Photo by Kimberly Contreras

Nashville Notebook: Sounds heating up

The Nashville Sounds have recovered from a slow start to inch into first place in the American Southern division despite several transactions impacting the roster.

Overview

After a slow start to the season, the Nashville Sounds are suddenly playing like a team loaded with top prospects. Winners of nine of their last 10 going into Wednesday night, the Sounds are five games above the .500 mark and have a half-game lead atop the PCL’s American Southern division.

The Sounds’ pitching has been excellent all season, but it has been a resurgence from the offense over the past few weeks that has fueled their recent run of success. Nashville is averaging 5.2 runs per game over their last 10 games, which have come versus foes from the PCL’s Pacific divisions, where the A’s had made their PCL home for years before moving their affiliation to Nashville.

Despite the recent offensive uptick, the Sounds are still near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories. They sit second-to-last (.237) in average and third-to-last (682) in team OPS. They are in the middle-of-the-pack in homeruns (36), but third-to-last in walks (136). The power may be coming, however, as the Sounds are third in the league in doubles (88). Nashville has mostly been a non-factor on the bases, making only 18 attempts to steal (and succeeding in 16 of them). 

Despite the A’s making liberal use of the Sounds’ pitching staff in May, Nashville has had the best staff in the PCL by a wide margin. Their team ERA of 3.07 is best in the league by nearly a full run and their league-best WHIP (1.17) is .07 better than the next best staff. The Sounds also lead the league in strike-outs (396) and have issued the second-fewest walks (119) and allowed the second-fewest homeruns (27).

Nashville is currently in the middle of a four-game set in Las Vegas, having taken the first two games of the series. On Friday, the Sounds travel to Salt Lake City to take on the Bees for four games before returning home to Nashville to take on Round Rock.

Comings and Goings

April was a relatively quiet month for transactions for the Sounds, but May has been anything but thus far – and the transactions promise to continue over the next several days. A’s infielder Jed Lowrie completed a short rehab stint with Nashville this week and was activated from the DL on Wednesday. His return to Oakland prompted the A’s to return utilityman Max Muncy to Nashville. Muncy spent a little more than a week on the A’s roster and appeared in two games. Josh Phegley and Henderson Alvarez have also rehabbed with the Sounds this month.

The A’s also recalled RHP Zach Neal on Wednesday to make the start versus the Seattle Mariners. This will be Neal’s second stint with Oakland this month. He had a relief appearance versus Boston on May 11. Neal will be making his first major league start and currently has the PCL’s fifth-lowest ERA (2.53). With the addition of Neal to the A’s roster, Oakland sent reliever Daniel Coulombe back to Nashville after a short stay. Coulombe threw effectively in the A’s Tuesday night loss to Seattle. He has had two stints with the A’s this month, appearing in three games. 

All told, the Sounds have sent 10 different players to the A’s this month, and several of those players have made multiple trips to the big leagues. Tyler Ladendorf, Matt McBride, Jake Smolinski, Neal, Jesse Hahn and Andrew Triggs remain with the A’s as of Wednesday morning. The A’s have sent several players to Nashville for reinforcements. 2015 draft pick Jordan Devencenzi joined the Sounds from extended spring training on May 13 when Nashville lost McBride to Oakland and Bruce Maxwell to an arm injury. Until Maxwell returned from the DL earlier this week, Devencenzi and Bryan Anderson were the Sounds’ catching duo.

Nashville has also added several players from Double-A Midland as reinforcements. With the A’s using several starters from the Sounds’ staff this month, Oakland promoted RHP Daniel Mengden on May 1. On May 10, the Sounds added Midland reliever Aaron Kurcz. A week later, hot-hitting infielder Ryon Healy joined the Nashville roster, and over the weekend, Midland teammates Jaycob Brugman and Ryan Doolittle joined him.

Who’s Hot?

The entire Nashville pitching staff – for the most part – has been red-hot this month (and really all season). Since joining the rotation on May 1, Daniel Mengden has allowed just two runs in 27 innings. PCL hitters are batting just .167 against him and he has struck-out 23. Mengden was outstanding in Double-A in April, but he has been even better in Triple-A. He has lowered his walk rate significantly from 12.9% to 4% and his WHIP is down to 0.74.

Zach Neal has also been lights out this month. In three starts for Nashville, he has allowed just two runs in 21.1 innings. Neal’s WHIP in May is 0.57. Rotation-mate Chris Smith had a rough April, but his ERA is 2.39 for May and he is among the league leaders in strike-outs for the year.

Out of the bullpen, Daniel Coulombe and Patrick Schuster are working on perfect months for the Sounds. In between stints with the A’s, Coulombe has thrown 5.1 scoreless innings for Nashville. He has nine strike-outs and one walk for that stretch. On the year, Coulombe has allowed just one earned run in 16 Triple-A innings. Schuster has 9.1 scoreless innings this month, although he has struck-out six and walked five. He has allowed all of two runs in 19.2 innings this season.

Tucker Healy continues to dominate out of the Nashville bullpen, as well. He has allowed two runs in 7.2 innings this month, but he has 11 strike-outs and only one walk. For the season, Healy has a 2.60 ERA and a 28:6 K:BB in 17.1 innings.

Corner infielder Rangel Ravelo has had a strong month of May after a quiet April. He is batting .321/.381/.536 with a 6:7 BB:K. After a very slow start to the season, Matt Olson may finally be hitting his stride, as well. He is batting .378 over his last 10 games and .260/.348/.403 in May.

Max Muncy’s time with the Sounds was interrupted with his stint in Oakland, but he was hitting .275 with a .422 OBP in May before being called up. Bruce Maxwell has a .438 OBP in May, although his playing time has been limited this month by injury. Renato Nunez is second amongst A’s minor leaguers this month with four homeruns. Ryon Healy has been with the team for a little more than a week, but he is already making an impact, hitting .391 with three extra-base hits and a walk in six games. 


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