Feb 26, 2014; Port Charolette, Fl, USA; Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Merrill Kelly (76) poses for a portrait during photo day at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Undercards: Merrill Kelly Strong As Durham Bulls Win

As the old saying goes, teams are only as good as their depth. Injuries are bound to happen, and therefore the players that a team has in reserve have a big impact on every team each year. The Rays emphasize big league quality depth just as much as any other team. That has shown, as the Durham Bulls have done nothing but dominate early in the season. Their win Tuesday night put them at 15-5 on the season.

Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 8, Charlotte Knights (CHW) 4

The Bulls continued to be strong on both sides of the ball, led by Merrill Kelly. Kelly, whose role with the Bulls was in limbo before injuries to the big league rotation caused Erik Bedard to be called up, was dominant. He threw six innings, allowing just one run while also striking out six. A bullpen move may be in the cards for Kelly down the line, but he is doing his best to prove he belongs as a starter with a 1.50 ERA in the early going this year. Steve Geltz relieved him and was not so fortunate, giving up two runs in his inning of work, but that still just raised his ERA to 2.45. Brad Boxberger finished things out, throwing the final two innings and allowing a run, but showcasing his usual dominating stuff by striking out four batters.

The Bulls pounded out twelve hits and five walks en route to their eight run performance. The veterans stole this show in this one, with Mike Fontenot leading the way with a 3-4 performance and a trio of RBIs. Justin Christian also continued his strong season, going 2-4 and blasting his third home run of the season. Wilson Betemit added a nice 2-4 performance, and prospect Mikie Mahtook continued a recent tear by going 2-5 with a double. The Bulls offense continues to stay hot, and plenty of their players are proving themselves as more than adequate options in case a big league need arises.

Double-A Southern League: Mississippi Braves (ATL) 6, Montgomery Biscuits 2

The Biscuits were not great all-around during Tuesday’s game. Independent-league find Mike Colla started the game and was solid, going five innings and giving up two runs. But, the relif corps could not keep the game together. Matt Lollis came on and gave up three runs (two earned) in his two innings of work followed by recently-signed Bryce Stowell giving up a run in his sole inning. Jake Thompson would be the lone bright spot for the Biscuits’ bullpen when he came on for a perfect final frame. Thompson has been impressing so far this season after transitioning from the rotation to the bullpen, and could be a solid late-innings reliever in the near future if everything keeps coming together.

The bullpen ruined Colla’s strong start, but it would not really matter anyways, as the offense could muster just two runs on nine hits. Luke Maile and Joey Rickard both managed nice 2-4 performances, and Curt Casali added a 2-3 day for himself. But, the only extra base hit would be a double off of the bat of Jake Hager, and the Biscuits could not capitalize with runners on base. This was a forgettable day for the Rays’ Double-A affiliate, but not one to be overly concerned about.

High-A Florida State League: Port Charlotte Stone Crabs 7, Bradenton Marauders (PIT) 1

The Stone Crabs did their best Durham Bulls’ impression on Tuesday, as they performed nicely on both sides of the ball. Reinaldo Lopez had his second strong start in a row, going 6.1 innings and allowing the game’s sole run. His stuff was particularly sharp, as he struck out nine hitters while walking three. Kevin Brandt also had dominating stuff, as he went 1.2 innings and struck out all five batters that he faced to keep his ERA a perfect 0.00. Nick Sawyer finished off the game by throwing a scoreless 9th inning, though he did walk a pair of batters.

The offense did much more than needed in this contest, and everyone got in on the hit parade except for leadoff man Thomas Coyle, who was 0-4. Justin O’Conner had a nice day at the plate, going 3-4 with a pair of doubles. Patrick Leonard, the least-known piece of the James Shields deal, continued a strong start by going 2-4 and smashing his fourth home run of the season. Leonard has big power, and his hit tool is finally showing signs of improvement. If it continues in the right direction, he will be a nice addition to a Rays’ system that is thin on positional talent. Tyler Goeddel and Marty Gantt also added multi-hit performances, and Josh Sale was on base in three of his five plate appearances on a night in which the Stone Crabs did a little bit of everything.

Low-A Midwest League: Bowling Green Hot Rods 5, West Michigan Whitecaps (DET) 0

The Hot Rods are finally out of their horrid skid, and they won their second game in a row over the Whitecaps on Tuesday. Blake Snell was the starter for the Hot Rods and was strong, going six innings and giving up no runs while allowing just three hits and two walks. Snell is repeating Low-A to start the year, but he has a 1.84 ERA thus far, and could be promoted before too long if he keeps pitching well. Andrew Hanse relieved Snell and went two scoreless innings, and Luis Cabrera finished things off with a scoreless inning of his own.

The Hot Rods offense was indeed hot today, as they racked up twelve hits to put up five runs. Johnny Field was once again solid, as he went 2-3 with a pair of walks and two runs scored. Kean Wong also continued to impress by going 2-5 to raise his average to .364. Pat Blair and Alexander Simon added two-hit performances of their own on a night when every hitter but Yoel Araujo managed to put up a hit. Not a bad day for the Hot Rods, and they are hoping that they can keep riding their recently found success.

Tags: Merrill Kelly Tampa Bay Rays

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