Errors, cold bats plague Clippers, swept by Bulls
Columbus had as many hits (4) as they had errors (4) on Sunday.
COLUMBUS, OH – It takes a lot to shake a team – or a player – out of a slump. The most important ingredients in doing so are solid defense and consistent hitting. To get anywhere, there must be at least one of those two.
The Columbus Clippers (22-26) are a team in a slump, and the absence of both those traits led to a 5-1 loss against the Durham Bulls (30-21) on Sunday evening.
Danny Salazar made his second start for Columbus since being optioned to Triple-A on May 16. His first start, against Syracuse on May 20, didn’t improve on his shaky beginning to the season in the majors as he lasted only two and two-thirds innings, surrendering five earned runs.
He was better on Sunday, and looked strong in the beginning as he favored the fastball that led many to predict impressive things from the young hurler. Even as Durham batters fouled off pitch after pitch, Salazar managed to strike out four over his first two innings of work.
But two of those strikeout victims came back and made adjustments the second time through the order and – along with some help from the setting Sunday sun – enabling the Bulls to strike first.
Mike Fontenot struck out on three pitches to begin the game, but in the third he singled to left. A ball that would normally be a routine grounder for shortstop Jose Ramirez instead became invisible thanks to the bright evening sunshine.
The elements came into play again during the next at-bat, or at least that’s what Columbus third baseman Ryan Rohlinger will be thinking. Jayson Nix grounded a ball straight to Rohlinger, but it deflected off his glove and through him, putting two Durham runners on base with only one out.
Mikie Mahtook was another Durham batter that Salazar had struck out, and he clearly knew what was coming the second time as he launched a three-run homer into deep center for his fourth, fifth and sixth RBIs of the series.
Things almost got worse for Columbus in the fourth. After Curt Casali drew a one-out walk, Hak-Ju Lee laid down a bunt toward third. The charging Rohlinger attempted to make the play, but Lee’s speed rushed his throw to first resulting in an error that allowed Casali to advance to third.
Ray Olmedo struck out swinging for the second out of the inning, but Fontenot drew a walk to bring Nix to the plate with the bases loaded. Fortunately for Columbus, the designated hitter could only muster a pop out to first.
Despite those two shaky innings, Salazar still managed to strike out the side in the fifth and finished with a total of nine in his 5.1 innings of work. Considering his season so far, it was a positive performance in the eyes of Columbus manager Chris Tremie.
“I thought he threw the ball well tonight. It was definitely a progression outing from his last one,” Tremie said. “He was better with his fastball, threw some off-speed pitches down and looked to be much stronger than his previous outing.”
“He was really, really good last year and he’s good this year. He’s just trying to get back to exactly where he was last year. But he’s on his way, he looked good tonight.”
If Salazar was impressive, his opposite number Mike Montgomery was immaculate. The lefty entered Sunday’s game with a 5-1 record, and he flashed all of his credentials against the Clippers.
Montgomery cruised through his seven innings of work, only allowing three base runners, and never more than one in an inning.
“He located his fastball really well and he threw his changeup when he was behind in the count when he needed to,” Tremie said. “Three pitch mix, left-handed and he spotted his fastball well. He was good.”
Kyle Crockett relieved Salazar to make his first Triple-A appearance after pitching in fifteen games for Double-A Akron and three games for Cleveland. It wasn’t long until he felt Salazar’s pain as the defense committed more costly errors.
Olmedo and Fontenot quickly became outs one and two in the seventh, and a pop fly courtesy of Nix looked to have ended the inning – that is, before Audy Ciriaco lost concentration at the vital moment and let the ball slip from his glove.
Durham made the most of its second chance when Mahtook delivered again, this time a double into center. But, Elliot Johnson couldn’t corral the baseball, and Mahtook ended up at third, while Nix scored. Jerry Sands followed with a single to extend the visitors’ lead to 5-0.
The four errors committed by Columbus tied their season-high.
“We haven’t been playing as good of baseball as we’re capable of over the last couple series,” Tremie said. “And it just kind of culminated tonight.”
The home team did manage to get a run across home in the ninth, but Aguilar, Moncrief and Rohlinger struck out consecutively to give Durham the four-game sweep. It was the sixth straight loss for Columbus, the team’s longest losing streak since June of 2013.
Focus now shifts to another four-game home series, this time against Charlotte. Tremie said the team will try and right the ship by being more mentally prepared.
“The one thing we can do is pick the energy level up and the intensity level up and see where that gets us as far as how much better we play,” Tremie said. “It may or may not affect it, but that’s what we’re going to try and do.”
Tyler Cloyd will take the mound on Monday night for the first game of the series against the Knights. First pitch is set for 6:55 PM ET at Huntington Park.
- Matt Carson placed on seven-day DL with a left ankle sprain.