Memphis Redbirds Notebook: 2014 Week 1

The Pacific Coast League Birds are off to a fast start in 2014, opening with a 5-3 road trip. Their home opener is Friday night.

Note: Our team notebooks are offered free for week one, but throughout the season, they will be available exclusively for subscribers to The Cardinal Nation. For additional details on our locally-based team reporters from across the Cardinals system, click here.

After finishing a game short of the Omaha Storm Chasers for the division crown a season ago, the Memphis Redbirds enter the 2014 season with a retooled roster and hopes of the franchise's first playoff appearance since 2010.

The Redbirds roster is centered around one of the premier outfields in the minor leagues, headlined by Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk and top Cardinals prospect Oscar Taveras. Memphis also has a solid pitching prospect in Tim Cooney, rated as the 12th-best organizational prospect by The Cardinal Nation.

The Redbirds started the season with a 5-3 record on an eight-game road trip against the Iowa Cubs and the Omaha Storm Chasers.

April 3: Memphis at Iowa, Memphis wins 10-2

Memphis kicked off its season with a bang against the Iowa Cubs, as outfielder and Redbirds newcomer Randal Grichuk went yard to left field right from the get-go in the first inning. The home run kick-started the Memphis offense that finished the opening frame with three runs, then later adding two in the fourth and five in the ninth. The 10 runs scored by the Redbirds were the most on Opening Night in franchise history.

Grichuk had about as impressive of a debut as one could hope for, totaling three hits, three runs and three RBI on the day. Infielder Scott Moore registered two hits, including a first inning slam that contributed to the Redbirds' hot start. Moore also notched three RBI.

April 4: Memphis at Iowa, Memphis wins 9-0

For the second night in a row, the Redbirds thrashed the Iowa Cubs. The win was fueled by stellar play both offensively and defensively, with the Memphis hitters totaling nine runs on nine hits and pitcher Angel Castro allowing just two hits in five innings pitched en route to a victory in his Redbirds debut.

Outfielder Oscar Taveras kicked off the scoring in the top of the fourth with a solo shot over the right field wall to put the Redbirds on top 1-0. Memphis added three more runs in the fifth inning, but the real fireworks began in the sixth. That's when second baseman Greg Garcia fired a grand slam to right field to make the score 9-0 and finish off the Cubs. The home run was the second of the evening for Garcia who recorded six RBI.

April 5: Memphis at Iowa, Memphis wins 11-1

Yet again the Redbirds were too much for Iowa to handle as the Redbirds dominated the Cubs in all facets of the game. A first-inning double by Taveras brought home Garcia to get the Redbirds into the scoring column. The contest remained close until the fourth when the birds from the Bluff City took complete control with a six-run inning. Audry Perez sealed the deal in the seventh with a grand slam to left field.

Perez led Memphis hitters with two hits, two runs, a double and five RBI. Grichuk was the only other Redbird to register multiple hits. He finished with two hits, two runs and one RBI. Left-hander Tim Cooney impressed in his Triple-A debut, striking out nine and allowing no earned runs in six innings pitched.

April 6: Memphis at Iowa, Iowa wins 4-3

The Redbirds decimated the Cubs in each of the three previous matchups, yet Memphis was unable to come away with a sweep of the four-game series after surrendering a walk-off RBI single from the bat of Iowa shortstop Chris Valaika.

The loss was no fault of Redbirds starting pitcher Tyler Lyons, who went six innings, striking out four while giving up five hits and one earned run.

The Memphis bullpen was not nearly as effective. Jorge Rondon pitched just one inning but allowed four hits and two earned runs.

Despite holding a 2-1 lead for most of the game, the Redbirds found themselves in a 3-2 hole to start the ninth inning after Rondon's short stint. Memphis quickly tied the game via a Xavier Scruggs triple followed by an Iowa error, but it was all for naught as Valaika drove the winner into centerfield.

April 7: Memphis at Omaha, Omaha wins 3-2

Memphis was handed its second defeat in as many nights in the series-opener against the Omaha Storm Chasers (Royals). The Redbirds were first on the scoreboard when outfielder Stephen Piscotty plated Grichuk on a double driven to left field, but the lead was short-lived with the Storm Chasers scoring two runs in the bottom of the second. Omaha scored again in the third inning to put the Redbirds in a 3-1 hole they were unable to overcome.

The rocky start brought a quick end to Memphis pitcher Scott McGregor's day on the mound — he went only 3 2/3 innings, allowing seven hits and three earned runs. Meanwhile, Omaha had no troubles from well-traveled starting pitcher Brett Tomko. The former St. Louis Cardinal gave up one earned run and four hits in six innings while striking out two.

Designated hitter Joey Butler was a bright spot in an otherwise dull hitting day for the Redbirds, as he reached base on all of his at bats. Butler had three hits in total, including two doubles.

April 8: Memphis at Omaha, Memphis wins 9-4

The Redbirds appeared in danger of dropping a third consecutive contest as they entered the ninth inning down 4-3, but the bats heated up in clutch-time with Memphis exploding for six runs in the game's final frame. Third baseman Jermaine Curtis kicked off the scoring run by reaching home on a fielding error, then Grichuk singled to left field to bring home the go-ahead run.

Scott Moore had the hot bat for Memphis, recording two doubles, two RBI and two runs. Boone Whiting took the mound for the Redbirds, striking out six and allowing no earned runs, although the Storm Chasers were able to score twice during his four innings pitched.

April 9: Memphis at Omaha, Omaha wins 20-3

The Redbirds struck first with a homer to right field by Oscar Taveras that plated Ed Easley and gave Memphis a 2-0 lead. Unfortunately for the Redbirds, the game took a nosedive from there — Omaha erupted for eight runs in the bottom of the first, then added another run in both the second and third innings.

The two squads played a scoreless fourth inning and the Redbirds managed to get one back in the fifth, but this proved to be the calm before the Storm Chasers' final charge. Omaha poured on 10 more runs over the home team's final three innings at bat.

By the end of it all, the Redbirds had surrendered 20 runs and a franchise-record 29 hits. The loss was the worst for Memphis since 2005. Surrendering the first half of Omaha's runs, Angel Castro absorbed the loss.

April 10: Memphis at Omaha, Memphis wins 10-1

A night removed from the 20-3 drubbing by the hands of the Storm Chasers, the Redbirds bounced back with a blowout victory of their own, beating Omaha 10-1 to even the series at two games apiece. Memphis managed 19 hits in the ballgame, thanks in large part to the outfield's strong showing at the plate — Taveras, Piscotty and Grichuk each contributed three hits.

Cooney threw for 6 1/3 innings, allowing five hits and one earned run and was credited with his second win in as many appearances this season.

Who's Hot

Joey Butler: Butler may not have entered the season with the same hype as the other Memphis outfielders, but the first-year Redbird has excelled in his first few games. Butler's hitting .455 on the young season with 10 hits, seven RBI and two home runs, leading to an OPS of 1.374.

Tim Cooney: Cooney was named the Springfield Cardinals 2013 Starting Pitcher of the Year by The Cardinal Nation a season ago, and has shown that his skills on the mound transfer over to the Triple-A level. The lefty has pitched 12 1/3 innings with an ERA of 0.73 and a 2-0 record in his first week with the Redbirds.

Stephen Piscotty: Piscotty is quickly showing why he is ranked as the fourth best Cardinals prospect by The Cardinal Nation. The Memphis outfielder is hitting .414 with eight RBI in 29 at bats this season and boasts an OPS of 1.002.

Who's Not

Luis Mateo: Things couldn't be going much worse for the Puerto Rican shortstop to start the season. Mateo's stepped up to the plate 32 times but has mustered just three hits for a dreadful batting average of .094.

Tommy Pham: Pham has appeared in only four games thus far for Memphis, but is hitless in 10 at bats.

Star Watch

Expectations are high for Oscar Taveras after missing most of 2013 with an ankle injury. The outfielder has not shot out of the gates like some hoped he would, but may be finding his groove after logging three hits in five at bats in the Redbirds' most recent victory over the Omaha Storm Chasers.

Taveras is hitting .258 on the season with two home runs and six RBI.



Up Next

After a canceled exhibition versus St. Louis and eight games on the road, the Redbirds finally return to AutoZone Park for their home opener Friday night. Memphis will host a four-game series against the Iowa Cubs before leaving the Bluff City once again for a four-game series in Nashville (Brewers).

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