Sacramento Notebook: Back On Top

The Sacramento River Cats got off to a slow start, but they are back to playing first-place caliber baseball. We catch-up with the Oakland A's Triple-A affiliate in this latest team notebook.


The Sacramento River Cats are back on top.

With eight wins in their last 10 games, the River Cats have a half-game lead in the Pacific Coast League's Northern Division through Sunday. Sacramento has struggled as a team on the road (6-13), but they have been a juggernaut within the friendly confides of Raley Field (18-6). With the PCL's Pacific Conference, the River Cats own the second-best record behind the red-hot Las Vegas 51's (31-12).

Sacramento has produced well at the plate this season, scoring the third-most runs of any team in the PCL through Sunday. They are last in the league in homers, but the River Cats are third in doubles, first in walks and second in on-base percentage. Sacramento hasn't run all that often, but when they have, they have been overwhelmingly successful (30 stolen bases in 35 attempts). They have also put a lot of balls in play and have the third-fewest strike-outs of any team in the PCL.

The River Cats' pitching staff has struggled, however. Sacramento is currently carrying the fourth-highest team ERA (5.28) trailing only Salt Lake, Albuquerque and Tacoma. They have allowed 1.59 base-runners per inning pitched, second-most in the league, and they have given up 440 hits in 373.1 innings pitched. The River Cast' starting rotation, in particular, has been hit hard by injuries and promotions this season.

Sacramento is set to face-off with El Paso for four games at Raley Field starting on Monday night. After that, Sacramento will face a tough four-game road series in Las Vegas.

Comings and Goings

Fernando Rodriguez is up in Oakland after a strong start with Sacramento.

As is always the case, the Sacramento River Cats have had plenty of transactions thanks in part to needs at the major league level and also to injuries on their own roster. The A's have also made a few trades and waiver claims that have impacted Sacramento's roster.

On the trade and waiver wire fronts, the A's made several moves over the past few weeks. On May 4, Oakland claimed outfielder Nick Buss off of waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Buss was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento. To make room for him on the roster, the A's transferred the option of outfielder Kent Matthes from Sacramento to Double-A Midland.

On May 15, Oakland acquired outfielder Kyle Blanks from the San Diego Padres. Although Blanks was in Triple-A at the time of the deal, he was immediately added to the A's 25-man roster. The deal still made an impact on Sacramento, however, as outfielder Jake Goebbert – who was one of the River Cats' top hitters at the time – was the chip the A's used to acquire Blanks. In addition, the A's DFA'd first baseman Daric Barton to make room for Blanks on the 25-man roster. Barton cleared waivers and was outrighted to Sacramento.

On Sunday, the A's claimed left-hander Jeff Francis off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds. Like Blanks, Francis was immediately added to the A's 25-man roster, but the move still altered the River Cats' roster. Left-hander Joe Savery, who had been added to the A's roster from Sacramento on May 9, was optioned back to Sacramento to make room for Francis in Oakland.

On May 9, the River Cats lost Savery and right-hander Fernando Rodriguez to promotions to Oakland. Both had been valuable members of the River Cats' bullpen. Sacramento will have Savery's services again soon, and it is likely that Rodriguez will return to Sacramento when A's reliever Ryan Cook is activated from the disabled list. He is eligible to return in five days.

Injuries have taken a big cut out of the River Cats' starting rotation. At the beginning of spring training, Sacramento's rotation was projected to include several pitchers with major league experience. However, season-ending injuries to Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin changed that. Then the A's signed veteran Joe Blanton to a minor league deal, only to see him retire after just two starts with Sacramento.

Right-handers Sean Murphy and Zach Neal – both projected to be part of the Midland RockHounds' rotation at the start of spring – have been pressed into service as starters for Sacramento because of those injuries. Neal has a 4.86 ERA in six starts since his promotion from Midland. Murphy, however, has struggled (7.18 ERA) and he was placed on the disabled list on May 15. Starter Josh Lindblom was also placed on the Sacramento DL on May 15. Reliever Jeff Urlaub and infielder Colin Walsh were promoted from Sacramento to take Murphy and Lindblom's spots on the roster.

To address the lack of depth in the River Cats' rotation, the A's acquired right-hander Marcus Walden via a waiver claim from the Toronto Blue Jays in mid April. Walden has six starts for Sacramento since his acquisition. In addition, right-hander Dan Straily has been added to the River Cats' rotation after getting off to a slow start with Oakland. The River Cats also brought back starter Matt Buschmann, who missed several weeks on the disabled list and had two rehab starts with High-A Stockton in early May.

The River Cats haven't had as much movement on the position-player side of the roster. Conner Crumbliss, Matthes, Hiroyuki Nakajima and Anthony Aliotti have been sent down to Midland since the start of the year and Goebbert was traded. In April, Sacramento added infielder Andy Parrino and catcher Phil Pohl, who helped hold down the front behind the plate while Stephen Vogt rehabbed an oblique injury. Vogt returned on May 12, but Pohl has remained on the River Cats' roster.

Who's Hot

Shane Peterson has been a steady force for Sacramento.

An unlikely group of players are leading the River Cats' offense. While Shane Peterson has been known for his bat throughout his career, Alden Carrithers, Tyler Ladendorf and Andy Parrino haven't always been thought of as offensive-weapons. Those four currently lead the team in OPS now that Jake Goebbert is with the Padres' organization.

Parrino has been red-hot since returning to the A's organization. In 91 at-bats with Sacramento, he is carrying a .363/.448/.407 line. He has also continued to play outstanding defense.

Carrithers, in his first season with the A's, is second on the team behind catcher Ryan Ortiz in on-base percentage. Carrithers has a .424 mark and a 25:14 BB:K. Ortiz, who was the River Cats' primary catcher with Vogt on the DL, has a .427 OBP in 84 at-bats. He has a 23:25 BB:K.

Ladendorf began the year with Double-A Midland but was promoted to Sacramento before the season even started. He has been another player with impressive walk totals (21 in 35 games), and he currently carries a .303/.413/.437 line.

Peterson has likely positioned himself as the A's top option if they lose an outfielder to the disabled list with his strong start to the season. Playing centerfield, Peterson has a .311/.408/.427 line. He has 26 walks in 42 games and is a perfect seven-for-seven in stolen bases. Peterson struggled badly for Sacramento last May, but he has an 862 OPS in May thus far this year.

First baseman Nate Freiman had an April to forget, but he has been red-hot in May. After hitting .204 with a 593 OPS in April, Freiman has busted out to the tune of a .338/.397/.662 line in May. He has five homers in 65 May at-bats. Freiman leads the team with 38 RBI.

Infielder Jose Martinez is also having a strong May after a disappointing April. Martinez, in his first year with the A's, is batting .377/.431/.528 in 53 May at-bats. On the season, he has a 19:12 BB:K.

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