The Midland Rockhounds were in a strong position to compete for a first-half division title at the end of April, but a disastrous May has left them well off of the pace of first place San Antonio. The ‘Hounds went 9-19 in May and are now 13 games out of first place and fourth overall in a five-team division.
The month was highlighted by an eight-game losing streak during which Midland dropped five one-run decisions. The pitching staff had a particularly rough month. The team ERA was 5.10 and the bullpen blew six save opportunities in 11 chances. Midland hurlers walked 104 and allowed 271 hits in 243.2 innings.
The Rockhounds' hitters saw their power numbers dip in May. Although they got on-base at a respectable .352 clip as a team, Midland batters managed only a collective 735 OPS. The team also made 37 errors in only 28 games, with Stephen Parker leading the way with eight at third base.
Midland began a six-game roadtrip on Wednesday night with a tough, 7-6 loss to Tulsa in extra innings. The Rockhounds will return to Midland on Wednesday, June 8 for an eight-game homestand.
Comings and Goings
A possible contributing factor to the Rockhounds' struggles in May was the number of transactions during the month. Three players were released from the organization during the month: reliever Lance Sewell, starter Justin Murray and catcher Yusuf Carter. In their place, the A's added two relievers from extended spring training – John Meloan and Justin Souza, both of whom are coming off of serious arm injuries they sustained last season. The A's also signed minor league free agent Polin Trinidad, who was released by the Cubs earlier this year. Trinidad joined the Rockhounds' rotation.
Injuries had some impact on the Midland roster, as well. Shortstop Grant Green missed more than a week with back spasms. Infielder Jason Christian also landed on the DL and when he was activated, he was sent down to High-A Stockton. Anthony Capra missed a start with a blister issue and Fabian Williamson was brought in from extended spring training to replace Capra for one turn in the rotation. Promotions also impacted the Rockhounds' roster, as starter Carlos Hernandez and reliever Fautino De Los Santos were sent up to Sacramento.
The Rockhounds did add two players from Triple-A Sacramento: catcher/first-baseman Mitch Canham and utilityman Adam Heether. Canham began the season with Midland but was promoted to Sacramento in early April. In addition, right-hander Gary Daley, Jr., who had split the early part of the season between Stockton and Sacramento, was sent from Stockton to Midland, where he joined the rotation.
As much as the Rockhounds' offense struggled at times in May, they would have really been at a loss without the contributions of Jermaine Mitchell and Heether. Mitchell continued his torrid start to the season with an even better May than he had in April, when he hit .349 with an 1111 OPS. In May, Mitchell batted .380 with a 1164 OPS. He got on-base at a .504 clip and scored 28 of the teams 147 runs.
Heether provided the bulk of the power for Midland in only half a month's time. He hit five homers and three doubles in 50 at-bats spread over 15 games. Heether also walked nine times and scored 15 runs.
Green missed eight games in May, but he hit .325 with a .382 OBP. His power was down (six doubles and no homers), which may have been a result of his back soreness.
Michael Spina didn't have quite the same success he had in April, but he did tie Mitchell for the team-lead in RBIs with 19 and he hit three homeruns. Spina also walked 17 times in 27 games. He has a .394 OBP this season and an 899 OPS.
After hitting only .174 with a 559 OPS in April, Tyler Ladendorf hit .267 with a .364 OBP in May. Canham hit well in three games after his return to Midland, picking up four hits, including two doubles, in 11 at-bats.
The best pitching efforts for Midland in May came out of the Rockhounds' bullpen. Justin Souza allowed only one run on four hits and one walk in 13.1 innings (0.68 ERA). He struck-out 12. Neil Wagner struck-out 20 in 15 innings and posted a 2.40 ERA in 10 outings. Mickey Storey had a 2.70 ERA and three saves in nine appearances (13.1 innings). Paul Smyth had a 3.18 ERA and 14 strike-outs in 17 innings.
The starting rotation, for the most part, struggled with the exception of Hernandez and Ethan Hollingsworth. Hernandez had a 2.81 ERA in three starts before he was promoted to Sacramento. He struck-out 12 and walked four in 16 innings. Hollingsworth had a 4.06 ERA and a 21:9 K:BB ratio in 31 innings spread over five starts. His numbers for the month improve significantly if they don't include his first May start, in which he allowed six runs in 4.2 innings.