It’s nice when one player is red-hot and doing everything in his power to help your team win. But one player can only do so much. What’s even better is when you’re getting contributions across the board and your entire team comes together, and when that happens for an extended stretch, plenty of wins are on the way. We hope that’s going to be the case with the Rays offense after their strong effort on Wednesday, but it was true both on in the mound and in the batter’s box for both the Bulls and Stone Crabs.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 6, Charlotte Knights (CHW) 2
Funny that the Bulls won by the same score that the Rays did, but this game was certainly different. The major point of divergence: Bulls pitching struck out 16 in this game. J.D. Martin got the start and pitched well, going 5.1 innings allowing 2 runs on 5 hits, striking out 7 while walking 2. But that was only the start. Adam Liberatore followed Martin by striking out 4 of the 5 batters he faced in 1.1 innings pitched before Kirby Yates struck out 2 more working around a hit in 1.1 more IP. Then Bulls closer Josh Lueke came in for a non-save situation and was marvelous, striking out the side working around a walk. Add up all the totals and Bulls pitching had quite a day, allowing just 2 runs on 6 hits in the game and striking out 16 while walking just 4. Rare to see a 16-strikeout game at any level, but Bulls pitching was special on Wednesday. On the offensive side, the Bulls were not going to let their pitchers’ 16-strikeout effort go the way of James Shields‘ 15-strikeout game at the end of last season and gave their pitchers plenty of support. Tim Beckham had a 2-run double and an RBI single in four trips to the plate, Vince Belnome went 3 for 4 with a run scored, and Hak-Ju Lee stayed hot as well, going 1 for 3 with 2 walks and a run scored. Outstanding all-around effort by the Bulls, and they had plenty to smile about in this one.
Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 3, Mobile BayBears (ARI) 2
This was a bizarre game, but the Biscuits somehow found a way to win. Merrill Kelly was a ticking time bomb that didn’t explode, going 5 innings allowing 2 runs on 3 hits, striking out just 2 while walking 4. The Biscuits bullpen of Andrew Bellatti, Marquis Fleming, and Juan Sandoval took it from there, going 4 innings of 1-hit ball, striking out 3 and getting 6 more of their 9 outs on the ground. Making that more impressive is that they did that working with a 1-run lead and no margin for error. Offensively, the Biscuits had one nice inning in the 2nd, scoring 3 times on a Mark Thomas sac fly and a 2-out, 2-run triple by Shawn O’Malley, but that was it for the entire game. O’Malley was the only Biscuits player with multiple hits as he went 2 for 3, but Cameron Seitzer and Robby Price both went 1 for 3 with a double, with Seitzer’s hit starting the 2nd inning rally. Zeke Spruill, acquired by the Diamondbacks in the Justin Upton trade, was really good for Mobile, going 7.2 innings allowing 3 runs on 8 hits, striking out 4 while walking 1, but the Biscuits were able to get to him in that one inning and somehow hold on for dear life the rest of the game on their way to the win.
High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs 5, St. Lucie Mets 2
Earlier this season, Jesse Hahn, Jake Floethe, and Lenny Linsky came just one out from a no-hitter in a dominant effort. This game was not quite up to that standard, but unlike that game, when Linsky struggled at the end, all three pitchers impressed in this one. Hahn and Floethe are tandem-starting as the Rays are limiting Hahn’s innings at the beginning of the year so he won’t have restrictions later. After another great performance by Hahn in this game, just wait until the training wheels come off. Hahn went the first 3 innings allowing just 1 hit, striking out 6 while walking none and recording his other 3 outs on the ground. Coming up straight from Short Season-A, Hahn has now gone 9 High-A innings allowing just 1 run on 6 hits, striking out 11 while walking 1. We still need to see Hahn stretch himself out for longer starts, but he’s overmatching hitters with his electric repertoire and if he keeps pitching like this he will end the year at Double-A or maybe higher. Behind Hahn, Floethe went 4 innings allowing 2 runs on 5 hits. That sounds pretty mediocre, but Floethe showed some really good signs, striking out 4 while walking none and forcing a 6-1 groundout to flyout ratio. An Aderlin Rodriguez home run was the only real mistake he made. Then Lenny Linsky finished off the game with 2 perfect innings for the save, striking out 1 and getting 3 more outs on the ground as he has looked vastly improved this season compared to last as he puts a shoulder injury behind him. Hahn, Floethe, and Linsky combined to go 9 innings allowing just 2 runs on 6 hits, striking out 11 while walking none. Wow.
In terms of the run support, Richie Shaffer, the only Stone Crabs player who jumped from Short Season-A to High-A along with Hahn, ended a frustrating start to the season with a solo home run, and Alejandro Segovia also slammed a solo homer in 4 trips. Jake DePew supplemented a great day catching Hahn, Floethe, and Linsky by going 2 for 4 with an RBI, and Drew Vettleson went 2 for 3 with a double, a walk, and an RBI of his own. The Stone Crabs hitters were drilling the ball all game as 6 of their 9 hits went for extra bases, and while they didn’t quite match the power of their pitchers, they were still plenty impressive in their own right. 2010, when Matt Moore anchored Charlotte’s staff, was the last time the Stone Crabs managed a winning record and they’re just 5-8 to begin 2013, but this an extremely talented roster and this could very well be the year that everything comes together for them again.