After a slow start, the Nashville Sounds got back to .500 this week with a five-game winning streak. They fell back below that mark with a loss on Wednesday, but the Sounds are looking more like the team that led the Pacific Coast League in wins last season. Going into game three of their series against Round Rock on Thursday, the Sounds are 11-12 and three games back of first-place Memphis in the American Southern division.
Offense was hard to come by at times early in the season, but the Sounds have been swinging the bats well of late. Their team OPS of 767 ranks seventh out of 16 PCL teams. Nashville is tied for second in the league in strike-outs, but sixth in OBP and SLG. Nashville is fifth in the league in homers with 27 in their first 27 games.
The Sounds’ pitching staff also got off to a slow start, but Nashville allowed only nine runs during their five-game winning streak. The team ERA of 3.74 is fifth in the PCL. Nashville pitchers have walked the fewest batters in the league (62 in 211.2) while striking out the eighth-most (200). Nashville pitchers have been efficient with their base-runners; they are second in the league with a team WHIP of 1.20.
Nashville plays two more games at Round Rock before returning home to face El Paso on Saturday.
Comings and Goings
As has been the case the past few seasons, the A’s have relied heavily on their Triple-A roster for reinforcements when injuries have struck their big league roster. This week alone, the Sounds have lost catcher Bruce Maxwell and relievers Bobby Wahl and Josh Smith to promotions to Oakland. In return, Ryan LaMarre and Raul Alcantara have joined the Sounds’ roster from Oakland and Jaycob Brugman – the Sounds’ MVP in 2016 – arrived from Extended Spring Training, where he was rehabbing a leg injury. Chris Jensen – who joined the Sounds in early April – lost his spot on the Nashville roster when Alcantara was added and utilityman Melvin Mercedes returned to Midland to make room for Brugman.
In April, the Sounds sent Chad Pinder, Matt Olson, Maxwell, Jaff Decker, Jesse Hahn and Cesar Valdez to Oakland. Hahn, Pinder, Decker and Maxwell are currently with the A’s (Maxwell re-joined Oakland on Thursday), while Olson is back with Nashville and Valdez is currently in limbo after being designated for assignment on Wednesday. Mark Canha began the season on the A’s roster, but he was optioned back to Nashville on April 15.
Sounds’ third baseman Matt Chapman missed much of the month of April with a wrist injury he sustained during the second game of the season. Chapman returned to the active roster on April 22 after nearly two weeks on the shelf. Joey Wendle missed the start of the season with a right shoulder strain he sustained during spring training. He re-joined the Sounds on April 19. Andrew Lambo landed on the DL on April 24.
The Sounds’ rotation has changed significantly since Opening Day thanks to injuries in Oakland. Hahn began the season in the Sounds’ rotation but never made a start for Nashville before being called-up to Oakland, and Valdez made only two starts for Nashville before his promotion and subsequent DFA. With Alcantara joining the rotation, the Sounds’ starting five currently consists of Daniel Gossett, Paul Blackburn, Zach Neal, Chris Smith and Alcantara. Corey Walter received a brief call-up from Midland and made one spot start and the Sounds also received a rehab start from A’s right-hander Sonny Gray.
Since the start of the season, Franklin Barreto has been one of the hottest hitters in the PCL. Through Wednesday, Barreto’s .372 average was fifth in the league and his 1010 OPS was seventh. He does lead the league in strike-outs, but Barreto, normally a slow starter, has otherwise had an outstanding start to his year at the plate. In the field, Barreto has shown improvement at both shortstop and second base. His promotion to the big leagues could be coming in a matter of weeks.
After a slow start, Renato Nunez is red-hot at the plate. Nunez has homered in four straight games and in five of his last seven games. His seven homeruns are tied for third most in the league and his 924 OPS is 15th-best in the PCL. Nunez recently had a three-walk game and he has 10 walks on the season. He walked only 31 times all of last season. Nunez played a lot of third baseman when Chapman was on the disabled list, but he has seen time mostly in left field and DH since Chapman returned.
With Maxwell spending some time in the big leagues, Ryan Lavarnway has seen regular playing time both behind the plate and DH for Nashville. He has hit well, batting .304 with an 873 OPS in 16 games.
Canha really struggled when he was with Oakland in April, but he has hit the ball with authority since his return to Triple-A. He has connected for four homeruns over his last seven games and he has a .278/.349/.523 line since his demotion. Olson appeared in only one game during his brief stint with the A’s in late April, but he has been swinging the bat well of late for Nashville. He is batting .300 over his last 10 games with two homers and seven walks.
On the pitching side, Blackburn is pitching well out of the rotation for the Sounds in the early going. He allowed five runs in 4.2 innings on Wednesday, but before that had allowed just four earned runs in 22 innings over four starts. Chris Smith has also been effective in the rotation. In four starts since taking Hahn’s spot in the rotation, Smith has allowed just five runs in 20.2 innings. He has a 15:4 K:BB and a 2.18 ERA.