Sacramento Notes: Position & Rotation Shifts

The Sacramento River Cats are only two games out of first heading into Wednesday's action. The River Cats' roster has seen some major overhauls over the past few weeks, impacting their infield and starting rotation in particular. In this edition of our Sacramento Notebook, we look at a position move for Eric Sogard, as well as the impact of Travis Banwart and Bobby Cramer on the rotation.

Sogard's Glove To Be Tested At Short

When the Oakland A's made a trade with the San Diego Padres in January to acquire third-baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, they also picked up a minor league infielder named Eric Sogard. Sogard came to the A's with a much lower profile than the major league veteran Kouzmanoff, but that profile has been on the rise thanks to a solid 2010 campaign with Triple-A Sacramento.

Sogard, an Arizona State alum, was a second-round pick of the Padres in 2007. He moved quickly through the Padres' system, even playing one game in Triple-A in 2007. He spent the entire 2009 season in the Double-A Texas League, where he hit .293 for the San Antonio Missions.

The Phoenix, Arizona, native has been a consistent presence in a constantly changing River Cats' line-up this season. He survived a horrible April, during which he hit only .234, and he is currently batting a solid .291 with a .378 OBP. Sogard also sports a 1:1 K:BB ratio with 61 walks and strike-outs in 118 games.

A natural second baseman, Sogard has spent most of the season at that position. Sacramento manager Tony DeFrancesco had high praise for Sogard's work at second base.

"For me, he's a Gold Glove second baseman. He's been making plays at second base all year and he's been the most consistent turning double-plays and I think there is no doubt he can be a major league second baseman," DeFrancesco said on Sunday.

Recently, Sogard has been moved to shortstop to accommodate a River Cats' roster that lost shortstop Steven Tolleson to a major league promotion and gained prospect Adrian Cardenas from Double-A. Cardenas is expected to see a lot of time at both second and third base.

DeFrancesco acknowledges that moving to a new position this late in the season is no easy task.

"I think in a pinch he can play there, but until he gets comfortable with his throws and his arm release and his accuracy, there are going to be some struggles. This is a whole different look for him right now," DeFrancesco said.

River Cats Feature Revamped Rotation Down-the-Stretch

Injuries have been a problem for the Sacramento starting rotation of late, and the River Cats are looking at a revamped starting five for the stretch run. Rotation members Tyson Ross, Kyle Middleton and Lenny DiNardo are currently at various stages of rehabbing arm injuries and Travis Blackley has just returned to the roster after missing six weeks with bone chips in his throwing elbow.

Clayton Mortensen is the only Opening Day Sacramento starter still with the team. Veteran John Halama has been with the team since May and has eaten innings, but his ERA is close to 6.00 in 13 starts. With Ross on the DL, Travis Banwart is the youngest member of the rotation and he is an arm that the River Cats will be relying on down-the-stretch.

Banwart, the A's 2007 fourth-round pick, began the year in Double-A Midland, but he earned a promotion to Triple-A after posting a 2.92 ERA in 83.1 innings. Since arriving in Sacramento, Banwart has been inconsistent. He has struck-out more than a batter an inning (51 Ks in 50 innings), but batters have hit .294 off of him and his ERA is 5.58. He pitched well in his last outing for the River Cats, not allowing a run in six innings against Omaha. DeFrancesco sees more starts like that one in Banwart's future if he can continue to show good fastball command.

"We are going to need this guy to give us quality innings and he did that for us [on Sunday]," DeFrancesco said.

"He had been throwing a lot of sliders and I think today he had more fastball command and a good put-away slider. He has been more aggressive in the ‘zone the last couple of outings, but I think his numbers are going to improve once he uses his fastball a little bit more and has the slider he can put guys away with."

Another hurler DeFrancesco will be relying on during the final weeks of the season is left-hander Bobby Cramer, who joined the club on August 6th after a wildly successful season in the Mexican League. Cramer was signed by the A's as a minor league free agent in 2007 and he posted a 2.77 ERA in 97.1 innings and pitched in the post-season for Sacramento that year. However, Cramer developed shoulder soreness that off-season and was released by the A's before the 2008 campaign. He pitched well in the independent Golden Baseball League in 2008 and was re-signed in 2009. He split the season between Sacramento and Midland, posting a 3.88 ERA in 62.2 innings. His season ended early with an injury, however.

This off-season the A's loaned Cramer to Tigres de Quintana Roo of the Mexican Summer League. He dominated for the Tigres, going 13-3 with a 2.95 ERA and 123 strike-outs against only 27 walks in 128 innings. Cramer had five complete games and three shutouts.

When injuries continued to mount on the River Cats' pitching staff, the A's brought Cramer back to the States and placed him into the Sacramento rotation. After a rough first start in which he allowed two runs on eight hits in four innings, Cramer has allowed only two earned runs on 14 hits in 11 innings over his next two outings. He has struck-out 14 and walked one over that stretch.

"The first outing, he didn't have command of any pitches, but the second outing he looked like he could pitch at this level," DeFrancesco said before Cramer's third start on Tuesday.

"He had good fastball command and good breaking pitches. He's a soft throwing lefty with a good breaking ball, so hopefully he is going to keep us in the game. He's getting an opportunity now to see what he can do."

Through Tuesday, the River Cats were two games out of first place behind the Fresno Grizzlies.

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