[10:26]: Odd sequence there. Elliot Johnson doubled to start the inning and Merrill bunted him to 3rd. The Indians then intentionally walked Perez AND Haynes to face Gomes. They brought a 5th infielder in, but it didn't matter because Gomes lined a single over SS, and Durham win, 9-8. Norfolk won, by the way, so Durham's magic number sits at 1.
[10:08]: So of course we're treated to extra innings. Scott Dohmann allowed a run in the 8th, and each team failed to score in the 9th. So it's 8-8 going to the 10th, and Calvin Medlock is on to pitch.
Jupiter also got a run in the 8th to tie Vero Beach, but the Rays scored in the 10th to notch a 5-4 victory. Mark Thomas drove in his 2nd run, but Hudson Valley fell 8-5.
I'll update one last time when the Durham game finishes.
[9:27]: Dale Thayer couldn't protect the lead, allowing 3 runs in the 7th to put Durham in a 7-5 hole. But as I write this, John Jaso has just hit a 3-run home run to put Durham back up 8-7. The lead has now changed hands 5 times, and there's still 2 innings to play.
Vero Beach continues to cling to its 4-3 lead. Mark Thomas hit a solo HR for Hudson Valley, but the Renegades have allowed at least a run in every inning but the 1st and trail 8-4. Princeton's game has gone final, with the P-Rays losing 7-3. Tim Beckham finished 2-4 with two doubles, but Chapa and Trevor Shull combined to allow 6 runs in relief. Brad Furdal pitched a scoreless inning.
[8:53]: After Durham went quietly, Niemann came back out for the 6th, but didn't get off to a great start with a 4-pitch walk. The #9 hitter worked a nice at-bat, but grounded into a 3-6-1 double play. Niemann got Duffy to flyout to right to end the inning. He's probably done for the night with 101 pitches, here's the line: 6 ip, 5 h, 4 er, 3 bb, 6 so.
Final thoughts: I thought he looked pretty good, not great, but he got unlucky with some hits falling and his defense didn't help him. Still, the control clearly wasn't all there, with 3 walks, 2 hit batsmen, and a wild pitch. The slider and curveball looked good, but he just wasn't commanding the fastball at times. I know he's 25 already, but I think he has time to become more consistent, both from a game-to-game standpoint and a pitch-to-pitch one.
Vero Beach still up 4-3, Vermont's tacked on another run to make it 6-3 over Hudson Valley, and Chapa coughed up the lead for Princeton, Elizabethtown leads 3-2.
With the main attraction(Niemann) done, I'll check in two more times to wrap things up in a little bit.
[8:38]: Barthmaier got two quick outs in the 4th, but Merrill and Perez worked walks before Nathan Haynes doubled down the left field line to give Durham a 5-4 lead. In the 5th, Niemann got three flyouts with an infield single to Merrill interspersed. He's now in line to record his 9th win if the Bulls can hang on.
Jupiter has cut Vero Beach's lead to 4-3, while Hudson Valley has gotten 2 back against Vermont. Kyeong Kang hit his 6th home run for the 'Gades. Angel Chapa has relieved Matt Moore in Princeton, so Moore's done after 5. In his last 7 starts(including tonight) spanning 34 innings, Moore has allowed 2 earned runs. He has 44 strike outs and has allowed 14 hits and 11 walks. Those are video game stats.
[8:20]: Niemann comes back to strike out the next two hitters, including one on the slider. This is why minor league stats can be misleading. If you ask me, Niemann pitched great the inning. But the box score says he allowed a run on 2 hits(a Gomes mishap and a 20-hopper that snuck up through the middle). It's 4-3 Indians after 3 and a half innings.
Montgomery @ West Tennessee has been postponed. Jeremy Hellickson will probably pitch one of the games of the doubleheader tomorrow. Vero Beach continues to lead 4-1. Hudson Valley's down 5-1 now as Andujar struggles.
In Princeton, Matt Moore's through 5 innings. He's allowed 3 hits, an unearned run, walked a guy, and struck out 4. The P-Rays lead 2-1.
[8:11]: Chris Richard ties it with an RBI single. Niemann's curveball has been his out-pitch, but his slider has looked pretty good. Niemann struck out Mulhern with 1 out already recorded, but the runner reached on a wild pitch. That ball has to be blocked. Then Jonny Gomes misplayed a line drive into a single. So, Niemann should have been out of the inning. Instead, it was 1st and 2nd with just one out. The next hitter poked a seeing-eye single up the middle to score a run. Talk about nickel-and-diming a guy.
[8:00]: I want to know how many 2-out runs Niemann allows. It's gotta be a ton.He got a strikeout, but then hit the next two guys on consecutive pitches(again, missing off the plate to the right-hand batters box side). There was a double steal(I know Jaso doesn't throw well, but Niemann needs to keep these runners closer), another strikeout, and then a 2-out, 2-strike single that plated both runners. He got a flyout to end the inning, but it's 3-2 Indianapolis despite only allowing 1 hit. Walking guys and hitting guys is going to hurt you, bottom line. On the other hand, I like what I've seen from Niemann at points, he just can't be consistent with it. Durham's second run, by the way, came on a Ronnie Merrill double.
Vero Beach is hitting Jeff Allison hard, they hold a 4-1 lead in the 2nd. Chris Andujar allowed three runs in the 2nd inning, Hudson Valley trails 3-1. In Princeton, Tim Beckham has an RBI double, while Matt Moore has 3 shutout innings so far.
[7:34]: Early read on Niemann: He's trying to work everyone away, but the Indians (smartly) aren't biting on pitches that are even a little bit off the plate. He worked a scoreless 2nd inning despite two walks, though there was also a double play opportunity that the Bulls infield muffed. In Princeton, Matt Moore has 3 strikeouts in 2 hitless innings so far.
[7:18]: The Bulls small-ball their way to a run. Fernando Perez singles, steals a base, advances to 3rd on a bunt, and scores on a Jonny Gomes' sac fly. Elsewhere, Ryan Royster's driven in a run to give Vero Beach an early 1-0 lead.
[7:07]: Probably not the start Niemann was hoping for. After a weak groundout to 1st, Brian Bixler lined a homerun to right field to make it 1-0. Should be noted that it's drizzling a little bit, so the weather is far from idea. Niemann got the next two hitters to fly out, so hopefully the home run was just a little early hitch.
The big boys have the day off before a 9-game homestand against AL East foes Toronto, Baltimore, and New York, so tonight I'll be watching the Durham Bulls on milb.tv(provided it works, an iffy proposition at best) and keeping an eye on the rest of the Rays affiliates. Here are tonight's opponents, start times, and probable pitchers.
Indianapolis @ Durham, 7:05. Jeff Niemann makes the start, and the Bulls can clinch their division title with a win and a Norfolk loss.
Montgomery @ West Tennessee, 8:05. Jeremy Hellickson has allowed 13 HRs in 11 AA starts. We'll see if he can keep the ball in the yard. The Biscuits are fading fast, having lost 4 in a row and now sit 4 and a half games behind division-leading Mississippi.
Vero Beach @ Jupiter, 7:05. Brandon Mann tries to avoid loss #11.
Rome @ Columbus has already been called due to rain. They'll play two tomorrow.
Hudson Valley @ Vermont, 7:05. The Renegades will try to bounce back from yesterday's loss, likely sending Chris Andujar to the hill.
Princeton @ Elizabethtown, 7:05. The P-Rays have only two games remaining. They've shuffled their rotation around all season, but my guess is that Matt Moore will get the ball tonight.