Gameday live: Rays at Durham Bulls
UPDATE, 6:15: Rays win 9-6, Sonnanstine closes it out.
UPDATE, 6:07: Not to suggest the end is finally in sight, but the Rays have bullpen catcher Scott Cursi behind the plate.
UPDATE, 5:51: Bulls hitting in bottom of 8th, Joe Dillon leading off vs. Randy Choate. Rays still lead 9-6.
UPDATE, 5:40: Balfour gets out of it, Rays hang on to 9-6 lead going to eighth.
UPDATE, 5:36: Bulls rallying against Grant Balfour, close to within 9-6 with two on.
UPDATE, 5:12: Through six at the beautiful Durham ballpark and it's 9 for the Rays/Montgomery team, 5 for Durham. Attendance was a sellout total of 10,374.
UPDATE, 5:02: Rays get another run, and avoid any bad news as Reid Brignac is thrown out at the plate and tagged gently by Triple-A C Alvin Colina. It's 9-5 through top of six.
UPDATE, 4:48: Niemann's day is done, having worked four innings, allowing 6 hits, 5 runs, 2 walks, 4 Ks. Joaquin Benoit, who wasn't exactly thrilled with his reassignment to the minors, is in now.
UPDATE, 4:43: Some concern as Durham OF Rashad Eldridge crashed hard into the leftfield wall after catching Hank Blalock's liner and was down for a while, but he is walking off under his own power.
UPDATE, 4:38: He wouldn't be confused with Carl Crawford, but Willy Aybar just scored from first on a triple (by minor-leaguer Matt Hall), so any concerns about his previously strained left hamstring should be dropped it would seem. Rays lead 8-5 in the fifth.
UPDATE, 4:25: Two-run double by Ryan Shealy off Niemann cuts it to 6-4 in the fourth, and then Bulls get to 6-5
UPDATE, 4:13: Rays still lead 6-2 after 3, starters are already out.
UPDATE, 4:40: Bulls starter Jeremy Hellickson wasn't very impressive, needed 55 pitches to get through his two innings, allowing five hits and six runs (three earned).
UPDATE, 3:49: Durham's hard-working and always helpful PR man Matt DeMargel just pointed out that you can watch video of this game on their USTREAM channel, so click here to take a look. It's 6-2 with Durham coming to bat in the second.
UPDATE, 3:43 Rays add a run on some good hustle by Carl Crawford, who raced down the line to beat out a hit on a soft bouncer in the hole and Sean Rodriguez, who never stopped running from second and scored on the two-out play. Crawford then stole second, and scored on a Ben Zobrist single. It's 6-2 in the second.
UPDATE, 3:37: The Bulls took a 2-0 lead when Dan Johnson hit a two-run homer off Niemann in the first. But the Rays just went ahead when they loaded the bases on some sloppy (though nearly spectacular) play by the Bulls and Kelly Shoppach lofted a fly ball just beyond the Blue Monster in leftfield off Hellickson to make it 4-2.
UPDATE, 3:16: Quick 1-2-3 first for Hellickson. Neither side is taking this game too seriously, obviously, with the Rays starters only expected to play about three innings.
UPDATE, 3:05: Just about ready for action here at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
UPDATE, 2:22: Expect word on Sunday that INF Elliot Johnson has cleared waivers, meaning he will remain in the organization and return to Triple-A Durham. ... Also on whether INF Hank Blalock finds another major-league job - he is here and in uniform with the Rays (who are using the visiting clubhouse). ... Also, confirmed that neither top prospects OF Desmond Jennings nor SS Tim Beckham will be ready to start their minor-league seasons due to wrist injuries, but neither is expected to be sidelined long.
UPDATE, 2:10: Not much news from manager Joe Maddon's pre-game, mostly reflection on the final roster decisions of Friday. Maddon said he hadn't decided yet on a starting second baseman for Tuesday's opener against Baltimore and Kevin Millwood, but was leaning toward Sean Rodriguez (even though it would be right on right) at this time. ... The Rays flew in this morning, will play this game (with the starters only going baout 3 innings) then fly back tonight. They have Sunday off, then will work out Monday at the Trop before opening the season on Tuesday. ... Lots of players talking about lots of memories from their time here. ... All players made the trip except for the six pitchers not scheduled to throw: James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price, Wade Davis, Lance Cormier, Mike Ekstrom.
DEVELOPING: A beautiful day here in Durham, N.C. Here are the lineups:
D. Johnson 3b