Springfield Cardinals Notebook: 2014 Week 11

The Double-A Cardinals are playing some of their best baseball, led by Kyle Hald and James Ramsey.

This week's report covers games played from June 12th through June 18th.

The Springfield Cardinals completed the first half of the Texas League regular season with a 34-36 record in third place behind the Arkansas Travelers (LAA) and Tulsa Drillers (COL). They have played two games so far in the second half and are undefeated.

In the 11th week of the minor league season, the Cards were 5-2 with two solid series victories against division opponents NWA Naturals (KC) and the Tulsa Drillers (COL), the latter which claimed a Texas League playoff spot for winning the first half.

Now that Springfield has two of its integral lineup pieces back and healthy in Aledmys Diaz and James Ramsey, this team could take off in the second half.

Thursday, June 12th, Northwest Arkansas 3 at Springfield 2

Springfield had a combined shutout against Northwest Arkansas Naturals (KC) in game one of the four-game series. In game two, starter Kurt Heyer held the Naturals to two runs, one earned, on three hits and two free passes in six innings. It was his second start after being returned from Memphis.

A run off recently converted reliever Seth Blair would be the difference maker in the game. Results from Mitch Harris and Ronnie Shaban were identical as both threw scoreless innings with a hit allowed while fanning one.

Springfield battled back to even the score at two in sixth but they were kept quiet the rest of the way by a strong Naturals late-inning bullpen effort. With Springfield managing just six hits as a unit, James Ramsey had two with a run scored in his third game back. David Popkins scored the other tally, after singling once in three at bats.

Side note: A positive mark for the Cardinals was the return of the multi-million dollar investment, Cuban defector Aledyms Diaz, who was sidelined with a shoulder strain for nearly two months. He returned on Thursday with an 0-fer as the designated hitter.

Friday, June 13th, Northwest Arkansas 1 at Springfield 2

Friday night was the night to be at the ballpark not only to catch a game of baseball but to see Cardinals 1st rounder Marco Gonzales go to work. The left-hander cruised through his six innings allowing only one run (unearned) on two hits, with no walks and 10 strikeouts. He threw 83 pitches and 63 were either called or were swinging strikes. Marco apparently mixed all three of his pitches - the fastball, change, and curve, which has improved and been a very important pitch off his fastball and change. It says a lot of how efficient he was with a game time of 2 hours and 13 minutes.

The left-handed duo of Ryan Sherriff and Justin Wright covered the seventh and eighth innings scoreless while Joe Donofrio closed the door, needing only seven pitches in the easy and well-pitched ninth inning.

Jacob Wilson continues to be an offensive force as he doubled twice in his four at bats, including in the first inning, when he reached third on a wild pitch and scored on a Cody Stanley muscled sacrifice fly out. The Birds broke the tie in the bottom of the fourth when Jonathan Rodriguez doubled off the wall in left-center and scored on another wild pitch.

Saturday, June 14th, Northwest Arkansas 4 at Springfield 5 (10 innings)

Springfield trailed by three runs going into the sixth but managed to tie it back up in the next four at-bats to force extra innings of the last game of the homestand. Kyle Hald looked to keep up the streak of 11 of 12 quality starts by the staff. He did that, covering the first eight innings while allowing four runs (only one earned) on six hits, no walks and five strikeouts.

Ronnie Shaban took over the ninth inning duties with the score tied and allowed just one hit. Lee Stoppelman (W, 1-1), who has improved immensely since being demoted, yielded a hit and struck out two in a scoreless tenth inning.

Without star James Ramsey in the starting lineup, Springfield looked for a key individual to step up in his absence. Three individuals hit solo home runs - Cody Stanley, Curt Smith and Patrick Wisdom. Ramsey pinch-hit in the ninth, tying the game up with an opposite field shot, his first since coming off the DL.

Then came the walk-off in the tenth with Jacob Wilson singling to LF for the game-winning run. Starlin Rodriguez motored around the bases and scored just before the tag, said the home plate umpire. NW Arkansas was furious as team manager Vance Wilson walked all the way to the lockers with the umps arguing the call, but at that point it was done. The Springbirds ended their 1st half home schedule with a win and 17-19 record.

Sunday, June 15th, Springfield 3 at Tulsa 4

With six games left to play in the first half of the Texas League regular season, Springfield would spend them on the road before returning home following the Texas League All-Star Game.

To start the first series on the road, Springfield faced off against first half division winner the Tulsa Drillers (COL) and for the second consecutive night, the game went into extra innings. On Father's Day, the Cards continued the late-inning rallying with three runs combined in the seventh and eighth innings, but the Drillers were the ones walking off the field as winners.

Sam Gaviglio looked to build off his past two excellent starts and he continued the rotation's quality game streak by allowing three runs (two earned) on six hits in his six inning outing. Coming off a season-high in strikeouts, Gaviglio only fanned three in his second straight outing versus the Drillers.

Logan Billbrough tossed a quiet and scoreless seventh inning, with Ryan Sherriff walking two and fanning one in the next inning and one/third. Joey Donofrio then induced a double-play to force extras following the team's rally in the seventh and eighth innings. Donofrio stayed in the game retiring the first batter, then proceeded to allow a double. With an open base available, the next batter would be intentionally walked, before Justin Wright came in for the ideal lefty matchup. Wright was worked over for nine pitches and gave up a chopped comebacker that Wright was able to put a glove but was unable to field it quickly before the Drillers runner came across and scored the game-winner.

The Springfield bats were held to five hits, two walks, and five strikeouts in uber-prospect Jon Gray's time on the mound. But thankfully enough for the hitters, as soon as he was relieved, the bats woke up with three runs in the next three innings against three of Tulsa's relief pitchers. However, they were controlled through the ninth and tenth, falling three games under the .500 mark. Springfield did have their opportunities with 11 runners left on base. Two runs were produced by a Jacob Wilson RBI double and Curt Smith pinch-hit RBI single.

Monday, June 16th, Springfield 8 at Tulsa 3

Springfield put up crooked numbers in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings Monday night to secure game two and force the rubber game matchup on Tuesday night. Jonathan Cornelius allowed three runs (one earned) on four hits. The lefty walked two and struck out three in 5 1/3 innings pitched.

Seth Blair got the win and was charged with a blown save while Mitch Harris and Lee Stoppelman combined for three shutout innings of relief. Harris's inning was perfect, with one strikeout, while Stoppelman gave up two hits and logged three strikeouts.

It took the Springfield offense two times through the order to make the right adjustment and get things going against the Drillers pitching staff, scoring multiple runs in three consecutive innings. Two-hole hitter Jacob Wilson led the offensive attack with three hits, one for a double, and an RBI. David Popkins plated two runners in with a single, his only hit of the night. Cody Stanley smacked a single but his RBI came from a catcher's interference play. While Patrick Wisdom also produced a single that led to an RBI and as well as did Starlin Rodriguez in a pinch-hit appearance.

Tuesday, June 17th, Springfield 6 at Tulsa 4

Springfield finished the first half of the Texas League season at a 33-36 mark. Tuesday started the chapter of the second half of the season. Springfield waited until the third inning to pour on four runs and then two runs later in the fifth and eighth for insurance purposes. Middle-relief and back-end of the Springbirds bullpen held the Drillers offense to no runs after starter Kurt Heyer exited after six innings with four runs (two earned) allowed on four hits, with a walk and five strikeouts.

The fine work from the bullpen came from relievers Ronnie Shaban and Ryan Sherriff who paired to give the team a scoreless seventh, while Joe Donofrio followed with an inning two/thirds scoreless but was given the hook with two outs in the ninth. Lee Stoppelman retired the lone batter faced, recording the one-out save.

The heart of the order - Curt Smith, James Ramsey, Jonathan Rodriguez, and Patrick Wisdom - was the sole offense for the Springbirds as they contributed ten of the team's 14 total hits and produced five of the six runs driven in. Curt Smith singled twice in his four trips up at the plate. James Ramsey reached base four times out of five, on all base hits, one for extra bases that scored Mike O'Neill. Jonathan Rodriguez singled twice for three RBI, while Patrick Wisdom went deep and singled. Wisdom is now batting .235 on the season with eight home runs.

Wednesday, June 18th, Springfield 7 at Tulsa 5

After dropping game one and taking the last two in the four-game set, Springfield executed when needed in the series finale thanks in part to Cody Stanley's two-run blast in the seventh. Coming off being named the Texas League Player of the Week the week of June 9th, Marco Gonzales sailed through the first five innings. Then came the sixth, when the Driller offense made adjustments and got to him for two earned as Gonzales exited after 5 1/3 innings.

Ronnie Shaban gave up an earned on two hits but also got Springfield to the eighth with the lead. Mitch Harris allowed a triple, then gave up a two-run blast, cutting the lead down to two runs. Ryan Sherriff got the job done retiring the final out in the eighth, and pitching a clean ninth for his second save of the season.

Having faced southpaw starter Tyler Anderson on June 8th, the offense scored four runs in the first four innings and that resulted in Anderson being pulled. Springfield then put up another three spot in the seventh which was enough for the bullpen to work with and secure the series victory.

Mike O'Neill ignited the offense as he reached twice with two doubles and scored on a Jonathan Rodriguez two-run double that also scored James Ramsey. The big blow was a Cody Stanley two-run bomb that scored two. Stanley finished the game with three hits and five RBI.

Who Is Hot

James Ramsey - Ramsey has returned after a month off with a shoulder injury to hit in seven consecutive games, one of which was for four hits. Although his hitting streak was snapped on Wednesday, Ramsey is batting .315 on the season.

Kyle Hald - The lefty has three quality starts in his last three outings. On June 14th, he pitched to the eighth and finished with just one earned run.

Who Is Not

Mitch Harris – The reliever was tagged for two earned runs on Wednesday. He gave up four earned runs in his prior outing, also against the Tulsa Drillers, the first half division winner.

Matt Williams – Williams' average has fallen down to .250 after he hit over .270 in the month of May. The infielder shown some life at the plate recently, with a four-game hitting streak.

Team Transactions

6/12 INF Aledmys Diaz activated from the DL
6/12 OF Chris Swauger retired to become hitting coach at Johnson City (Rookie)
6/15 OF Mike O'Neill transferred to Springfield from AAA-Memphis
6/15 INF Greg Miclat placed on the DL
6/17 LHP Justin Wright transferred to AAA-Memphis from Springfield

Texas League North Division Standings (final 1st half standings)

Club W L PCT GB Home Away L10 Streak
Tulsa Drillers (COL) 38 31 .551 - 16-17 22-14 5-5 L1
Arkansas Travelers (LAA) 34 36 .486 4.5 14-22 20-14 4-6 L1
Springfield Cardinals (STL) 34 36 .486 4.5 17-19 17-17 6-4 W1
NW Arkansas Naturals (KC) 25 45 .357 13.5 10-24 15-21 5-5 W1

Cardinals Top Prospect Watch

#6 Marco Gonzales - Was excellent in his first start this week with ten punchouts against a not-so-good offensive unit in the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. Pitched on Wednesday, sailing through five innings but the Drillers offense made a third-time through the offense adjustment and got to Gonzales for two earned runs. He still excited with his second win a week.

#8 James Ramsey - Instead of holding the bat up head-high and binding to the point of contact, Ramsey made a little change in his pre-swing set-up to now resting the bat on his shoulder before the transfer to his load and after a four-hit game on Tuesday, it showed some significance.

#9 Patrick Wisdom – His average is above .230 again and he went yard on Tuesday night but the raw power potential has yet to be fully utilized by the supplemental first rounder in the 2012 draft class. The third baseman known for his glove has committed 17 errors. From what I've seen he tries to do too much on the routine play and botches the ball or makes a bad throw.

#18 Lee Stoppelman – The lefty has been one of the most effective and used relievers since his demotion from Memphis. He hasn't allowed a single earned run since May 24th.

#26 Sam Gaviglio - The sinkerballer threw a quality start, a rotation theme by now. Gaviglio finished the first half with the second-most innings pitched on the pitching staff with 74 2/3.

#29 Jacob Wilson - Wilson is hitting .351 with two home runs and six RBI in his past ten games. You knew he was capable of posting offensive numbers but what you don't know is how good his defense has been for Springfield at second base. Wilson has committed just three errors in 126 chances for the team and manager Mike Shildt says his play has been very strong.

#39 Seth Blair - Appeared only once this week and four times as a reliever since May 29th. Hopefully he will throw more next week and get into a groove.

#TBD Aledmys Diaz - After a long-layoff with a shoulder strain, the Cuban defector returned to action this week. He is hitting only for now, as the organization wants to wait before throwing him back out in the field.

What's Next

As I wrote at the start of this article, the Springfield Cardinals finished this week with a 5-2 record against the Naturals and Drillers. They play one more series on the road against the Arkansas Travelers for four before the official All-Star Break begins. The game will be held in Little Rock, Arkansas this upcoming Tuesday night. Springfield will have six players representing them - OF James Ramsey, 1B Jonathan Rodriguez, C Cody Stanley, RHP Joe Donofrio, LHP Kyle Hald, and LHP Marco Gonzales.

Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @thebighurt_23.

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