Behind a poor pitching performance from Enny Romero, the Durham Bulls dropped game one on Tuesday as they look to defend their International League championship title. In game two they once again had a tough outing from their starting pitcher, but this time things were different and the Bulls pulled ahead for a victory to even the series.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 4, Pawtucket Red Sox 3
Alex Colome was likely the clear-cut favorite to start game one of this series, however he was pushed back to this game because he was sick. To compound that Colome was passed up today for a spot in the big league rotation, as Nate Karns was chosen to fill-in with Drew Smyly being shut down for the season. Some combination of lingering sickness and a bad mood from not being promoted to the big leagues must have affected Colome in this game, as he struggled mightily. Colome lasted just 1.1 innings, giving up 3 runs on 3 hits and 3 walks while striking out 2. Colome will likely be called up to spend time in the Rays bullpen once the Bulls’ season is over, and that could be foreshadowing his future role with the team. While he still has some of the most electrifying stuff in the entire system, Colome hasn’t built up many innings thanks to multiple injury problems, and he still has inconsistent control and command.
After Colome was pulled, the bullpen did an outstanding job to keep the game close. Jake Thompson led the way, throwing 2.2 shutout innings. Thompson seems on the cusp of being big league ready after posting a 3.15 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A, though if he wants to crack the Rays bullpen he is going to have to beat out a good deal of quality talent. Also in relief was Merrill Kelly, who threw 2.0 shutout innings and struck out 2. Like Thompson, Kelly has little left to prove in the minors, but it is going to be tough for him to secure a job in the Rays bullpen. C.J. Riefenhauser and Josh Lueke each did their jobs, with Riefenahauser going 1.1 scoreless innings and Lueke adding 2.0 innings without giving up a run. Adam Liberatore finished things off, firing a 1.2 scoreless innings and earning the win. The bullpen deserves most of the credit for this victory, as they combined to throw 9.2 scoreless innings after Colome’s early exit.
Mikie Mahtook got things going for the Bulls offense when he smacked a two-run homer in the 3rd, but from there on out it seemed like the Bulls might not be able to make up the one-run gap. Vince Belnome changed that with one swing in the top of the 9th, when he hit a solo homer to tie things up. That was Belnome’s only hit, but he also added 2 walks and scored a pair of runs. The game went into extras, and after both teams failed to score in the 10th, Mike Fontenot drove in Belnome in the 11th to put the Bulls ahead. Nick Franklin was the only Bull with multiple hits, as he went 2 for 4 with a walk. Franklin hit just .210 for the Bulls in the regular season after coming to the Rays in the David Price deal, but he has caught fire in the playoffs, hitting .381. Franklin will likely get a call-up once the Bulls’ season is over, and he will look to crack the roster next season in a utility man role. The offense wasn’t pretty at points, but in the end they got the job done.