The Rochester Red Wings ended the Durham Bulls season-high four-game winning streak with a 3-0 victory on Friday night. The Bulls, who wasted another strong outing from Jeff Niemann, couldn't increase their winning streak, due in large part to the dominance of Rochester starter Kevin Slowey.
The Bulls offense collected seven hits in the loss, but failed to capitalize with runners in scoring position. Slowey (6-2), who is leading the International League with a 1.54 ERA, had seven strikeouts in eight shutout innings to earn his sixth win of the season. The Winthrop product is arguably the only pitcher in the International League that is off to a better to start than Bulls ace Andy Sonnanstine. After Friday, both pitchers now have identical win/loss records.
Shortstop Ben Zobrist, a regular for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays during April, and left fielder Chris Richard were the only Bulls with multiple hits. Zobrist finished the night 2-for-4, but is still only hitting .227 with the Bulls. Richard and Joel Guzman, the only Durham were the only players with extra-base hits, both doubles, in the loss.
The loss of Shawn Riggans, a recent call-up to the Devil Rays to take Josh Paul’s spot on the 25-man roster, could have detrimental effects on the Bulls’ offense. With the departure of Riggans, the Bulls lose one of their strongest hitters in the middle of the lineup. After a slow start, Riggans raised his batting average to .295 before being placed on the disabled list. As soon as he was eligible to come off the DL, Riggans was immediately called up to fill in for Paul, who could be out for at least two months. Raul Casanova is now expected to receive the majority of time behind the plate for the Bulls. Casanova, who went 0-for-3 in Friday’s loss, is batting .260 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in 23 games so far this season.
Niemann continued to pitch a lot better than his record indicates. The 6’9 right-hander turned in another strong pitching performance, but had nothing to show for it. Niemann (3-3) seems to be suffering from James Shields syndrome -- where all quality starts go to waste due to a lack of run support. In Fridays’ loss, he scattered six hits and only allowed three earned runs over six innings. The former All American at Rice -- now 3-3 with a 4.02 ERA in 10 starts for the Bulls -- has allowed 54 hits in 53.2 innings of work. Perhaps equally impressive, International League hitters are only batting .261 against him.
With the loss, the Bulls, currently in second place in the International League South Division, fall to 23-25. Sonnanstine will look to get the Bulls back on track tomorrow in a bid for his seventh win of the season. He is currently 6-2 with a 2.30 ERA in nine starts.