On Tuesday night, first baseman Wes Bankston blasted two homers to lead the Durham Bulls to an 8-5 victory over the Richmond Braves. Bankston -- .256, 14 home runs, 56 RBIs on the season – is hitting .314 with five homers and 10 RBIs in his last 10 games.
Jeff Niemann, a serious candidate to be called up when Tampa Bay expands to a six-man starting rotation at the start of September, took the mound for the Bulls in his first appearance since July 30, where he left the game in the first inning due to shoulder stiffness. Niemann scattered six hits, allowed three runs, all earned, and struck out four in four solid innings of work. The lanky right-hander, a former All American at Rice University, didn't factor in the decision in what could be one of his last starts at the Triple-A level this summer. He's now 11-5 with a 4.00 ERA and 112 strikeouts, which leads the team and sits among the International League season leaders, in 23 games started.
Justin Ruggiano – batting .415 with three homers and eight RBIs in his last 10 games – continued his recent offensive tear with two hits, including a two-run home run, his team-leading 19th, in five at bats. Ruggiano – who is leading all Durham positions players in the Triple Crown categories – is now batting a scorching .306, which has increased nearly 20 points in the last two weeks, to go along with 19 home runs and 68 RBIs.
Shawn Camp, a former mainstay in the Devil Rays relief corps, tossed two scoreless innings to earn his second hold at Triple-A. Camp is 0-1 with a 1.64 ERA in eight games since being demoted. Durham closer Chad Orvella tossed a scoreless ninth to earn his 19th save. Orvella is 3-2 with a 2.63 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 38 Triple-A appearances.
Top left-handed pitching prospect Jacob McGee earned his second Double-A win on Tuesday night. McGee scattered five hits and three earned runs and finished the night with eight strikeouts in six innings pitched to lead the Montgomery to a 7-3 victory over Birmingham.
Biscuits power-hitting designated hitter/first baseman Gabriel Martinez had a big night at the plate in the win. Martinez finished Tuesday 4-for-5 with two home runs and four RBIs. The 24-year-old is scorching the ball of late – batting .316 with four homers in his last 10 games – and with Evan Longoria's recent call-up to Triple-A, is now leading the team with 73 RBIs.
Reid Brignac, widely regarded as Tampa Bay's shortstop of the future, collected a base hit in five trips to the plate. Brignac is hitting just .255, but has shown excellent power potential (16 home runs, 69 RBIs) and has made tremendously strides defensively this season.
Rocco Baldelli is currently on a rehab assignment with the Vero Beach Devil Rays of the Florida State League. In two games at Vero Beach, Baldelli is 0-for-5 with a walk and a run scored. On Tuesday night, facing one-time All-Star Mark Mulder – also on a rehab assignment – the 25-year-old outfielder, Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year in 2002, went 0-for-3 with a strikeout in a 3-1 loss to Palm Beach.
Vero Beach designated hitter Sergio Pedroza, who was acquired, along with Joel Guzman, by Tampa Bay in the deal that sent shortstop Julio Lugo to the Los Angeles Dodgers shortly before the July 31 trade deadline in 2006, has shown tremendous power potential at Vero Beach this season. In 104 games, Pedroza, a former star at Cal State Fullerton, has belted 22 home runs, which leads all baby Devil Ray hitters, to go along with a .285 batting average and a team-best 62 RBIs.
Jeremy Hellickson allowed only one run on four hits in an impressive six-inning performance against the Charleston River Dogs on Tuesday night. But Hellickson, considered as one of the top pitching prospects in the Tampa Bay organization, was hit with a tough-luck loss in Charleston's 3-0 victory over the Columbus Catfish. The 20-year-old, who had won eight straight decisions dating back to June 16, falls to 12-3 on the season.
Desmond Jennings, a former quarterback recruit at the University of Alabama, is quietly having an outstanding season for the Catfish. Jennings, one of the fastest players, at all levels, in the organization, was hitless on Tuesday, but is batting .315, second on the team, with a league-leading 45 stolen bases in 60 attempts. Ryan Royster – coming off a recent streak of six consecutive games with a homer – has been tearing it up for Columbus all season long. Royster – .400 with eight RBIs in his last 10 games – is leading the Catfish with 26 home runs and 90 RBIs.