The Springfield Cardinals started their 2011 season with a three-game set against perennial Texas League power, the Frisco Rough Riders. Springfield sent Scott Schneider to the hill in the Thursday opener and he went four innings, surrendering five runs on four hits and was tagged with the loss, as the Cardinals fell, 6-2. Michael Bianucci tagged the Cardinals' pitchers for two home runs on the way to driving in three runs. The Cardinals got both of their runs via solo home runs, one from Alex Castellanos and the other from Niko Vasquez. Both were making their Double-A debuts.
Springfield dropped Friday night's game in extra innings, 7-6. The Cardinals held the lead entering the bottom of the ninth inning when Casey Mulligan was called into the ballgame. Mulligan struggled in Springfield last season, but was almost automatic after being demoted to High-A Palm Beach, converting all 12 save opportunities and only giving up one earned run in 29 2/3 innings. However, his Texas League troubles would persist for at least one more night, as he allowed the tying run to score. Richard Castillo took the loss in the 10th inning while making his first relief appearance since 2009, though the winning run was unearned.
The Cardinals avoided the sweep Saturday night, beating Frisco 5-3 as Steven Hill hit his first home run of the season and Cory Rauschenberger saw his first Double-A action since 2008. Rauschenberger entered the game in the fifth inning. Though he allowed the tying run to score, the offense would rally and reward him with the win.
Springfield entered Midland to take on a red hot RockHounds club, and the Cardinals didn't do much to cool them off. Midland had swept a three-game set with the Arkansas Travelers to open the season and they kept the streak going with a series-opening win against Springfield, 6-5 in 10 innings. Ramon Delgado worked the final frame and allowed the winning run to cross the plate, as he was saddled with Sunday's loss.
The Cardinals took game two of the series on Monday behind a solid pitching performance from Mike Blazek. Blazek, who was making his Double-A debut, went seven innings and gave up just three runs to earn the win. Casey Mulligan came in to nail down his second save of the season.
On get-away day on Tuesday in Midland, the Cardinals lost their second straight series as they fell to the RockHounds in 13 innings, 2-1. That dropped Springfield to 0-3 in extra inning games on the young season. Richard Castillo worked three scoreless frames out of the bullpen as he is yet to surrender an earned run. Ryan Kulik pitched 1 1/3 innings in the 12th and 13th innings and took the loss. His baserunner came around to score on a Brett Zawacki wild pitch.
Ryan Jackson - Jackson was the fifth-round selection by the Cardinals in the 2009 draft, from the University of Miami-Florida. Since the time he was drafted, scouts and fans alike have noted his exceptional defense. Many scouts rate him as defensively ready for the big leagues, but the question has been whether or not his bat will be enough. In the first week, you wouldn't know that anyone doubted his ability to hit. Jackson was 12-for-27 (.444) and had three walks, to earn an on-base percentage of an even .500. Oh, and he was flawless defensively.
Tyler Henley - Henley Dominated in Springfield last summer, hitting .367 with three home runs and 12 RBI in 16 games before he was put on the disabled list. He needed Tommy John surgery, which ended his season prematurely. Henley has not yet bounced back the way he, or the way the Cardinals would like. He is just 3-for-18 (.167) at the plate, but one of those hits was a home run.
Collective clutch hitting - The team is hitting just .206 with runners in scoring position, and just .133 (4-for-30) with runners in scoring position with two outs. The Cardinals offense is also 0-for-5 with the bases loaded.
Collective offense - Springfield is last in the Texas League, hitting just .242, with the second lowest run total.
The Cardinal Nation Top 40 Prospect Watch
#40 Niko Vasquez - Vasquez had a solid week, making his Double-A debut. The third baseman hit a home run in his first game in the Texas League. He ended the week hitting .231 with two home runs and was leading the team with five RBI.
#36 Tyler Henley - Henley is hitting .167 with one home run and three RBI.
#34 Ryan Jackson - Jackson is one of the hottest hitters in the Texas League. The shortstop ended his first week in Double-A sporting a .444 batting average and a .500 on-base percentage.
#33 Matt Adams - The first baseman is skipping High-A after posting a line of .310, 22 home runs and 88 RBI for Quad Cities. 2010 was the second straight year that Adams led the Cardinals organization in batting average. He was off to a rough start, starting the season 0-for-9 with two strikeouts. Adams then warmed up a little bit, going 5-for-18 (.277) to close out the road trip. However, strikeouts could be a concern, as he fanned seven times in 27 at bats, which is a rate of 26%.
#31 Steven Hill - Hill is back for a fourth season in the Texas League. He is likely to see more time as the designated hitter this year but so far he has three starts behind the plate, as does Nick Derba. Hill was 5-for-28 (.179) at the plate, but did hit one home run and drive in two.
#23 David Kopp - On the club's seven-day disabled list.
#22 Aaron Luna - The outfielder was 4-for-22 (.182) at the dish, but three of his hits were doubles. Luna had 54 RBI a season ago for Springfield, but after one week of play, he is still searching for his first RBI of 2011.
#19 Tommy Pham - Pham had a tremendous finish to his 2010 season, hitting .339 with three homers and 18 RBI in 38 games with Springfield. In 2011, he is picking up right where he left off. Pham hit .286 with one home run and two RBI in 21 at bats on the road trip through Texas. However, Pham was 6-for-18 (.333) against right-handers and was 0-for-3 against lefties.
#18 Deryk Hooker - Hooker made his Double-A debut this past week, making one start. In that outing, he went 4 1/3 innings, giving up two runs on seven hits. He walked one and struck out one. He threw 75 pitches, 45 (60%) for strikes. Righties are hitting just 2-for-9 (.222) against him.
Around the Texas League
The Cardinals are 2-4, and find themselves looking up at last season's champion, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. Springfield is in the basement of the Texas League North Division, three games out.
The Cardinals are last in the Texas League in hitting, managing just .242. Their pitching is good enough for third-best in the league, with an ERA of 4.26.
Springfield does have a few players at, or near the top of the league leader boards.
Ryan Jackson is fourth in the league with his .444 average. Casey Mulligan is tied for the league lead with two saves. Brett Zawacki has appeared in four games, which leads the league. Scott Schneider is tied for the league lead in strikeouts, with 10. Unfortunately, teammate Alex Castellanos is also up there on the strikeout leader board, but not the one you would like. The outfielder is second in the league having been punched out eight times.
The Cardinals will not have to wait long to try and avenge their losses as they will take on Frisco and Midland in two, three-game sets as the Cardinals open up their home schedule starting on Thursday.
Josh Thompson can be contacted at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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