By mounting a modest two-game winning streak to close out the 3-3 week, the Memphis Redbirds are in a stronger fourth-place (last) position than last week. The 8-12 club is just two games out of a share of second place and five games behind Pacific Coast League American Southern Division leader Round Rock (TEX).
The Express was the problem this week, however. Memphis finished their series in Omaha with a Friday win, but lost three of four to Round Rock at AutoZone Park. The Redbirds ended this week with a series-opening win at third-place New Orleans (MIA).
Friday, April 24: Memphis 8 at Omaha 7
In a game I covered in person, the Redbirds prevailed over multiple opponents, including impending rain and the two-time defending PCL champion Storm Chasers, while snuffing out some of the spark in the post-game fireworks show at Omaha’s Werner Park last Friday night.
The Redbirds overcame a big inning against starter John Gast to split the four-game set with Omaha (KC). The lefty could not finish the third, an inning in which he surrendered six tallies, two earned, on five hits, a walk and a throwing error by shortstop Greg Garcia that opened the frame. Nick Greenwood (W, 2-0) yielded four hits that scored Gast’s final two runners plus one of his own in 2 1/3.
A trio of Redbirds’ hurlers went the final four frames, beginning with Keith Butler. Butler, seeing real game action for the first time since his Tommy John surgery 11 months ago, tossed the sixth with three fly outs on 10 pitches, five strikes, but several balls were hit on the screws against him. Miguel Socolovich walked two in a scoreless seventh before Sam Tuivailala entered.
Tui issued three free passes, one intentional, over the last two innings, picking up his first save of 2015. The right-hander barely survived a wild ninth that included two walks, a drop of a pop foul by Xavier Scruggs that would have ended the game, an intentional ball four that required a saving leap by catcher Cody Stanley to keep the ball from going to the backstop and a game-ending strikeout. Tuivailala’s fastball topped out at 95 mph.
Memphis generated a pair of four-run innings that utilized 10 hits and seven walks. Alex Mejia, making his first Triple-A start, was one of four Redbirds with two hits. The third baseman singled and tripled in four at bats, scoring twice out of the nine spot.
Rafael Ortega also went 2-for-4 with a triple, scored one and drove in two more. DH Ed Easley and Stephen Piscotty each went 2-for-5 with a run scored. Easley knocked in four – two of them via his first long ball of the season – while Piscotty doubled twice.
Saturday, April 25: Round Rock 5 at Memphis 3
In his first start of the season, Boone Whiting pitched five innings. The right-hander gave up 10 hits, two of them home run balls, walked two and struck out no one, allowing four earned runs and took the loss.
Round Rock got on the board in the first inning, scoring one run off Whiting after a hit by pitch, a single, and a double. Whiting gave up one run each in the third, fourth and fifth innings. A single and a double brought the second run home in the third inning, and a home run in both the fourth and the fifth inning followed.
The Memphis offense managed to put three runs on the board in the fifth inning. It began with a walk to Ty Kelly. Rafael Ortega hit a bunt single, and Kelly advanced to third on a throwing error by the Round Rock catcher. Travis Tartamella then drew a walk, followed by a Dean Anna single to center, scoring Kelly and Ortega. Stephen Piscotty then hit a single to left, scoring Tartamella.
For the next three frames, neither team scored a run. Whiting was replaced after the fifth inning by newly-arrived reliever Kurt Heyer, who pitched three scoreless innings, giving up only one hit and striking out three. Heyer was followed in the ninth by Marcus Hatley, who allowed two hits, one of them a solo home run.
Sunday, April 26: Round Rock 5 at Memphis 4
Another sub-par outing by Zach Petrick sent the Redbirds to defeat. Petrick has made four 2015 starts and has not pitched very well in any of them. This time around, he allowed four in the fourth plus an unearned run the next inning on eight hits and two walks in six. Petrick fanned four.
Meanwhile, Memphis did not do a whole heck of a lot on the offensive side until the ninth. They pushed across a run in the third for a really brief lead then not much until Rafael Ortega smashed his first long ball of the season in the ninth. It came with Xavier Scruggs (walk) and Greg Garcia (single) aboard.
Whatever chance the Redbirds had of possibly tying the game ended when Mike O’Neill was nailed trying to stretch a single into a double for the second out of the inning. Garcia and O’Neill both singled twice with a run scored. Ortega’s home run and a single by Ed Easley accounted for the team’s other two hits.
Monday, April 27: Round Rock 8 at Memphis 3
Nick Greenwood’s last-minute start did not go well, resulting in a third straight home loss to Round Rock. Taking Tim Cooney’s regular rotation turn, Greenwood (L, 2-1) yielded five runs, four earned, on five hits and three walks, one intentional, in just 2 1/3. He added a wild pitch.
Miguel Socolovich continued his impressive 2015 performance, blanking Round Rock on three free passes in 2 2/3 and leaving Greenwood’s last runner on base. Socolovich has yet to give up an earned run this season.
Keith Butler was a bit shaky in his second appearance after a lengthy stint on the disabled list. The righty was charged with three runs on two hits and two hit batsmen in 1 1/3. His final two runs scored under Marcus Hatley’s watch. Hatley gave up three hits in 2 2/3 and recorded the only two strikeouts by a Redbirds’ hurler.
All three of Memphis’ hits were generated in the first, generating two of their three tallies and giving them a brief 2-1 lead. Dean Anna worked one of eight free passes issued by the Express, coming around to score on Scott Moore’s sac fly. Xavier Scruggs singled home Stephen Piscotty (force), the first baseman adding a walk and run scored in the third.
Tuesday, April 28: Memphis 3 vs. Round Rock 0
Tyler Lyons’ impressive outing led the Redbirds to a 3-0 victory over the Express, the only game of four won by the home team. Passed over for a promotion to St. Louis by teammate Tim Cooney, the lefty took out any disappointment on his opponents, scattering six hits and a walk over eight frames, fanning six. It was the lefty’s second win in three decisions. 65 of his 94 pitches went for strikes. Sam Tuivailala yielded a single with one out but retired his next two batters, picking up his second save.
With the Memphis offense kept off the board through four, Ty Kelly’s first long ball got the scoring started for his team the next inning. Ed Easley’s RBI single two frames later plated Rafael Ortega (single) and Matt Williams (walk) for the final margin of victory. Williams was the only Redbird with more than one hit, singling twice in two at bats with the aforementioned base-on-balls.
Wednesday, April 29: Travel day
Thursday, April 30: Memphis 4 at New Orleans 3
John Gast’s first quality start of 2015 led the Redbirds to a 4-3 triumph over the Express (MIA) in the first of four in The Big Easy. Gast (W, 1-2) allowed a two-run bomb in the first plus a subsequent tally, yielding five hits and two walks through six. The lefty struck out three and hit two batters.
Marcus Hatley tossed two scoreless frames, giving up one hit, and Sam Tuivailala fanned two in a one-two-three ninth for his third save.
The Redbirds bats were held to just five hits, but two of them were of the long ball variety, accounting for three runs. After pushing across one in the first, Scott Moore’s solo shot evened the game at two all after three. New Orleans went back up 3-2 through four but Xavier Scruggs provided the difference when he launched his fifth home run of 2015 that scored Stephen Piscotty (triple). Moore added a double to his blast, knocking in two.
Who is Hot
Hitters’ selectivity: Redbirds hitters lead the PCL in walks taken with 99, 11 more than the next-best club. They also have the second-fewest strikeouts in the 16-team league with 135. Xavier Scruggs has drawn the most free passes on the roster, with 15, tied for the most in the PCL.
Xavier Scruggs: Speaking of the first baseman, Scruggs is off to a hot start in multiple categories, including being tied for fifth in the league in extra-base hits (12), tied for seventh in RBI (16), tied for seventh in home runs (five), tied for 10th in total bases (40), and seventh in slugging percentage (.645).
Miguel Socolovich: The reliever has been the most dependable arm in manager Mike Shildt’s bullpen, with 12 2/3 scoreless innings over his first seven outings as a Redbird. The 28-year-old is holding PCL batters to a collective .122 average, including nine strikeouts. The Venezuelan native has issued more free passes, eight, than hits allowed, five.
Who is Not
Dean Anna: Before the infielder’s call to St. Louis on April 19, Anna was on fire, hitting .393 (11-for-28) in his first seven games. Since his return, it has been another story altogether. The left-handed batter is hitless in his last 15 at-bats and is 1-for-18 (.056) during that span, but did draw five walks.
Ty Kelly: The infielder who almost made the big-league roster out of camp has had a rough start with Memphis, batting just .169 (11-for-65) this season. Even with his 10 walks, Kelly’s OBP is just .276. His only hit in his last 28 at-bats (.035) was a home run on Tuesday.
Overall hitting: Memphis' team batting average of .222 for the month of April is dead last in the PCL and their run total of 61 is 15th of 16 clubs.
Base stealing: The Redbirds have struggled mightily on the basepaths, as well. Their six stolen bases in 20 games is tied for the second-lowest total in the league behind leader Tacoma with 28. Further, Memphis baserunners have just a 33 percent success rate, with their 12 caught stealing attempts leading the circuit in that unenviable category.
Zach Petrick: The 2013 Pitcher of the Year in the Cardinals system has allowed 17 earned runs in 17 2/3 innings over his first four starts for an ERA of 8.66. PCL hitters are batting a collective .333 against the 25-year-old.
It was a busy week of player movement for the Redbirds.
Alex Mejia made his Triple-A debut, filling in for Dean Anna, who was briefly with St. Louis. Memphis added a relief arm from Springfield in Kurt Heyer, who had a brief PCL debut last season.
Cody Stanley made his MLB debut while filling in for three days with St. Louis until Adam Wainwright’s spot in the rotation was taken by Tim Cooney. The lefty was added to the 40-man roster and started for the Cardinals Thursday afternoon.
4/24 INF Dean Anna optioned by St. Louis
4/25 INF Alex Mejia returned to Springfield
4/25 RHP Kurt Heyer promoted from Springfield
4/26 C Cody Stanley promoted to St. Louis
4/30 LHP Tim Cooney promoted to St. Louis (added to 40-man roster)
4/30 C Cody Stanley optioned by St. Louis
What is Next
The Redbirds finish the current four-game series over the weekend at New Orleans before heading back to AutoZone Park for an eight-game homestand starting on Monday. Opponents will be Colorado Springs (MIL) and these same Zephyrs from New Orleans.
Note: TCN staffers Leonda Markee and Marliyn Green also contributed to this report.
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