Kyle Winkler’s first start in four years didn’t go well Tuesday night.
Though the rest of the Durham bullpen looked strong, Winkler’s struggles over the first two innings doomed the Bulls to a 3-2 International League loss to Columbus at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Winkler (0-1) started for the first time since August 2013. He did so because Durham needed the bullpen to cover the entire game due to a gap in starting pitching availability.
Columbus lead-off batter Bradley Zimmer slammed a Winkler pitch over the fence in deep centerfield to give the Clippers an instant 1-0 lead.
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After Durham (21-9) rallied to two runs to take the lead in the bottom of the first, Winkler issued a one-out walk to Daniel Robertson. Richie Shaffer, who played for the Bulls in each of the last two seasons, followed with a two-run home run over the wall in left-centerfield giving the Clippers a 3-2 lead.
Though the game had the makings of a slugfest, the offense on both sides stopped dead right there.
Winkler pitched just the two innings, allowing three runs on three hits with two walks. But the four Durham pitchers that covered the final seven innings fared far better.
“You have a bullpen day,” Bulls manager Jared Sandberg said, “and to only give up three runs and stay competitive and stay in the game I think it was a decent ballgame.”
Ryan Garton was dominant, pitching two perfect innings with four strikeouts. Jeff Ames allowed a double and a single to start the fifth inning but worked out of the jam to keep the score at 3-2. A short fly ball and two strikeouts got him out of the inning unscathed.
Left-hander Adam Kolarek was next, hurling 2 ⅓ innings of hitless baseball. He struck out three with one walk.
Ryne Stanek pitched the ninth, striking out all three batters he faced.
“They got to Winkler early but Ames had the three big strikeouts and Garton was awesome,” Sandberg said. “Kolarek got much-needed innings and then Stanek was very impressive in the ninth. Overall, a pretty good day.”
The Bulls batters, though, couldn’t mount a successful rally after the first inning to get a win for all that strong bullpen work.
Durham’s first four batters reached base as Mallax Smith and Curt Casali drew walks before Jake Bauers lined an RBI-single to right-centerfield. Patrick Leonard followed with a bloop single down the right field line to drive in Casali for a 2-1 Durham lead.
The Bulls still had runners at first and third with no outs, but were unable to add any more runs. Mike Marjama was retired on a short fly ball to centerfield.
Casey Gillaspie’s fly ball to centerfield was a bit deeper and Bauers attempted to tag up and score. But Zimmer, Columbus’ centerfielder, fired a strong throw home and Bauers was tagged out for an inning-ending double play.
The Bulls managed only three more hits the rest of the game and they all came in different innings.
Durham’s best chance to score came in the fourth when Gillaspie doubled with one out. But Shane Peterson and Kean Wong both grounded out to second base.