Talbot Outshines Hampton in Bulls Victory

Durham Bulls

Talbot Outshines Hampton in Bulls Victory

Mitch Talbot
Durham Bulls Mitch Talbot shutout the Richmond Braves for eight innings in Wednesday, April 30th’s game.

The cameras were focused on Mike Hampton Wednesday afternoon, April 30, 2008, but Mitch Talbot and the Durham Bulls stole the show.

The two-time All-Star and National League Cy Young runner-up in 1999 was making his second rehabilitation start of the season as he attempts to pitch in the big leagues for the first time since 2005. And Hampton was good while he lasted, which was until the muscles around his left armpit started bugging him in the fourth inning.

But the Bulls were better, especially starting pitcher Talbot. Behind Talbot’s eight shutout innings, Durham completed its second consecutive shutout 2-0 to finish April with a 12-13 record.

It was the first time since 2003 that the Bulls recorded back-to-back shutouts, and it showcased just how far they have come since a chaotic beginning to the season that saw them start 5-10.

It was a poor beginning for a team that came within a game of winning the Governors’ Cup championship a year ago, but many of the team’s struggles were due to a slew of injuries in Tampa Bay that had a plethora of Bulls making a quick jump to the majors.

Now within a game of .500 for the first time since they were 5-6, the Bulls have a core of good young players — particularly pitchers.

“It’s always up to the pitching, you know,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “We didn’t hit that much yesterday or today, but (we played) good enough to win because the pitching was outstanding.

“We’re going to go as far as the pitching takes us.”

And at least for now, that could be pretty far. Starters Jeff Niemann and J.K. Ryu are back from stints with the Rays, and with Chris Mason and Talbot pitching the consecutive shutouts, there is reason for Montoyo and Durham’s hitters to be excited.

The atmosphere in the locker room after the win was completely opposite from two and a half weeks ago, when it was quiet after a home-opener loss. The rapper Ice Cube blared from a pair of speakers as the players began packing their bags for an eight-game road trip that begins Friday.

“You can’t beat that,” right fielder Fernando Perez said of the consecutive shutouts. “I mean, all you gotta do is push one or two (runs) across.

“And how you do that is, you stay at it every inning, and when they give an inch, you’ve got to take some yards.”

Perez said that a game against a veteran like Hampton really isn’t different from hitting against a regular Triple-A pitcher. Although Hampton pitched well, striking out four and allowing just a single run in four and a third innings, the 23-year-old Perez — who has never played in a major league game — wasn’t in awe of the 35-year-old’s array of pitches.

“There are guys here on their way up sometimes who are better than some guys up there on their way down,” Perez said. “That has nothing to do with this particular guy, but, you know, in a lot of ways it’s just arms.”

The major-league experience of most of the Bulls can’t be ignored, either. Perez and 22-year-old shortstop Reid Brignac were the only players in the lineup Wednesday who hadn’t faced a big-league pitcher.

Perez did say, however, that if a childhood idol such as a Roger Clemens was pitching, the batters might have made a bigger deal out of facing the big leaguer.

“He’s not just another pitcher,” Montoyo said of Hampton, “but I don’t think anybody was like, you know — I don’t think it was a big deal.”

What is a big deal to Montoyo is how his team is playing in all facets of the game. Not only were Talbot and closer Dale Thayer effective in setting down the last 15 batters they faced, but Perez made a diving catch in right field to highlight an errorless day for the second straight game. And Brignac drove in the winning run by hitting a fly ball just deep enough to score Dan Johnson on a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning.

Montoyo knows more changes are bound to happen. That’s just part of a long season. But the transaction wire has died down enough for him to solidify a five-man pitching rotation and for six position players to have played at least 20 of Durham’s 25 games.

“Right now we’re pretty good,” Montoyo said. “Everybody gets along here good.

“We’ve got a good core of players, so when somebody new comes, he feels at home right away.”

And, for the most part, the players agree on what’s most important — the clubhouse music, which was at a high decibel after Wednesday’s win over the International League’s first-place team.

“It’s mostly rock, you know,” Talbot said. “It just depends on the mood in here.”

Right now, the Bulls are in high spirits.

The Bulls go to Scranton Wilkes-Barre to take on the Yankees on Thursday evening at 7:00pm. Catch all the action on 1410-AM WRJD or online at www.durhambulls.com.

Thanks to WRAL.com’s Jack Lloyd for this capcom story & to DBBC’s Matt DeMargel for this capcom photo.


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