Gulf Coast League Cardinals Notebook: Week 4

More scouting reports plus all the news from the back fields of Jupiter, Florida about the St. Louis Cardinals' Gulf Coast League club. Max Foody, Michael Wacha, Adam Ehrlich, Yoenny Gonzalez and David Popkins are among the featured players.

Comings and goings
Veteran left-handed reliever Brian Fuentes, signed by the Cardinals on Saturday after the four-time All-Star was released by Oakland, will begin a predetermined seven-day Minor League program in the Gulf Coast League. Fuentes, 36, will work on some mechanical adjustments while also shaking off some rust (he hasn't pitched in a game since June 30).

RHP Silfredo Garcia, who had dominated in four GCL starts, was promoted to Johnson City.

RHP Anderson Gerdel, who made one relief appearance for the Palm Beach Cardinals while on loan to the Class A Advanced team, was returned.

2B Brett Wiley, sent to Class A Quad Cities for a week, also returned.

LHP Josh Renfro and RHP Chris Thomas were suspended for violation of team rules. Manager Steve Turco said it would be at least a week before they would be available to pitch again.

LHP Nick Additon, who was 3-7, 4.68 ERA with Triple A Memphis before being sidelined in mid-June by left shoulder tendinitis, pitched three scoreless innings Wednesday against the Astros in his first rehab start in the GCL. Additon, who threw 29 strikes in 42 pitches, said afterward that he felt fine and will start again Monday before heading back to Memphis.

C Cody Stanley, on a rehab assignment from Class A Advanced Palm Beach, went 3-for-10 in three games.

Weekly Recap
The Gulf Coast League Cardinals (17-7) extended their winning streak to nine with a 1-0 win over the Nationals on Monday, but split their two-game sets with the Nationals, Astros and Marlins for an even-steven week. Four of the six games were decided by one run, including all three Cardinals wins. The only team in the GCL East with a winning record, the Cardinals lead the Astros and Nationals by 6.5 games and the Marlins by 7.

In a reverse of the previous week, the Cardinals outhit their opponents 50 to 45, but were outscored 25 to 18. A big reason for that was their 15 errors, compared with eight by opponents.

Leading off the top of the first inning of Monday's game vs. the Nationals at Viera, Anthony Bryant reached base on an error, stole second, advanced to third on Yoenny Gonzalez's ground out to first and, after Luis Perez struck out, scored on a wild pitch for the game's only run.

Hansel De Los Santos pitched five shutout innings, allowing four hits and a walk, to get the win. Ramon Ulacio, who had given up 12 earned runs in nine innings over his previous three appearances, pitched the first of two relief outings this week in which he did not allow an earned run.

The game of the week, however, was Wednesday's comeback win at home over the Astros, which overshadowed first-round draft pick Michael Wacha's pro debut. Managers in the GCL rarely make strategic substitutions, such as pinch-hitting a right-handed batter for a lefty hitter against a lefty pitcher.

In fact, before this game Turco and Astros manager Tripp Keister talked with each other about their approach to managing at this level, agreeing they prefer to "let them play," because players often learn more from their failures than successes. Ironically, they then managed this contest like it was a crucial playoff game.

While mounting the Cardinals' late-inning comeback, Turco used four pinch-hitters, mostly to counter a couple of strategic pitching changes Keister made.

Like many barnburners, the game began slowly. The Cardinals' rehab starter, Nick Additon, looked like the Triple-A pitcher he is, toying with rookie-level batters. He yielded only two singles while fanning three in three innings.

Of Additon's 42 pitches, 29 were strikes.

Wacha's debut
Wacha did the same in his first two pro innings. After his first frame went 1-2-3, Wacha gave up two singles starting his second inning. After a sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third, he struck out the next two batters.

Wacha needed only 17 pitches for his two innings, 13 of them strikes. He threw a dozen fastballs ranging from 93 to 95 mph, three curveballs and two changeups. Meanwhile, the Cardinals scored single runs in the fourth and fifth, so Wacha was in line for the win when he departed.

But the first four Astros batters Burny Mitchem faced in the top of the sixth lined hard singles, and all four eventually scored. Juan Caballero was tagged with a two-run home run in the first of his two innings of work, putting the Astros ahead 6-2.

The Cardinals got those two runs back in the bottom half. Rafael Medina hit an infield single and Jacoby Almaraz walked. Gonzalez singled to left to load the bases, prompting Keister to replace right-hander Rodney Quintero with left-hander Ambiorix De Leon. Turco countered with lefty-swinging Jem Argenal hitting for Corderius Dodd, but that backfired when Argenal hit into a 3-6-3 double play, though Medina scored on the play.

Then Turco sent up righty-hitting Amaury Capellan to bat for the left-handed Bryant. Capellan grounded out, but not before De Leon uncorked a wild pitch that scored Almaraz.

Though Caballero struggled through a second inning in the eighth, walking two and hitting a batter, he escaped the jam with the help of a rare 5-2 double play when third baseman Medina fielded a grounder one step behind the bag, stepped on it for one out and then threw to catcher Jose Gomez, who tagged the runner coming in.

The Cardinals went down in order in the eighth, after which Turco brought in Anderson Gerdel to pitch the ninth.

Gerdel has been something of a good-luck charm so far this season. After taking the loss on Opening Day because of an unearned run, he made three more shut-down relief appearances and was the winning pitcher in each.

Gerdel did his job again Wednesday, allowing one hit but no runs. And once again, the Cardinals rallied to give him the win.

Adam Ehrlich opened the ninth with a double. With the right-handed Medina due up, Keister replaced De Leon with right-hander Juan Mojica. Turco again countered Keister's move, this time sending up David Popkins to pinch-hit. Popkins flied out. After a wild pitch sent Ehrlich to third, lefty-hitting Almaraz reached on an infield single that scored Ehrlich. Daniel Barbuena, representing the tying run, pinch-ran for Almaraz, and advanced to second on a single up the middle by Gonzalez.

Argenal's ground out to first moved Barbuena to third and Gonzalez, the potential winning run, to second. Then Capellan, who pinch-hit in the seventh, ended the game with a single to right that scored both runners.

"I was all out of moves," Turco said after the game.

Gerdel's run of receiving the decision in five consecutive relief appearances ended Saturday with a two-inning save against the Marlins.

Max Foody, the Cardinals' 12th-round pick in June, made his pro debut with two perfect innings in a start Thursday against the Astros in Kissimmee. Foody, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound lefthander, is missing the top knuckle of his left index finger, which he lost when he was 14 in an accident involving the chain of his dirt bike.

Foody, who turned 19 last month, said the shortened finger gives his fastball a natural sink, much like former Major League reliever Bob Wickman, who lost the tip of his right index finger in a childhood farming accident. In fact, in 2007 Foody met Wickman, who was then with the Atlanta Braves near the end of his 15-year Major League career, during which he compiled 267 saves. Foody said Wickman gave him some encouraging words. Foody started pitching that summer before he started high school, the same summer he grew eight inches and gained 70 pounds.

A Closer Look at …
By the end of the GCL season, we will have at least one report on every player who appears in a GCL Cardinals game. These assessments are based on interviews with Cardinals manager Steve Turco.

Adam Ehrlich: Back for a second season in the GCL, the 19-year-old lefty-swinging catcher has shown improvement in receiving and throwing, but his offensive tools are still ahead of his defensive skills. "When his mechanics are right, he shows better arm strength," Turco said. "As long as he keeps improving, he has a chance to play at higher levels." Ehrlich, the Cardinals' sixth-round pick last year out of Campbell Hall High School in suburban Los Angeles, has a mature approach at the plate and a good understanding of hitting. "He gives quality at-bats more often than not," Turco said. Ehrlich is working to improve his mobility and flexibility behind the plate and is doing a better job of funneling pitches into the strike zone.

Yoenny Gonzalez: The 5-foot-9, 170-pound switch-hitting 20-year-old from Miami was the Cardinals' eighth-round pick last month out of the College of Central Florida. "A good little player," Turco said. He is the type who needs to "play small ball, get on base, move runners over, bunt." Gonzalez, who understands the role of a leadoff hitter, has a more compact swing from the left side, Turco said, which has translated to more success against right-handed pitchers – a .339 on-base mark, compared with .267 against lefties. He's a good base runner who has stolen eight bases in nine attempts. Defensively, "by design he's a center fielder, but can play all three outfield positions," Turco said. "He throws well enough to play right field and has a good feel for what he's doing in the outfield."

David Popkins: The 6-foot-1, 210-pound outfielder from University of California-Davis was signed this summer as a non-drafted free agent. The 22-year-old from San Diego acclimated himself fairly quickly and is a fast learner. "He has been a pleasant surprise," Turco said of Popkins, who is hitting .353 with a .936 OPS. Popkins "works hard, doesn't complain and swings pretty well from both sides," though most of his at-bats so far have been as a lefty hitter. Popkins has some pop in his bat "for extra-base hits, though not necessarily home run power," Turco said. "He doesn't swing and miss much anymore and he's not afraid to have two strikes." Defensively, "Popkins catches what he gets to and makes the routine plays, but he has a left-fielder's arm," Turco said. "He has an appreciation of where he's at and what he's doing," the manager said. "He's turned out to be an asset to the team, a consummate professional even though he's been a professional only a short time."

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