Bulls come up short on rough night
On a night when the Durham Bulls struggled on the mound early, at the plate and in the field, they still had a chance to pull out a victory Monday night when they stranded two runners in the bottom of the ninth at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Instead, the Charlotte Knights cashed in on a two-out error by Durham shortstop Tim Beckham for a two-run rally and a 4-3 victory in International League action.
Bulls starter Merrill Kelly (8-4) gave up a pair of runs and four hits in the first two innings while he struggled with his velocity.
"The first couple of innings, I just didn't have it," Kelly said. "I could just tell, coming out of my hand, that my timing wasn't there. I got away from throwing fastballs, and they were able to sit on off-speed (pitches) in the first couple of innings.
"After that, I kind of found my rhythm, found my release point and was able throw more fastballs."
On offense, the Bulls managed just six hits and stranded Kevin Kiermaier after a leadoff double in the eighth inning. Their highlight was a three-run double by Ryan Roberts in the fourth inning to take the lead.
"We're just not hitting it," Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo said. "I don't want to hit on my guys, (but) we're just not hitting. ... That's just what it is.
"That big double by Roberts was his first hit in 25 at-bats, but it was a big one."
The Knights jumped on Kelly early, as Marcus Semien ripped a leadoff double and scored when Blake Tekotte singled off Beckham's glove as he tried to make a diving stop. But Kelly got Travis Ishikawa to ground into a forceout, then struck out the next two batters to get out of the inning.
Charlotte added another run in the second, again beginning with a leadoff double. After Jim Gallagher's ground-rule double to open the inning, Bryan Anderson's one-out double gave the Knights a 2-0 lead. But Kelly again retired the next two batters ot escape with minimal damage.
"One thing about Kelly, he didn't have it today and he battled through to where he got," Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo said. "He wasn't throwing as hard, (but) he gave us five innings."
Meanwhile, the Bulls had struggled against Charlotte starter Charlie Leesman (4-3) without a base runner since Kevin Kiermaier's single opened the bottom of the first.
That changed in the fourth, as Durham loaded the bases on a leadoff walk by Beckham, a single by Vince Belnome and a base on balls to Shelley Duncan before Roberts' double cleared the bases.
"Maybe we're saving it (for the playoffs)," Montoyo said of the Bulls' struggles at the plate. "We've won some close games, and that's the way it is. But I'll take a 10-1 (win) in the playoffs."
The Knights regained the lead in the fifth after an error by Beckham allowed Brent Morel to reach first with two out. Travis Ishikawa doubled to left-center to drive in Morel, and he scored on a double by Andy Wilkins for a 4-3 advantage before Kelly notched his sixth strikeout to end the rally.
"Throughout my career, typically if I'm going to have a bad couple of innings, it's usually the first or second," Kelly said. "Then some unfortunate stuff happened in the fifth, but I felt a lot better.
"Other than those two hitters in the fifth inning, the rest of the game was fine. Throwing more fastballs just makes off-speed more effective."
Roberts and Chris Gimenez singled with one out in the ninth, but Gimenez was forced out at second on a grounder by Evan Frey. With runners on second and third after Frey stole second, Jesus Flores drove a deep fly to center field for the final out.
NOTES — The Bulls will open the 2014 season at home on April 3 with a four game series against the Gwinnett Braves, followed by four more at the DBAP with Charlotte. ... Durham's Matt Buschmann (7-1, 2.83 ERA) is scheduled to start the final regular-season home game against Charlotte's Nick McCully (2-3, 6.32). ... The Bulls open the International League playoffs at home Sept. 4-5 against Indianpolis.
Knights 4, Bulls 3
Semien, 3B |4 |1 |1 |0 | Kiermaier,CF |4 |0 |2 |0 |
Tekotte, CF |5 |0 |1 |1 | Beckham, SS |2 |1 |0 |0 |
Morel, DH |3 |1 |0 |0 | Belnome, 1B |4 |1 |1 |0 |
Ishikawa, LF |4 |1 |2 |1 | Duncan, DH |3 |1 |0 |0 |
Wilkins, 1B |4 |0 |2 |1 | Fontenot, 2B |3 |0 |0 |0 |
Tolleson, SS |3 |0 |0 |0 | Roberts, 3B |4 |0 |2 |3 |
Gallagher, RF |3 |1 |1 |0 | Gimenez, LF |4 |0 |1 |0 |
Sanchez, 2B |4 |0 |0 |0 | Frey, RF |3 |0 |0 |0 |
Anderson, C|4 |0 |1 |1 | Flores, J, C |4 |0 |0 |0 |
Totals |34 |4 |8 |4 | Totals |31 |3 |6 |3 |
E—Beckham, T (24). DP—Charlotte 1, Durham 1. SB—Frey (7). LOB—Charlotte 7, Durham 6. SAC—Tolleson, Beckham. 2B—Semien (8), Gallagher (13), Anderson, B (14), Ishikawa (21), Wilkins 2 (8), Roberts, R (5), Kiermaier (6).
Charlotte |IP |H |R |ER |BB |SO |
Leesman (W, 4-3) |6.0 |3 |3 |3 |3 |4 |
Castro, S (H, 4) |2.0 |1 |0 |0 |0 |2 |
Heath (S, 4) |1.0 |2 |0 |0 |0 |0 |
Kelly, M (L, 8-4) |5.0 |7 |4 |2 |1 |6 |
Riefenhauser |2.0 |0 |0 |0 |1 |3 |
Geltz |2.0 |1 |0 |0 |1 |1 |
HBP—Fontenot (by Leesman). T—2:51. A—5,089.