Following the North Division's defeat of the South in the Texas League All-Star Game, the Midland Rockhounds looked to rebound from their third place finish in the first half. Unfortunately, Midland hasn't fared well in 11 games since the All-Star break. The team is 5-6 during that span and 6-11 overall in the second half. Before Thursday's game, the ‘Hounds were sitting in last place in the Texas League South Division, 6.5 games back of the first place San Antonio Missions (13-5).
The Rockhounds have been involved in four series since the break. First the team went on a six-game road trip to both Arkansas and Springfield, Mo. In Arkansas, Midland took two out of three from the Travelers, but they went on to lose two of three against the Cardinals. The ‘Hounds just finished up a five-game homestand where they defeated Arkansas twice in three chances and were swept by Springfield.
The Rockhounds have seen late inning drama in three of their last five games. Last Thursday, the Travelers scratched across a run in the 10th inning to break a 1-1 tie. Arkansas won the game 2-1. Starter Fabio Castro was brilliant for Midland. He pitched 7.0 innings and allowed one earned run while striking out six. The next day the ‘Hounds returned the favor and won 4-3 in 11 innings. Centerfielder Michael Choice singled on a ground ball to center field and catcher Ryan Lipkin scored the winning run in the bottom of the 11th. Last Sunday Xavier Scruggs smacked his 15th home run in the top of the 11th to give Springfield a 2-1 advantage over Midland. The Cardinals went on to win by that score. The Rockhounds are 3-3 in extra inning games this year.
The Midland offense has struggled to score with men on base. The team batting average has dropped to .247, the second lowest in the Texas League; although, their collective on-base percentage is second in the division (.339). The team's run production has gone down significantly lately. Their runs scored has dropped from second-best on June 22 to fourth (408), which is an average of about 4.7 per game. Midland has also struggled to hit for power. They are next-to-last in homeruns (62). The Rockhounds have drawn the most walks in the division (378) but have also struck-out more than any other team (758). With 82 errors in 87 games, the ‘Hounds have yet to determine how to slow down their defensive struggles. The team's fielding percentage (.971) is last in the league.
The pitching staff has stepped up despite a slowing offense. The team ERA has decreased to 4.19. It's the second-highest in the league, however, but that mark is a 0.22 point drop since June 22's stat (4.41). Midland pitchers have allowed 421 runs (363 earned), also the second-highest total. Walks have been a problem for the team. They have given up 307 free passes this season, ranked third-highest in the Texas League.
After a day-off on Wednesday, the Rockhounds hit the road for a short four-game series with San Antonio then return home to face Corpus Christi.
Comings and Goings
Midland lost some offensive production when Shane Peterson was called up to the Sacramento River Cats last Monday. He was hitting .274 with the ‘Hounds in 48 games. Peterson had 43 hits, scored 27 runs, had 23 RBI and two home runs. He missed nearly a month with an ankle injury. On the same day pitcher Beau Jones was assigned to the Rockhounds after signing a minor league contract. The former Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers prospect had a 7.54 ERA in 22.2 innings for Triple-A New Orleans this season and was released from the Miami Marlins. Jones has served as a reliever out of the bullpen since joining the Rockhounds.
Choice was placed on the temporarily inactive list so that he could travel to Kansas City, Mo., for the All-Star Futures Game. He was activated on Monday.
Third baseman Leonardo Gil and catcher Ryan Ortiz were both sent down to High-A Stockton Ports this week. Gil was hitting .295 in 40 games for Midland. He had 14 RBI and no home runs and was serving as a backup to Miles Head. Ortiz was batting only .167 in 144 at-bats. He had two homeruns and was splitting time with Lipkin.
First baseman Michael Spina was released from the Rockhounds on Thursday. He was hitting .176 through 70 games, but he was tied for the second-most home runs on the team. Spina had driven in 35 runs.
Catcher Beau Taylor and first baseman Matt Rizzotti were assigned to Midland to help replace Ortiz and Spina. Taylor was lighting pitchers up in Stockton. He was batting .328 with three home runs and 34 RBI in 195 at-bats with the Ports. Rizzotti was released from the Minnesota Twins, where he hit .225 with the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats and .246 with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings.
The ‘Hounds lost reliever Trey Barham to the 7-Day Disabled list on Thursday after he sprained his left elbow. He was 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA. Barham also had a short stint with Sacramento where he scuffed through 9.2 innings with a 13.97 ERA.
No one has been hotter over their last 10 games than first baseman Anthony Aliotti. He is hitting at a .417 clip with six RBI, nine walks and one home run. Five of his 15 hits during this span have gone for extra bases. Aliotti has raised his season batting average to .301, seventh-best in the Texas League, and he is the only Rockhound hitting better than .300. He currently has the highest OPS and slugging percentage on the team (838 OPS and .426 slugging). The East Bay native has the best on-base percentage on the ‘Hounds roster and is behind only Dean Anna of San Antonio for the league lead (.412).
Choice and Josh Horton have also been on hot streaks as of late. Choice is hitting .302 in his last 10 games. He has recorded 13 hits and five RBI along with a double, triple and a homerun. Horton is only batting .253 for the year but is smacking the baseball at better than a .340 clip in his last 10 games. He has had five multi-hit games in 41 plate appearances during this span. Horton is tied for the team lead in homeruns (8).
Carlos Hernandez and Brett Hunter have had their fare share of good outings lately. In his last 22.1 innings. Hernandez has given up a mere four earned runs and no homeruns. His season stats include two wins, a 6.38 ERA and 33 strike-outs in 42.1 innings. Hunter has pitched 11.2 innings and allowed just three earned runs. He has been a strike-out thrower all season with 31 of them in 31.2 innings pitched.
Closer Jonathan Ortiz has had only one bad outing in his last 10 appearances. Other than allowing five earned runs against the Missions on June 15, Ortiz has been almost perfect. He has given up one earned run in his last 10.0 innings and has fanned seven batters.