DBAP / DURHAM—After a pair of disastrous, er, colonizations at the hands of Columbus on Friday and Saturday, Durham rebounded with a crisp 4-2 win today. The game took just 2:11 to play. The Bulls relief corps was back to its April form, throwing four scoreless, one-hit innings in relief of winner Wade Davis.
(n.b. If you check the box score, don’t believe Davis’ pitch count of 73. In fact he threw many more — 91 by my count, 50 for strikes. The guy manning Dave Levine’s play-by-play computer today got tied up trying to untangle and then record the synopsis of the Bulls’ complicated three-run second inning ex post facto, and he wasn’t able to record most of Davis’ pitches in the third. I don’t know if Levine is gone for the summer — classes at Duke have ended — but if not, come back soon!)
Anyway, one of those scoreless relief innings came courtesy of Jason Isringhausen, making his first appearance in a Bulls uniform.
Durham is the second stop on Isringhausen’s rehab assignment as he works his way back toward the majors. He has actually been here since Thursday but apparently had a minor abdominal strain that kept him out of action until today. Perhaps that strain had something to do, paradoxically, with part of his rehab regimen, which looks to have included the arduous strength-building work of digesting a large number of double bacon-cheeseburgers on a daily basis. Lithe he no longer is — although svelteness is no prerequisite for effective major-league pitchers.
Isringhausen’s inning was quick and surgical: a pair of groundouts sandwiching an easy flyout to center. His demeanor on the mound was no-nonsense and almost impatient. Each pitch was thrown purposefully, and after each one he had his glove out, a few steps forward of the mound, waiting for catcher Craig Albernaz to throw the ball back to him. Isringhausen’s body language gave every sign of intent not to be in Durham long, and in any case he can’t be: Minor-league rehab assignments are limited to 30 days for pitchers. If all goes well, he’ll be in Tampa soon; if it doesn’t, he’ll be out of the organization. At this stage of his career, the 36-year-old former All-Star closer (and current multi-millionaire) has no reason to toil in the minors. It seems prudent to bet that he’ll retire if he can’t crack a major-league bullpen this season. If he pitches like he did today, he should be able to postpone his pension payout — although it should be noted that he faced the bottom of the Clippers’ order.
A paragraph here on the opposing pitcher in today’s game, Kirk Saarloos. (One of the fun things about covering the minor leagues is getting to run across interesting success/failure stories on other teams almost every day.) In every way the antithesis of the Bulls’ Davis, who is a hard-throwing, Clemens-sized power pitcher, the 6-foot-tall, 185-pound Saarloos did a rare thing in today’s minor leagues: throw a complete game. His 96-pitch, eight-inning loss showed why this former major-leaguer hasn’t found his way back yet. Although his outing was solid today — one of the four runs he allowed was unearned — Saarloos has trouble missing bats. He is a pitch-to-contact pitcher, relying on a mid-80s sinker, and if there’s one thing that seems to be an unassailable truth of pitching baseballs, it’s that striking people out is a really good idea. Ground balls are nice, but the law of averages says that some of them will avoid fielders’ gloves and become hits. With the recent implosion of the New York Yankees’ sinkerballer Chien-Ming Wang, a guy like Saarloos becomes a scarier commodity than ever. He struck out just two Bulls today, one looking; more alarmingly, he wasn’t getting enough of those ground balls that are his means of survival. Half of his 24 outs came in the air. In the majors, more than one or two of those wouldn’t have been outs, and probably at least one would have gone over the wall. Check out this interesting article on Saarloos for more in-depth analysis — it shows, among other things, that he’s a statistical outlier of almost historic proportions, and not in a good way, which never bodes well for sustained success. That he’s still vying for major-league playing time suggests that he’s making up in determination for what he lacks in traditional skills. If nothing else, he’ll be immortalized by his brief mention in Moneyball.
I’ve got some thoughts about the Bulls’ ongoing light hitting as it relates, perhaps, to issues of continuity and “chemistry,” but I’d like to ask Charlie Montoyo about it before I start squealing. Perhaps I’ll have time tomorrow, when, in one of those quirky minor-league scheduling oddities, the Charlotte Knights hit town for a two-game “series” at the DBAP, following the two-game “series” they played here against the Bulls last week. Guess what happens after this two-game “series”? The Bulls go to Charlotte to play a two-game “series.”