All year, the Durham Bulls have been lauded for their prospect-laden rotation. You had Chris Archer, Alex Torres, Jake Odorizzi, Alex Colome, and Mike Montgomery all on the same starting staff, and the former four have all seen time with the Rays this season. But as the prospects have gone up to the major leagues, lesser-regarded players have taken their places. For the most part, though, that hasn’t been a problem at all. Merrill Kelly may have been overshadowed until now, but he has shined brightly himself in his turn in the limelight.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 3, Louisville Bats (CIN) 2
What has gotten into Merrill Kelly this season? Never regarded as much of a prospect, Kelly nailed down six straight quality starts at Double-A to earn the bump to Durham and proceeded to strike out 10 in his Bulls debut. And then on Wednesday, Kelly added the next chapter to his breakout season, going 7 shutout innings allowing just 5 hits and 3 walks while striking out 4 to lead Durham to a 3-2 win. Kelly was extremely efficient, throwing just 92 pitches, 62 strikes, and forced a solid 9-5 groundout to flyout ratio. Kirby Yates nailed down the save with 1.2 hitless innings, striking out 2 while working around a walk. In terms of the offense, Vince Belnome‘s 5th inning home run proves to be the difference in the game and Cole Figueroa went 2 for 4. And then there was Tim Beckham, who went 1 for 3 with a double, a walk, and a run scored, extending his hitting streak to 12 in the process. Beckham has quietly gotten his batting line up to a rock-solid .288/.348/.402 by hitting .340 over the life of the streak, and this may finally be the year in which he makes his major league debut.
Double-A Southern League: Pensacola Blue Wahoos (CIN) 4, Montgomery Biscuits 2
A solid outing by Jake Thompson was not enough as the Biscuits fell to Pensacola. Thompson continued his encouraging run in his past several starts, going 7 innings allowing 4 runs, 3 earned, on 7 hits, striking 7 while walking 2. Thompson’s ERA is still just 4.92 on the season, but it’s 3.55 if you take out one bad three-start stretch. Could Thompson be yet another pitcher getting himself together? Other than Thompson, there weren’t many Bisuits highlights in this one. Riccio Torrez went 1 for 2 with a walk, an RBI, and a run scored while Kyeong Kang went 1 for 3 with a double and a run scored.
High-A Florida State League: St. Lucie Mets 5, Charlotte Stone Crabs 4
Ryan Carpenter came apart in a 5-run 4th, and that was enough for the Mets to come away with the win. Quite a shame too because aside for Carpenter, the Stone Crabs had a nice game. Carpenter would up going 4 innings allowing 5 runs, 3 earned, on 7 hits, striking out 4 while walking. Jacob Partridge followed with 4 lockdown innings, allowing just 2 hits and no walks while striking out 4, but it was in vain. On the offensive side, Kes Carter went 4 for 5 with a homer, 2 RBI, and 2 runs scored, Richie Shaffer went 2 for 5 with a 2-run homer, and Taylor Motter went 2 for 5.
Short Season-A New York-Penn League: Hudson Valley Renegades 6, Aberdeen Ironbirds (BAL) 2
For the Renegades, the only thing they want to do is keep this up. They entered Wednesday having won their first two games of the season, and their goal was to begin their year with a sweep of the Ironbirds. Not every player kept things the same, however, and the Renegades were lucky that was the case. Oscar Hernandez entered the game having gone 0 for 10 to begin the year and started 0 for 4. But in the 9th, he drilled a key 3-run home run to make sure a late bullpen collapse was meaningless as the Renegades won 6-2. John Farrell, the Rays’ 21st round pick in this year’s draft, got the start and went 1.2 perfect innings with 2 strikeouts, recording his other three outs on the ground. Kevin Brandt wasn’t perfect behind him but was quite good, going 4.1 shutout innings allowing just 3 hits and a walk while striking out 3. And Corey MacDonald went 2 perfect innings with 3 more strikeouts to get Hudson Valley to the 9th before Jamie Schultz, the Rays’ 14th rounder, made things a little too interesting for comfort by walking 3 batters and allowing 2 runs, although he did strike out the side. Other than Hernandez’s late heroics, several other players stood out. Pat Blair, the Rays’ 12th round selection, made his pro debut and went 2 for 4 with a walk, a stolen base, and 2 runs scored. Ariel Soriano went 3 for 5 with a homer, a stolen base, 2 RBI, and 2 runs scored, James Harris went 2 for 5 with a double, a stolen base, and a run scored, and Ryan McChesney saw his average dip to .714 and his OBP to .778 as he went 1 for with 2 walks and an RBI. For all the Renegades who had great games, 5 of the 6 Hudson Valley runs scored on two swings of the bat, the homers by Soriano and Hernandez, but great to see strong efforts on both the pitching and hitting sides. The Renegades certainly won’t be perfect all year, but with a new but talented cast of characters, the Renegades may have a real chance to defend their New York-Penn League championship from last season.