MOOSIC — To Jake Bauers, Tuesday night is about pride.
Bauers and the rest of the Durham Bulls laid it all on the line in the Governors’ Cup Finals to beat the defending champion Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders for the right to represent the International League in the Triple-A National Championship Game.
Now the Bulls get the opportunity to play the Pacific Coast League champion Memphis Redbirds on the RailRiders’ home turf with the chance to win the national championship, just like the RailRiders did successfully a year ago, but in the Redbirds’ home ballpark.
“Everyone’s viewing it as one more championship,” the Durham first baseman said. “We’ve never played Memphis before. It’s almost a — probably a —pride thing between the two leagues. Obviously, I’m sure the whole International League’s pulling for us and the whole Pacific Coast League is pulling for them. I think we’re representing more than just ourselves. I think we’re representing the (other 13) teams in the league. I think it comes down to pride, knowing that we are going to come out and try to win the game.”
If the Bulls are going to find success Tuesday against a red-hot Memphis team, they’re going to have to do it with their highly-touted pitching staff and some timely hits. Just like they did against the RailRiders.
Durham starters were 2-1 with an 0.81 ERA in the Governors’ Cup Finals, and only allowed 14 hits in 22.2 innings. Not only do the Bulls sport a talented starting rotation, they have an excellent bullpen led by closer Diego Castillo. The 23-year-old right-hander appeared in four playoff games and picked up three saves in five shutout innings.
Ryan Yarbrough will take the bump for Durham. He was the Bulls’ Game 1 starter in each series throughout the Governors’ Cup playoffs. The 25-year-old southpaw’s length will be determined by his effectiveness. Bulls manager Jared Sandberg said all pitchers will be available except for Yonny Chirinos, who hit his innings limit for the season, and Governors’ Cup Finals Game 4 starter Burch Smith, who has been removed from the roster and shut down for the season as he prepares for the Arizona Fall League.
Dakota Hudson will start for Memphis.
“If that’s the case, it’s look out. … I’m looking to strike out six if I go two (innings), three if I go one,” Bulls right-hander Brent Honeywell, who’s expected to pitch in relief on Tuesday, said of the use of multiple pitchers. “That’s kind of where you go with your best stuff. That’s what you do. There’s no rule that says you have to throw a fastball to every guy. So you go with your best stuff. You don’t know what these guys are doing, then you go from one pitch to the next. You can kind of see a tendency of what they’re going to do with the baseball.
“These guys are going to be ready to hit homers, just like our team is,” Honeywell continued. “You see what we’re doing (Monday). We’re trying to launch stuff off the scoreboard there in BP, and our guys can do it.”
Yarbrough’s ready to take the mound in the bottom of the first inning on Tuesday.
Pitching on a big stage is nothing new to him. The right-hander took the ball in Game 1 of both the first round and the finals for the Bulls. So naturally, Yarbrough would get the ball in the national championship game too.
He’s 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA in the playoffs this season.
“Just the fact that it’s our last game and you want to end on a good note, especially with (a strong pitching performance from) the guys we do have able to throw, like Honeywell out of the pen and everybody else that we have out of the pen,” Yarbrough said. “I think we’re just excited to get out there tomorrow. I think all this waiting, it’s been nice, but at the same time we’re ready to get out there and play some ball.”
But the way Bauers sees it, what Durham does at the plate will determine the outcome.
He’s expecting an offensive-laden showdown with Memphis. Considering the Bulls haven’t reached their offensive potential yet, and are coming off of a home run-filled batting practice at PNC Field on Monday, Bauers is optimistic about what’s to come.
“I think we kind of got through the playoffs not even close to where we were at certain times during the year,” Bauers said. “There were certain times during the year we were putting up 10 runs every night for the week. I think there were a few games mixed in there where we had three or four hits and we scraped out a win. When you can do that it shows how good your team really is. You can sit here and say, ‘I don’t think we played very well,’ and say that you won the championship — that’s just a testament to everyone here.
“Whoever’s going to come out and get the big two-out hits, the big hits with runners in scoring position, I think that’s what it’s going to come down to.”
Even though the Bulls have been in town and relaxing since Friday night’s win, they’re well aware of the hot streak the Redbirds are coming in off Sunday’s emotional PCL Championship Series Game 5 win over the El Paso Chihuahuas. Memphis has won 13 of its last 19 games heading into Tuesday’s tilt.
“They’re coming off a tremendous season, Game 5 victory. They come in here, I think they’re going to be ready to play, especially with Stubby Clapp as their manager,” Sandberg said. “(Clapp’s) going to have those guys ready to play. There’s a travel day, but a little bit of a down day for them today and they’ll be ready to go tomorrow. I anticipate a highly-competitive game.”
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle