After a slow start, the Durham Bulls are off and running in the International League. Through Monday, Durham was 17-9 and leading the Richmond Braves by three games in the South Division.
It shouldn't be surprising that the Bulls are successful in their first full season in Triple A. They are loaded with veteran players such as Russ Morman, Tim Laker, Jim Buccheri and Scott McClain. McClain (24 RBI, five homers) and Morman (.344, sixdoubles) have helped Durham out of its early offensive slump. And the pitching staff has been solid. RHP Dave Eiland is 3-1 with a 1.82 ERA, and RHP Matt Ruebel is best of all at 5-0 with a 3.26 ERA.
Former Sarasota High standout Greg Blosser is starting to heat up as well. Blosser, who had 30 home runs for St. Petersburg and Oklahoma City last year, hit two home runs against Toledo on Sunday to raise his total to six. He's hitting .318 in 21 games.
"I've always been a slow starter through my career," Blosser said. "I'm just starting to get in the groove."
And unlike the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Durham seems to have a solid closer in veteran Mark Eichorn. Eichorn picked up his sixth save Sunday to lead the team.
"That's what he's paid to do," said Durham manager Bill Evers, who led St. Petersburg to a Florida State League championship last season. "He's the closer, and he came in and finished it out for us."
With the kind of lineup Durham has, it seems Eichorn will get plenty more chances.
DANIELS MOVES AGAIN: After spending two weeks with Durham, right-handed reliever John Daniels is on the move again. Daniels now is with Double-A Orlando, a Seattle Mariners affiliate with which the Devil Rays have a working agreement.
Daniels takes the roster spot of Maximo Nunez, who is on the disabled list. Daniels, who pitched in three games for Durham and had a 2.35 ERA, was sent down when Eddie Gaillard was brought back from the majors. Daniels has pitched in one game for Orlando, allowing two hits and two runs in one inning.
Tampa Bay takes over the Orlando Rays next season.
BUBBA'S BACK: Tampa Bay outfielder Bubba Trammell was sent down to Durham a few weeks ago when a batting slump sent his average plummeting to near .200. Trammell is back on track, hitting .455 in nine games for the Bulls. He has 6 doubles, 3 home runs and 8 RBI. He has also walked 10 times in 33 at-bats.
RIVERDOGS: Charleston's Jose Velazquez is second in the South Atlantic League in hitting with a .360 average. He has 36 hits and 14 RBI in 28 games. Charleston is not hitting the ball well as a team, however. It ranks 13th out of 14 teams in batting with a .236 team average.