Durham Bulls

The Bullpen: Durham would love a ‘Groundhog Day’ from last season

DurhamSports@newsobserver.comMay 7, 2014 

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Durham Bulls shortstop Hak-Ju Lee makes the stretch to force out Scranton's Ronnier Mustelier at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Lee is back after season-ending injury last season, and projections are that he'll be the first infield prospect since Longoria to make an impact with the Tampa Bay Rays.

CHUCK LIDDY — cliddy@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

“For baseball players, when you’re on the field, you have no concept of time – virtually none,” Durham Bulls Radio Network booth man (and former Yankee) Scott Pose was heard to say during a recent broadcast. “Ninety percent of the players don’t know what time it is.”

It’s May now, and the Bulls would love to Groundhog Day the successes of last year. Again, they finished April in first place, and some individuals have performed so well as to suggest readiness for the big leagues.

Many of last year’s faces are up there now. Wil Myers won A.L. Rookie of the Year, Chris Archer was a runner-up. Jake Odorizzi is grinding it out as Tampa Bay’s fifth starter, and Alex Torres is quietly shining in middle relief for the San Diego Padres.

Josh Lueke helped the Rays hang on during a 14-inning slog against the Yankees, in which Myers played a little first base in a defensive four-man infield formation, then singled in the winning run.

• Tim Beckham, sidelined by a torn ACL this season, handed back the shortstop position to Hak-Ju Lee, whom Beckham replaced at short last year after both were involved in the play that sent Hak-Ju to rehab for the rest of 2013.

Beckham made 24 fielding errors last season, most of them at short. He said the knee is giving him no cause for worry.

Lee is doing his best to show he’s fully recovered from a knee injury that ended his season in April 2013.

Manager Charlie Montoyo said he hasn’t instructed Lee to hold back on the field or base path. “Once you start doing that, you’re in trouble,” he said.

•  Mikie Mahtook

was April’s top story, hitting in 11 straight plate appearances and batting .500 in a 9-game stretch – until guys started touching his batting helmet for good luck. He returned to a .315 batting average.

• Jerry Sands, the 26-year old slugging right-fielder, is looking major right now. He popped Saturday’s walk-off in the 11th inning. “I’ve been scuffling for the past 10 days,” he said. “When I got in there--you don’t try and think anything, I’m just trying to get a ball to hit.”

He got one, improving to .297 with 6 home runs and 25 RBI.

• Did Mike Montgomery’s decision to make a permanent home on the first-base side of the rubber contribute to his success? Pitching in the Kansas City Royals organization, he was encouraged to work both sides of the mound. He spent 2013 in Durham with his foot on the third-base side of the rubber, and posted a .472 ERA.

Thus far, he’s got a .319 ERA with 31 strikeouts and three wins. Starter Merrill Kelly’s numbers have been even better.

Montgomery missed out on April last year with tightness in his left forearm. On April 26, he pitched 8.1 innings of a no-hitter.

• The Bullpen has shined, with an ERA of 2.45 and 7-3 record through May 2, striking out 146 batters and walking just 45.

• The Bulls finish a four-game road trip Thursday at Syracuse, and play four at Scranton before returning May 13 for an eight-game home stand.

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