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When Durham Bulls reliever Steve Geltz saw me waiting for him at his locker a couple of days ago in Coca-Cola Field, he knew what questions were coming. And give full marks to the Wilson High and University at Buffalo product: He made a big mistake in the offseason and paid a major price, but he’s determined to learn from it.

Geltz just returned to the Durham lineup on June 26 after serving a 50-game suspension from the Commissioner’s Office due to a second positive test for a “drug of abuse” under the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. He admitted to this corner the suspension was for offseason recreational use of marijuana.

“First off, it wasn’t a performance enhancer,” Geltz said pointedly. “It wasn’t anything drastic like that and the punishment was a little bit shocking. It’s legal in some states, it’s more and more accepted you could say.

“So on one hand, it seems pretty ridiculous. I can tell you it’s not a problem of mine. I had some fun in the offseason with a couple buddies and I regret it now totally. It’s a mistake. It lasts longer than you think in your system and my lesson is learned.

“I won’t ever do it again. … It’s their policies, their rules if you want to play. Rules are rules. You can’t change them. There’s no use complaining about them. They’re not going to change.”

When the suspension came down, the Bulls sent Geltz to their spring training facility in Port Charlotte, Fla., to work with Tampa Bay pitching coordinator Marty DeMerritt. It looks like the time was well spent.

Geltz has five straight scoreless outings since his return, covering 5∏ innings. The 5-foot-10 right-hander entered the weekend 2-2 with a 2.86 ERA and 32 strikeouts against only 10 walks in 22 innings.

“We had a game plan for every day, something to accomplish,” Geltz, 26, said of his time in Florida exile. “No matter how boring or slow or dragged out things seemed, we always accomplished it. It’s been a blessing in disguise really.”

“He came back with a new pitch really,” said Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo.

“It was a slider, but now it’s got a good bite. He’s got a second chance, and you feel he’s excited. He made a mistake, he paid a price and now he’s back doing well. I’m glad to have him back.”

Geltz came on in the seventh inning Thursday with runners on first and second and one out. He showed good change of speeds, using some pitches in the mid-70s for strikes and then fanning Kevin Pillar and Anthony Gose back-to-back on pitches that hit 93 and 94, respectively.

“I was able to fine-tune my off-speed stuff, manipulate it better, throw it for strikes and throw it for balls too,” He said. “I’ve really changed my approach to pitching. I was able to get away with some fastballs here and there. Now I’m pitching backwards, throwing 3-0 breaking balls, 0-2 fastballs. It’s been a whole different mindset.”

Geltz went 5-3, 2.82 in 41 games for Durham last year as the Bulls won the IL title. He was acquired in a spring training trade with the Angels after pitching two games for Los Angeles in 2012.

“Last year, he was one of the reasons we won the league,” Montoyo said. “To lose him early that way, you were like, ‘Come on.’ But people make mistakes. Hopefully you learn from it.”

“My family has been very supportive of me and so has the Rays organization,” Geltz said. “I wasn’t sticking needles in my body. I wasn’t cheating.

“The Rays said it’s not an ideal situation, but you acted like a professional, did your work down there and we want you to come back strong and ready to play. They were proud of the fact I accepted my fate as a professional and as a man and I appreciate that.”

Geltz said his teammates eagerly accepted him back as well, and he’s thrilled to give them some immediate results.

“I really feel I’m a different pitcher than when I left,” he said. “I feel more motivated, mentally stronger. I worked on a couple pitches down there and really came back with a vengeance to prove that ‘Hey, I screwed up and I’m sorry for that, but I’m ready to play and I’m not making that mistake again.’ ”

Montoyo in Bisons lore

On a far less somber note, Montoyo had a good laugh when reminded by this corner about his role in the most controversial finish in Bisons history.

With Greg Tubbs in town for Friday night’s induction into the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame, it’s appropriate to note the Durham manager was the relay man on the throw home that allowed Denver to escape with a 9-8 victory over the Bisons in Game Four of the 1991 American Association finals.

The Bisons started the ninth inning in a 9-0 hole and being no-hit by Denver’s Greg Matthews. They scored six runs and loaded the bases before Tubbs drove a ball into the left-field corner for an apparent three-run double to tie the game. But Mickey Brantley relayed to Montoyo, who fired home to catcher Joe Kmak to nail pinch-runner Greg Edge and leave Buffalo a run shy.

“We were throwing a no-hitter and then all of a sudden, things really broke out there,” Montoyo recalled. “Tubbs was having a good series and when I saw him come to the plate I was thinking, ‘Oh no, that’s not good.’ But it was a close play at the plate and we got the call.

“I wanted the ball. I knew it was going to be quick because I knew Greg Edge runs quick. It was a close play and I knew it was a good throw and there was a good chance to get him. Everyone here I know says he was safe. I guess it depends who you ask.”

Replay this

Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista got a warning from MLB and will undoubtedly get a lot of questions at All-Star Media Day Monday in Minneapolis after going on a rant against instant replay last Sunday in Oakland.

The Jays have suffered a lot of head-scratching calls on replay this year, and Bautista blew up after Melky Cabrera was ruled out at home due to inconclusive evidence – even though replays showed catcher Derek Norris clearly missing him with a swipe tag.

“I don’t really know which replay they were looking at, but clearly they must have had a different video feed than the one we had,” Bautista said.

“It’s pretty frustrating for you to battle as a team … it all goes down the drain because somebody first, initially, made a bad call to begin with. And then it gets upheld by God knows who, in some room in New York supposedly.”

And Bautista was just getting warmed up.

“This whole replay thing has become a joke in my eyes. I think they should just ban it, they should just get rid of it,” he said. “I don’t really understand the purpose of it, but getting the right call on the field is not the purpose. That’s pretty obvious and evident. I don’t know what kind of agenda the people that are doing the replays are on, what their plan is, what their purpose is, who they’re looking after. But obviously getting the right call on the field is not what they’re doing.”

Around the horn

• With CC Sabathia possibly facing microfracture surgery and now Masahiro Tanaka perhaps looking at Tommy John surgery, don’t the Yankees have to go get either Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee from the Phillies to have any hope of staying in the race?

• Speaking of Tanaka, lots of chatter how it was a matter of time before he broke down because of his wicked split-finger pitches – and the impact of the larger American baseball on his elbow. People often forget the ball is smaller in Japan, producing less torque on the arm.

• Clayton Kershaw in June for the Dodgers: 6-0 in six starts with a 0.82 ERA. In 44 innings, he struck out 61, walked four and allowed opponents to hit just .165 against him.

• When the Angels beat the Blue Jays Monday, they pulled their all-time record even at 4,272-4,272 – and reached .500 for the first time since they were 1-1 in 1961. They became the first expansion franchise at or above .500.

email mharrington@buffnews.com