning to Durham last week.
Tonight’s starting pitcher for Durham, Jake Odorizzi, is another. He has pitched in five games for Tampa Bay this season. In between those appearances, he’s compiled a 9-6 record with a 3.33 ERA for Durham.
Pitcher Alex Cobb has won 19 games for Tampa Bay over the past two seasons. He spent time in Durham in 2011 and a year ago, and said his experience in Triple-A prepared him for the big leagues.
“The group they have in Durham is so essential to the Rays organization,” Cobb said. “They are that huge stepping stone in that transition from minor-league ball to big-league ball.
“The way they conduct the day-to-day work routine is similar to the big-league lifestyle with a little bit of the hybrid minor-league aspect. It’s a really good transition phase.”
Cobb’s teammate, Wil Myers, helped get the Bulls to the playoffs this season. Before being promoted to Tampa Bay in June, Myers hit .289 with 14 home runs and 57 RBIs in 64 games with Durham.
That production helped the Bulls build a huge lead in the South Division, and Durham cruised to the division title even after Myers was gone.
Obviously glad to be in the big leagues, Myers said his drive to win at Durham was serious.
“I wanted to win so bad,” Myers said. “When I was in the minor leagues, I never got a ring. So I wanted to win probably more than they did.”
He calls Montoyo’s managing among the best he’s seen in the minors.
“Charlie was really good with handling the players,” Myers said. “It’s kind of difficult with guys at the Triple-A level because you have a big mixture of guys. I really think he’s handled it well and went about it the right way.”
Governors’ Cup Playoffs
Game 1, Today
Indianapolis (RHP Brandon Cumpton 6-7, 3.32) at Durham (RHP Jake Odorizzi 9-6, 3.33), 7:05 p.m.
Game 2, Thursday
Indianapolis (vs. RHP Graham Godfrey 7-5, 3.99) at Durham (RHP J.D. Martin 16-4, 2.75), 7:05 p.m.
Game 3, Friday
Durham (RHP Merrill Kelly 8-4, 3.19) at Indianapolis (RHP Jameson Taillon 1-3, 3.89), 7:05 p.m.
Game 4 (if necessary), Saturday
Durham (RHP Matt Buschmann 8-2, 2.97) at Indianapolis (RHP Casey Sadler 0-0, 4.50), 7:05 p.m.
Game 5 (if necessary), Sunday
Durham (LHP Mike Montgomery 7-8, 4.72) at Indianapolis (LHP Andy Oliver 5-4, 4.05), 7:05 p.m.