On an unusually cool June evening, the temperature outside the DBAP matched the cold day inside the park for the host Durham Bulls.
Coming off a three-game road sweep of the Charlotte Knights, Durham (37-22) couldn’t bring that energy, or productivity, with them up interstate 85. Instead, the Bulls dropped their first game in six days, falling to the Norfolk Tides, 5-1.
Things got off to a rocky start right away for the Bulls. Durham starter Jose De Leon couldn’t find the strike zone after fanning lead off batter Craig Gentry. De Leon gave up a single to Johnny Giavotella, walked Pedro Alvarez, then surrendered a three-run home run to David Washington that soared over the center field wall. That set the tone for the evening. Well, kind of. The Bulls managed to keep Norfolk in check for six innings, giving up two runs in the eighth. Between the second and eighth innings, a trio of pitchers took the mound for Durham after De Leon left with an injury. After the game it was determined that De Leon suffered a mild lat strain. De Leon felt some discomfort early in the game and came out faster than expected. That thrust the bullpen into action a little sooner than manager Jared Sandberg wanted. De Leon, who is known to get into a groove as the game goes along, only gave up one more hit after surrendering three in the first.
“The command wasn’t quite there,” Sandberg said. “He was feeling a little uncomfortable on the mound, but something (injury) was going on.”
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After the game Sandberg said he assumed De Leon (0-2) would be placed on the disabled list.
Neil Wagner (2IP, 4 hits, 2Ks) Jeff Ames (2.1IP, 2 hits, 2 runs, 5Ks) and Andrew Kittredge (1.2IP, 1 hit, 1K) all took their turns at the Tides. The pitching staff did an exceptional job, it was the offense that couldn’t provide fireworks versus Norfolk’s arms. Durham collected nine hits, but left a season-high 14 runners stranded, including three in the bottom of the third and the ninth, when they had a chance to claw back in the game.
“We had some chances,” Sandberg said. “We knew coming into the game guys would have some chances and we would have some walks, but we weren’t able to take advantage. We had our chances and couldn’t come up with the big hit.”
Durham gave the fans who braved the chilly June night some hope late in the game. Johnny Field drew a walk, and Mallex Smith and Willy Adames hit consecutive singles. Smith got on thanks to a fielder’s choice as Field was thrown out. Jake Bauers, who struggled at the plate most of the night, drew a walk to load the bases. The next batter, Patrick Leonard, struck out, and Shane Peterson popped out to end the game. In the loss, Adames, the top prospect in the Tampa Bay system, collected four hits, one of his best nights in a Durham uniform.
“It feels good when you get four hits,” Adames said. “But we lost the game and we have to make it up tomorrow.”
It was a single by Adames in the fifth inning that gave the Bulls their only run of the evening, making it a 3-1 ballgame. Craig Gentry and Johnny Giavotella drove in back-to-back runs in the top of the eighth for Norfolk for the final margin of victory. Despite the outcome, Sandberg was pleased with his staff and their performance.
“Anytime the starter goes out early you know the bullpen is going to be taxed and pushed a little bit too far,” Sandberg said. “It’s a tough spot, but the bullpen has been outstanding so far this year.”
One positive takeaway is the Durham kept battling and were one swing away from tying the game in the final inning.
“We’re always fighting,” Adames said. “We’re always trying to play defense and help the pitcher. That’s why we are pretty good this year and having so much success. We’re always fighting until the last out.”
The Bulls and Tides continue the series at the DBAP Friday night at 7:05 p.m. Ryan Yarbrough (4-3) will start for Durham versus Jayson Aquino (1-5).