Thanks to several arms, and bats that came alive at the right moments, the Durham Bulls competed the four-game sweep of their South Division rivals, defeating the Charlotte Knights, 6-0, Thursday night at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
The last time the Bulls completed a series sweep came, interesting enough, last season when they swept the Knights during a series in June. The stakes were higher in this series, though. Durham (7-1) started the week one game behind Charlotte (4-4), but now have a two-game league over their state rivals.
The game was billed as a big time pitchers duel between Taylor Guerrieri of the Bulls and Lucas Giolito of the Knights. Giolito came into the contest ranked by MLB.com as the No. 12 prospect in baseball and the No. 2 prospect in the White Sox organization. Durham wasted little time tuning him up as Casey Gillaspie (2-4, 2RBI) blasted a triple to right field, scoring Mike McKenry, who made his way from first after drawing a walk in the first inning.
Guerrieri wasn’t around long, but was solid during his stint. In the top of the third, Guerrieri got the Bulls out of a jam with two runners on. First, he picked off Jose Vinicio at first after the Vinicio got on thanks to an error in the field. Guerrieri then fanned Yoan Moncada to end the inning. Just as Guerrieri was getting into a groove, the 25 year-old left the game with an injury after three completed innings. After the game skipper Jared Sandberg said it was a right elbow injury. Guerrieri only surrendered two hits and struck out five without giving up any runs. A big league prospect who has already had one Tommy John surgery, Sandberg saw no need to leave him in the game. Lefty Justin Marks took over on the hill for 1 ⅓ innings, shutting down the Knights during his brief appearance.
Marks got the win, improving to 3-0 in this young season. The sudden entrance into the game caught Marks, normally a starter, off guard.
“That was a first for me,” Marks said after the game. “When I went out there, you think that you’re warm, but you treat it kind of like between innings a little bit in your mind. I went through like 12 pitches, but in my mind I was ready mentally. I probably should have taken a little more time.”
Marks was one of five pitchers who contributed to the shutout. Mike Marjama caught for all of the pitchers and said he can’t tell one for the next once they get on the hill.
“It’s a testament to how good these guys are,” Marjama said. “When one of these guys comes in I never feel like it loses a beat because each one of these guys brings such a special arm to the table, you get a lot of confidence when you’re behind the plate.”
Marjama gave the Bulls a 2-0 lead when he hit a solo home run in the bottom of the fifth. It was the third straight game Marjama has homered. McKenry drove in another run to put the Bulls up 3-0 heading to the top of the sixth. The Bulls missed out on a golden opportunity to pad the scoreboard in the bottom of the sixth. After Curt Casali drove in a run to make it 4-0, Durham had the bases loaded when Dayron Varona stepped to the plate. Unfortunately, Chris Beck struck out Varona, leaving three stranded for the Bulls. The Bulls weren’t done, though, getting RBIs from Gillaspie and Shane Peterson (2-3, RBI) in the bottom of the seventh.
It’s still early, but the players realize a sweep of their rivals is a huge momentum swing for the group.
“There’s a lot of energy on this team,” Marks said. “It would be different if it were just one of two players who were hot, but it’s the whole team. Everybody is doing their part and that makes you feel good about the season. It’s going to be a fun year to watch us play.”
Getting out to a lead in the division is crucial according to Marjama.
“You get yourself on the right foot,” Marjama said. “A lot of us are young and it’s huge to have the confidence that you can play at this level.”
Durham is now 7-1 for the first time since the 2013 season. The Bulls begin a three-game series with Gwinnett today, starting at 7:05. Ryan Yarbrough (0-0) will start for Durham. Lucas Sims (1-0) will get the start for the Braves.