Memphis Redbirds (5-1 this week, 18-13 overall)
This week, the Memphis Redbirds pulled ahead of the Omaha Storm Chasers for the American Northern Division lead. After finishing their road games with Albuquerque and Omaha, the Redbirds returned to AutoZone Park to start their series against the Sacramento River Cats.
Memphis concluded the Albuquerque series with a win, and won two out of three in Omaha (May 4 game rescheduled for Sunday, June 2). Two of the games in Omaha were decided in extra innings, and the Redbirds split the two, getting the first win with a seven-run 12th inning.
May 2 at Albuquerque, 8-4 Win
The Redbirds came into Thursday night's game trying to break a three-game losing streak and avoid a series sweep for the Isotopes. Maikel Cleto made the start on Thursday, his first as he tries to transition into starting for the first time in two years.
Memphis' hitters scored three runs in the first inning to back up Cleto. The first five batters reached base, loading the bases with nobody out and put the Redbirds ahead by three runs by the end of the first frame. Memphis added three more runs in the fifth and Oscar Taveras' third home run of the year drove in two in the sixth to put the lead at 8-1.
Cleto had a hard time with location; he threw 29 strikes in 60 pitches, walked five batters in three innings and hit one of the Isotopes. The seven-year minor league veteran did not allow a run, struck out four batters, and was pulled in the fourth inning for Nick Greenwood. The lefty struggled, allowing single runs in both the fifth and sixth frames. Greenwood got the win despite his ineffectiveness because Cleto only lasted three innings.
Keith Butler relieved in the seventh and yielded a two-out two-RBI double before being replaced by Marc Rzepczynski. Scrabble gave up a walk, but got the third out. His next inning went smoothly, with another walk negated by a double play. Victor Marte came on in the ninth and closed the game without allowing a run.
May 3 at Omaha, 3-1 Win
John Gast took the mound to open the series against the Storm Chasers. St. Louis' Minor League Pitcher of the Month came into the game as the only qualified pitcher in MiLB or MLB that had not yet allowed a run. In the third, after 32 innings pitched this season, a single scored a runner from second to end Gast's Redbirds record for consecutive scoreless innings. Manager Pop Warner pulled the left-hander before the sixth. Gast finished the day with five strikeouts, four walks, and a picked-off runner in the first inning.
In the fifth, the Redbirds' hitters drew two walks and hit a single to load the bases. A fielding error by the Omaha third baseman allowed a runner to score, tying the game at 1-1. In the eighth, Memphis scored again on a bases-loaded walk with two outs. In the ninth, catcher J.R. Towles scored from first on a throwing error by catcher Brett Hayes.
That would be all the Memphis bullpen needed, as Sam Freeman, Eric Fornataro, and Victor Marte allowed only one Storm Chaser on base in four innings of work. Freeman earned the win, and Marte picked up his sixth save.
May 4 at Omaha (rescheduled for Sunday, June 2)
May 5 at Omaha, 1-2 Loss
In Omaha, Michael Wacha made his sixth start of the season, and continued his excellent pitching. In 5 2/3 innings, the tall right-hander only allowed one run and struck out four. After allowing the run, the Iowa City native retired nine straight batters and allowed a double to start the sixth. That runner was thrown out at third and Wacha left runners on first and second with two outs before being pulled for Jorge Rondon.
Rondon threw a wild pitch, but got the batter to groundout to avoid any runners scoring. Relief pitcher Mitchell Boggs made his 2013 Memphis debut in the seventh and yielded a two-out triple to speedy second baseman Irving Falu, but left him stranded. Another Cardinals send-down, Rzepczynski, pitched two good frames to take the Redbirds into extra innings tied at one. Fornataro faced Falu to lead off the tenth. Falu collected his second triple of the game and the next batter singled him home to end it in walkoff fashion.
May 6 at Omaha, 11-4 Win (12 innings)
Tyler Lyons was given the start, shaking the memory of the previous outing when he allowed five runs in five innings, to throw a solid 6 1/3 frames, yielding two runs on six hits. The southpaw shook off a first-inning jam when he allowed a two-out RBI double and loaded the bases. Only one run scored that inning and Lyons retired 15 of the next 17 going into the seventh.
Kolten Wong helped Lyons out in the fifth with a towering fly ball over the right field wall for his first PCL home run of the year, a solo shot that put the Redbirds up 2-1.
In the seventh, Lyons allowed another run to score from second on an RBI groundball single by Falu past Wong.
Barret Browning was called to relieve Lyons, and he got the next two outs to hold the 2-2 tie. Eduardo Sanchez made his return from the disabled list to pitch in the eighth, and some rust showed as he yielded two-run shot on his first pitch to Omaha first baseman Max Ramirez. After Sanchez hit a batter with two outs, Rondon was brought in to get the final out in the frame.
Rondon, Freeman, and Marte pitched the next four innings to prevent the Storm Chasers from scoring. Freeman earned his second win this week, and Marte struck out two in the 12th to preserve the lead.
Memphis put seven on the board in the 12th, with four doubles and three walks. Seven different Redbirds reached base in the frame to give the ball club its first extra-inning win this season.
May 7 vs. Sacramento, Win 3-2
The story of this game was starting pitcher Nick Additon's ability to maintain composure after serving up back-to-back solo home runs to the River Cats at AutoZone Park. Going into the third with a one-run lead, Additon yielded a lead-off home run to the ninth-place hitter into the right field bleachers and five pitches later, his 2-2 offering ended up on the bluff. Following the two solo shots, the Florida native retired the next 12 batters, half of them strikeouts, before turning the game over to Rzepczynski with a 3-2 lead.
Rzepczynski, Boggs, and Marte would each throw a scoreless frame and hold Sacramento at two runs for the day as Marte earned his seventh straight save.
Memphis led in the first inning when Wong scored from first base on Taveras' double ripped down the right field line. Taveras tried to come home from second on Brock Peterson's single, but was thrown out easily by the left fielder on a beautiful throw that reached home on one hop. In the bottom of the fifth, shortstop Greg Garcia generated some two-out offense with a double and scored on Wong's base hit to tie the game at 2-2. Peterson scored from third on a double-play grounder, and that was all the offense Memphis needed to generate.
May 8 vs. Sacramento, Win 6-2
Maikel Cleto was given another opportunity to start this week and picked up the win after throwing five scoreless innings. The right-hander from the Dominican Republic struck out six but again had trouble finding the strike zone, walking five batters and only throwing 49 strikes in 89 pitches. Memphis hitters scored five in the first five frames to support Cleto.
Back-to-back doubles by Wong and Taveras scored one run and Wong walked home with two outs. The next inning, Adron Chambers doubled and scored to push the lead to three. Playing his third game back from St. Louis, Jermaine Curtis struck a two-RBI single with two outs in the fifth. Omaha responded with a two-run shot in the eighth off Fornataro, for his second home run served up this season. But Memphis added another run on Chambers' sacrifice fly, setting the score at 6-2 before Sanchez closed out the ninth.
Ryan Jackson - The infielder has reached base in his last seven games and is 14-for-31 over that span (.452). This week, the fifth round selection in the 2009 draft had three multi-hit games, and has registered ten of his 30 hits this season. Jackson has the highest batting average on the team at .337.
Oscar Taveras – When the 20-year-old starts in centerfield, the Redbirds are 14-5. Since May began, the Dominican Republic native has gone 10-for-28 (.357) with four doubles, one home run, and nine RBI. He has excelled against right-handers, hitting 22-for-59 (.373). As young as he is, the left-hander has still shown power enough to drive the ball to both sides of the field.
Victor Marte - The ten-year veteran registered his seventh save this season on Monday. Marte has not allowed a run in his past ten appearances, striking out 13 in 11 frames while yielding only seven hits and three walks. This week, he earned two saves, pitched four innings, allowed only two hits and struck out nine.
Starting Pitchers - All year, the starters have been very stingy. In April, the rotation combined for a 2.86 ERA, struck out 105 batters in 138 innings, and only yielded eight home runs. To date, May has been even better, as the six starts have totaled a 2.00 ERA (36 innings / eight earned runs) and 34 strikeouts. It has been essential for the Redbirds to start the game off well, because Memphis is 14-2 if the Redbirds score the first run.
Fielding – A sound team on the field, the Redbirds have committed a Pacific Coast League-low 16 errors. Of those 16, only four players have been responsible for ten of them.
Adron Chambers – This week, Chambers has started to get into a rhythm in the batters' box, raising his batting average from .127 (10-for-79) to .168. In his four games this week, the seventh-year-pro was 6-for-16 (.375) with a double in each game, four RBI and no strikeouts since May 1. He is also solid in the outfield, having not committed an error since May 10, 2012 – a stretch of 125 straight games.
A number of pitchers moved this week, reflecting some of the turmoil the bullpens are experiencing in St. Louis and in Memphis. Boggs and Rzepczynski are two of the big-league names now in Memphis, moving Butler and Greenwood to Springfield.
Jermaine Curtis also came back to Memphis after his St. Louis debut due to the return of Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams. Travis Tartamella returned to Springfield with Curtis' arrival. Memphis will again have to shuffle Curtis, Garcia and Jackson at third base and shortstop with Curtis' return.
May 4: Pitcher Nick Greenwood re-assigned to Springfield
May 4: Pitcher Keith Butler re-assigned to Springfield
May 4: Pitcher Mitchell Boggs optioned to Memphis
May 4: Pitcher Eduardo Sanchez taken off the D.L.
May 5: Third baseman Jermaine Curtis optioned to Memphis
May 6: Catcher Travis Tartamella re-assigned to Springfield
May 8: Brock Peterson was hit by a pitch on the left wrist in the first inning. He was removed from the game in the second. Though the Redbirds have not announced it yet, catcher/first baseman Geoff Klein is being added from Class-A Peoria.
The Redbirds play at AutoZone Park this entire week and will then take day off on May 15 before an eight-game road trip. Memphis will finish the Sacramento series then play the Fresno Grizzlies.
Sacramento has scored the most runs in the PCL this season with 204, including 42 home runs. Fresno has the fourth-best batting average at .283 and has the sixth-most runs scored with 182. Conversely, Fresno has also the fourth-worst ERA with 5.22 and has yielded the most home runs this season with 39.
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