Durham Bulls Men's Team

Bulls’ Snell recalls blur of MLB debut

DURHAM — Blake Snell remembers last weekend in snapshots.

For two days, his life was a blur.

First, there was a phone call from Durham Bulls manager Jared Sandberg, summoning him to the lobby of their hotel in Norfolk, Va. to tell the 23-year-old southpaw that he was moving up to the big leagues for a spot start the next day in New York.

Within two hours, Snell was packed and headed to the airport. He remembers flying into LaGuardia and sitting in an Uber for an hour as it crawled through the boroughs to Yankee Stadium.

And then? Snell isn’t quite sure.

His memory is full of flashes; of the Rays players in the clubhouse, of manager Kevin Cash on the field, of playing catch before the game.

“It all just went so fast,” Snell said. “It doesn’t even feel like it happened to be honest.”

That’s when his family and friends took over, supplementing his memory by snapping pictures to constantly document the Seattle native’s first trip to the big leagues and the Big Apple.

“I just told them, just take a bunch of pictures because I don’t want to do it,” Snell said. “I’m gonna be pretty busy. So they did all of that and then at the end I got them all. It was pretty cool to see how many pictures I had and what I enjoyed. I’ll never forget it.”

Snell got an extra day’s rest before making his major league debut against the Yankees, putting together a dazzling five-inning performance that included a strikeout of his childhood idol, Alex Rodriguez. That moment flashes in and out of his mind too, but a family member managed to capture the moment forever.

“One of my friends had [a photo] when I struck out A-Rod, a photo of him when he was turned around and looking and arguing about it,” said Snell, who struck out six and only allowed one run on two hits in his MLB debut. “It’ll probably go somewhere in my house. Growing up, I was like ‘A-Rod is a god.’ I always thought he was the best player in the world. So I when I got to face him, I was like, ‘This is crazy.’

“It’s at the back end of his career, he’s not like in his prime, but he’s still a god. I’m gonna say that. It was really cool to see, to be able to do that and face him.”

And then, as soon as the weekend transpired, it was over, and Snell rejoined his Triple-A club in Durham.

The trip to the big leagues was a relief, a weight lifted off of the organization’s top pitching prospect. Now, he’s just focused on getting back in the groove with his first start since rejoining the team earlier this week. In Friday’s loss, Snell pitched 5 1/3 innings, giving up four runs on four hits while striking out six. But with any luck, he’ll be back in the majors soon enough, with a little more time to document his achievement.

“Hopefully it helps him relax a little bit because he’s not be wondering when he’s going to get called up or anything like that,” Sandberg said. “He got called up, and now he’s back here. His time is definitely coming. The way he pitched up there, his time is coming.

Bulls take series opener against Gwinnett in extras

DURHAM — Though catcher Carlos Corporan hadn’t recorded a single hit in his two games with the Durham Bulls this season, manager Jared Sandberg had no choice but to send the veteran entering his 14th season to the plate with runners on the corners and one out gone in the 11th inning of a tied game against Gwinnett (3-2).

There was nobody on the bench available to pinch hit, so 0-fer status or not, Corporan was going to the plate.

And in the biggest moment of the game, Corporan broke his hitless streak with a walk-off single to score Kyle Roller for the 6-5 series-opening win Monday night.

“It’s a good win,” Sandberg said. “To get out to a 4-0 lead and give up the lead especially late on a home run. And then walkoff wins, late inning wins are huge. It helps build the chemistry and camaraderie.”

Mikie Mahtook opened the game in front of a crowd of 3,414 with a leadoff triple to center field — his third of the season — and was brought home a couple batters later on a RBI groundout by Taylor Motter. With his deep ball, Mahtook already matched his total triple output with the Bulls from last season.

Mahtook hit another deep ball, this time off the Blue Monster, in the second to drive in two runs. He tried to leg out a double, but thought better of it and began to sprint back to first. However, he slipped twice and got caught between the two bases for the final out of the second.

In the third, reigning IL Batter of the Week Richie Shaffer doubled to score Motter, who reached second in the previous at-bat on his own double, and give the Bulls a 4-0 lead.

But despite jumping ahead early, the Bulls (4-1) struggled to find any offense late as Ryan Weber shutdown Durham for four innings, allowing just two hits in his time on the mound.

“Weber kept us off balance, did a nice job of mixing his pitches, sinker, slider,” Sandberg said. “We couldn’t get anything going.”

And while Weber kept the Bulls from adding to their lead, Matt Tuiasosopo helped Gwinnett climb back in the game.

A double by Tuiasosopo and an RBI single by Tyler Moore in the fourth gave Gwinnett its first run in the fourth, and the Braves added a pair of runs in the fifth as southpaw Adam Wilk got into some trouble and gave up two runs. He pitched 4 ⅔ innings, giving up three runs on six hits. Dylan Floro came on in relief and pitched through the rest of the inning without giving up another run.

Though he preserved Durham’s lead in the fifth, Floro gave up a home run to Tuiasosopo in the sixth — 11 pitches into his outing — to tie the game at 4. But Floro regained his composure and prevented Gwinnett from adding any additional runs through the rest of the inning. But when he hit Tuiasosopo and gave up a single to Moore with one out gone in the eighth, he was pulled for Ryan Garton with bases loaded.

Garton got the job done and finished the inning with a strikeout and a groundout to end the threat and keep the score knotted at 4 apiece.

With the game tied at 4 in the top of the ninth, Ryan Garton gave the Bulls another chance to pull ahead by striking out Tuiasosopo with Gwinnett runners on the corners.

Before stepping up to the plate in the ninth, Tuiasosopo had one RBI and two runs on two hits. The two battled through Tuiasosopo’s appearance, and after nine pitches Garton delivered the fatal blow to get Tuiasosopo to strike out swinging, preserving the 4-4 tie entering the bottom of the frame.

“We got a big strikeout in his third or fourth at bat,” Sandberg said. “That was a big strikeout in that situation, so I mean, he hit some pretty pitches. Hit a double down the right field line but he did miss a couple of those pitches.”

Though the Bulls kept Tuiasosopo from pushing the Braves ahead in that situation, he did hit his second homer of the night in the 11th to briefly pull the Braves ahead 5-4.

That’s when Durham, which left a whopping 16 men on base, broke out of its offensive funk led by hits from Dayron Varona and Corporan.

“Not sure how many were left on base but our pitchers pitched extremely well to limit the damage,” Sandberg said. “We got a 4-0 lead, but it was a heck of a way for us to finish that game. It was extremely cool.”

Bulls open season with win

DURHAM — For most of last season Durham Bulls catcher Luke Maile struggled at the plate.

Until he hit .254 in 22 August games, Maile’s batting average was a dismal .193. He opened the season going just 2-for-22 before going on a seven-game hitting streak in late April.

Behind the plate, he was stellar, throwing out 26 of 77 attempted base stealers, good for 33.8 percent and second best among International League catchers.

Maile started this season on a high note, with 2 RBI and one run in four at-bats from the bottom of the order in the Bulls’ opening day 7-3 win against Charlotte.

“You’re looking for a guy like Luke Maile who was here last year and struggled with the batting average, struggled with the bat, although had some misfortune and bad luck in my opinion,” manager Jared Sandberg said. “Comes out and swings the bat very, very well and drives in a couple runs. That’s great for Luke to get off to the start he did.”

Delayed slightly due to rain and a long opening day ceremony, the Bulls got the season underway in front of 7,710 fans at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

After Charlotte’s Scott Carroll issued a leadoff walk to Daniel Robertson, Cameron Seizter stepped up to the plate and knocked a double into left field, advancing Robertson to third.

Robertson scored a play later as Patrick Leonard singled to center field. Two more runs, including an RBI single by Maile, scored before the Bulls recorded an out. Once Richie Shaffer hit an RBI to plate Maile and score the fifth run of the inning, Carroll was replaced with Chris Volstad.

The Bulls put up two more runs, a ground-rule RBI double by Maile in the third and a RBI single by Shaffer to record seven runs in the season debut.

On the mound, highly touted prospect Blake Snell made his season debut, allowing five hits and two runs in five innings. Snell struck out five and issued one walk.

Snell, named Baseball America’s and USA Today’s 2015 Minor League Player of the Year, warmed up under soggy conditions as rain blew through the area. Despite the unfavorable conditions, Snell bounced back for a solid first outing.

“We were looking at 5 or 80 pitches, whatever came first,” Sandberg said. “He was at 78 pitches. It was a tough battle for him from the start. He was out there warming up in the rain, 10 minute delay to start the game. You’re all amped up to get the season started and everything. He went out there and grinded through very, very nicely.”

The Bulls continue their seven-game home-opening stand with another game against Charlotte Friday night at 7:05.