Sacramento Notebook: Big 'O' For 'Cats

It has been a strong start to the season for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats. Chris Biderman updates us on the Sacramento season to date, with a focus on the team's hot-hitting offense and the development of three of the squad's young starting pitchers.

Stats through Friday, April 13, 2012

Team Overview

The River Cats are hitting so well, the struggling Oakland A's might be wishing they could borrow some hits from their Triple-A counterparts. In the season's first nine games, Sacramento had 107 hits and averaged 6.7 runs per game while allowing a little more than four runs per game en route to a 6-3 record.

The River Cats started the season in Las Vegas, taking three of four from the 51s and collecting 18, 17 and 12 hits in those three wins. They moved on to Tucson, taking two of three there. They won the second game of the series 18-6, getting a whopping 22 hits. Oddly enough, the team went on to get shutout in the next two games. Even with those 18 scoreless innings, the team had an impressive hitting line of .318/.386/.503 with an 889 OPS.

"(It was a) good trip. Guys got their feet wet. Everyone got in, got to play and contribute. I thought everybody played well," Sacramento manager Darren Bush said.

The pitching staff hasn't been quite as effective as the team's bats, but that's to be expected with starters Jarrod Parker, Brad Peacock and Tyson Ross working more on commanding the strike zone than throwing past hitters this early in the season. The River Cats have gotten saves from Jim Miller, Merkin Valdez and Neil Wagner. Miller, Valdez and Pedro Figueroa have yet to give up earned runs in relief.

There has been little roster movement early in the season, but there was one move recorded on Saturday, April 14. Catcher Joel Galarraga landed on the disabled list and he was replaced by catcher Petey Paramore, who was sent to the River Cats from High-A Stockton.

Arms Race

With two-thirds of Oakland's rotation being young and relatively unproven, a lot of eyes are on the performances of Sacramento starters Ross, Parker and Peacock. Ross is likely to join the major league staff on Tuesday in Anaheim after throwing better than his numbers would indicate over two starts with Sacramento.

Opposing batters hit .303 against Ross, collecting 10 hits in nine innings and scoring four earned runs. But after last season's struggles, Ross and Bush were satisfied with his ability to pound the strike-zone and mix in all four of his pitches. When he's throwing well, Ross' unconventional delivery can make the ball tough to pick up in addition to the good action on his pitches.

Parker's numbers haven't been great, either. Opposing batters are hitting .319 in his two starts. But more importantly, Parker has walked just two hitters in his 12 innings. His command was his main issue in spring training, preventing him from breaking camp in Oakland's rotation.

The same can be said for Peacock, who struggled finding the strike-zone consistently this spring in Arizona.

"In spring training, I couldn't really find it. I've been working with [Sacramento pitching coach Scott Emerson] on a lot of things and it's been definitely getting a lot better," Peacock said.

"My curveball's not what I want it to be right now. Fastball and change-up are definitely where I want it to be. That's definitely a good thing."

According to Peacock, his performance in the River Cats' Friday home opener was the best he's thrown this year. He went six innings, allowing one hit and striking out eight without allowing an earned run. He said it was the closest he's felt to his 2011 form. Last year, Peacock had a breakthrough season in the Nationals system and pitched his way to the major leagues.

Last season, Peacock started the year with Double-A Harrisburg and he struck-out 129 hitters in 98.2 innings. After a promotion to Triple-A, Peacock posted a 5-1 record with a 3.19 ERA featuring his hard-breaking knuckle curve and low-to-mid-90s fastball. In a late season major league audition, Peacock made two starts, allowing just seven hits in 12 innings. The A's are hoping some seasoning in Triple-A can help Peacock regain the command that allowed him to be a dominant pitcher in 2011.

Consistency in his preparation will allow Peacock to have more command when the rubber meets the road.

"If I do it in the bullpen, I'll do it in the game," he said.

Who's Hot

Eight River Cats had a batting average better than .300 entering Saturday. Grant Green (.286) was one of the few regulars in the lineup below the mark, but he made up for it by being second on the team in RBIs with eight. The only club hitting better in the Pacific Coast League is the defending champion Omaha Storm Chasers.

Michael Taylor is Sacramento's hottest hitter, going .395/.442/.632 with a 1073 OPS to start the year. His 11 RBIs have him tied for fourth in the PCL, while he leads the league with six doubles.

It's another important year for Taylor, who has the opportunity to prove his worth to the organization after not quite living up to the remarkable numbers he posted in Philadelphia system before being acquired by the A's.

Brandon Moss, Jermaine Mitchell, Derek Norris, Stephen Parker and Chris Carter are all off to hot starts, as well. Norris' eight extra-base hits are good for second in the league, while Parker is third in walks with seven. The team has been cashing in on bases-loaded opportunities at an immense rate early in the year, hitting .714 with 16 runs driven-in in those situations. Eight of those RBIs came on grand slams from Green and Daric Barton.

The team already has 119 at-bats with runners in scoring position, and the River Cats are batting .286 with 52 driven in nine games with runners in scoring position.

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