Mitch Talbot pitched six strong innings, Joel Guzman hit two home runs and Dan Johnson continued to produce as the Durham Bulls defeated the Louisville Bats, 4-3, on Monday night.
Guzman was the offensive hero, finishing 3-for-4 with his 18th and 19th homers and four RBIs. The Bulls’ designated hitter is now batting .251/.275/.452 and is among International League leaders in home runs. A former top prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization who was acquired in the Julio Lugo trade back in 2006, his status as a potential impact player has taken a major dive since his arrival with his new organization, however. While he has continued to flash the power potential that led to an invitation to the Futures Game and a Top-10 ranking in the Los Angeles organization at the time of the deal, his poor plate discipline has prevented him from emerging into a realistic option to earn a promotion to the majors. He has struck out 94 times so far this year while drawing only 14 walks, dropping his OPS to .727 despite his high slugging percentage. If he cannot improve his approach at the plate, cut down his strikeouts and pick up more walks, his once-bright future star will only continue to dim.
Guzman broke out of his recent slump in the victory, though, combining with Johnson—2-for-4, double, two runs scored—to provide all of the offensive help that Durham would need.
Talbot turned in an impressive performance in his own right, scattering five hits and allowing only one earned run is six strong frames. He struck out nine while walking three, lowering his ERA to 4.29. The 24-year-old right-hander, who earned a short-lived promotion to the majors earlier this month but did not make an appearance, improves to 10-7 overall with the win. He has flashed excellent command, compiling a 104-to-22 K/W ratio, but has been hit hard on occasion (.267 opponents’ batting average) and has given up six runs or more in four of his past 10 starts. During that stretch, he has surrendered 30 earned runs on 62 hits in 55.0 innings pitched.
Talbot, acquired along with Ben Zobrist from the Houston Astros before the trade deadline two years ago, was a mainstay in the Bulls' rotation back in ’07 as well, going 13-9 with a 4.53 ERA and 124-to-59 K/W ratio in 29 games started.
Juan Salas picked up his ninth hold, tossing a scoreless seventh inning to lower his season ERA to 1.95. Salas, who missed nearly all of spring training after visa issues prevented him from coming into the United States, has struck out 44 while allowing less than a hit per inning in 23 appearances. The former third base prospect—who missed 50 games while serving a suspension for violating the league’s drug policy after a positive drug test last May—has a live arm, sitting in the mid-90s. However, he is still working to fully harness his command and learn the intricacies of pitching. Being sidetracked by all of the off-the-field issues has complicated matters as well.
A holdover over from the Tampa Bay Rays’ horrendous bullpen group in ’07, Salas, 30, was expected to make an impact in the majors before being held up in the Dominican Republic, making him a likely candidate to get a promotion when rosters expand in September if he can continue to perform. He posted a 3.72 ERA in 36.1 innings pitched with the Rays before his suspension.
Nick DeBarr struggled in the eighth, though, allowing Louisville back in the game by surrendering a two-run home run off the bat of Louisville right fielder Michael Griffin. DeBarr held on and finished the frame, picking up his seventh hold. The former 14th-round pick has been a solid reliever in the late innings for Durham, going 7-2 with a 3.77 ERA in 62.0 innings pitched to this point while providing a link to closer Scott Dohmann.
Dohmann then shut the door, picking up his 15th save by tossing a scoreless ninth.
Game Notes: Shortstop Reid Brignac finished 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a walk, lowering his line to .252/.300/.404. Brignac, one of the top defensive infielders in the minors, has yet to breakout, leaving some analysts skeptical about his future as a major league hitter. He has not cut down on his strikeouts (86, compared to only 24 walks) and has been responsible for making far too many outs, with his OBP inching near the high-.200s. The old saying, “If a hitter fails and makes an out seven out of ten times, they are doing great,” has been passed down generation to generation among baseball followers. In reality, however, any hitter with a .300 on-base percentage—the OBP if a player makes seven outs in 10 at-bats—is not getting the job done at all, adding that sentence to the list of many old baseball sayings that people love to say but do not make any sense when viewed objectively.
Brignac made his debut with the Rays when Jason Bartlett was on the disabled list, going 0-for-10. Certainly, he has a long way to go before joining the 3,000 hit club—which he listed as his goal in a recent interview in the New York Daily News during his trip to New York when the Rays lost a two-game series to the Yankees. The power potential is still there and he has made tremendous strides with his defense, but his offensive output has left a lot to be desired since his breakout campaign in the California League back in ’06.
Justin Ruggiano, a likely candidate to get called up to the Rays if the club does not address its need for a right-handed bat at the trade deadline, finished the game 0-for-2 with a pair of walks. Ruggiano belted his eighth homer the night before.
Zobrist, recently shipped back to Durham when Bartlett was activated, went 1-for-4 and played the entire game at third base.
To reach Tyler Hissey, send an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com.