Winning three of their last four, all by one run at home over Colorado Springs (MIL), closed out a 3-4 week for the Memphis Redbirds. In the process, the 11-16 club moved up into third place in the Pacific Coast League American Southern Division, but fell another game behind leader Round Rock (TEX), with the Redbirds now six games back.
Here is how the week unfolded.
Friday, May 1: Memphis 0 at New Orleans 4
The Redbirds were shut out by the Zephyrs (MIA), evening the four-game set at one game each.
Relievers Keith Butler and Nick Greenwood were both culpable with Butler taking his first loss of 2015. The righty was charged with two runs, one earned, on a walk and hit batsman while recording two outs. Greenwood yielded four hits in 1 1/3, resulting in two tallies of his own plus both of Butler’s runners scoring.
That spoiled a solid effort by Boone Whiting, who shut down second-place New Orleans on two hits and four free passes over five. The California native struck out five with four ground-ball and four fly-ball outs. Dean Kiekhefer faced the minimum in the sixth.
Five Redbirds had one hit apiece, all singles. Catcher Ed Easley reached base the most often, going 1-for-2 with two walks.
Saturday, May 2: Memphis 2 at New Orleans 5
Starter Zack Petrick pitched six innings, giving up one run on seven hits, three strikeouts and one walk. Petrick had to take a no decision, as reliever Kurt Heyer absorbed the loss.
New Orleans’ first run scored in the bottom of the second, via three singles allowed by Petrick. Memphis tied it up in the top of the fourth when Scott Moore doubled to left and scored on a single by Cody Stanley.
The contest remained tied until the bottom of the seventh. Reliever Heyer came in to replace Petrick and allowed two singles. Dean Kiekhefer was called upon with one out and two men on. He immediately yielded a single and a double to score Heyer’s two base runners. Two more singles brought the Kiekhefer base runners home, bringing the score to 5-1 in favor of New Orleans.
A home run off the bat of Stephen Piscotty in the eighth brought the Redbirds one run closer. Kiekhefer closed out the bottom of the eighth, but Memphis was unable to rally in the ninth. A total of 15 hits were given up by Memphis pitching.
Sunday, May 3: Memphis 3 at New Orleans 4
The Redbirds fell for the third straight game to the Zephyrs, this time by a 4-3 score in the series’ finale.
Kyle Hald took the loss in his Triple-A debut, surrendering three runs on seven hits and a walk in five. He fanned three. Tyler Waldron twice faced the minimum before Marcus Hatley yielded what proved to be the difference maker on a hit and base-on-balls.
Memphis outhit New Orleans 11 to eight, but left nine on. Dean Anna, Ed Easley and Matt Williams all had two hits, with Williams’ double one of only two extra-base hits. Easley and Williams both knocked in one, Easley working a free pass. Xavier Scruggs, Greg Garcia and Hald each scored a run.
Monday, May 4: Memphis 5 vs. Colorado Springs 4
Stephen Piscotty’s RBI double snapped a late tie as the Redbirds slipped past the Sky Sox 6-5 in the first of four at AutoZone Park.
Piscotty’s two-bagger came with two outs, plating Travis Tartamella after the latter opened the seventh with a single then advanced to second on a groundout. That gave the right fielder three RBI for the game, his two-run bomb putting Memphis up after one.
Greg Garcia, who exited the game in the visitor’s half of the fifth, singled twice in two at bats, knocking in one. He was the only other Redbird with more than one of the team’s nine hits.
Spot starter Nick Greenwood spearheaded a quintet of Memphis relievers that saw action. Greenwood finished an out shy of four frames, surrendering four runs on eight hits. Kurt Heyer (W, 1-1) held the opposition scoreless on five hits over the next 3 1/3 while Keith Butler recorded an out and gave up a hit. Dean Kiekhefer finished the eighth before Marcus Hatley worked around the only free pass issued by Redbirds hurlers for his first save.
Tuesday, May 5: Colorado Springs 6 at Memphis 4
Tim Cooney was ineffective in his return to the Redbirds’ rotation, resulting in a 6-4 loss to Colorado Springs.
In his first start since being shelled in his Major League debut, Cooney lasted seven innings. The lefty was charged with five runs on seven hits, including two solo shots, and a walk. Cooney (L, 2-2) hit two batters. Tyler Waldron yielded three hits over two relief frames, generating a run.
Stephen Piscotty, working on a modest six-game hitting streak, singled and doubled in three at bats with a base-on-balls and run scored. Xavier Scruggs, one of five Redbirds with one hit each, got his team on the board in the fourth with his sixth bomb of 2015.
Wednesday, May 6: Memphis 6 vs. Colorado Springs 5
A big blow off the bat of the newest Redbird gave Memphis a 6-5 walk-off win over Colorado Springs.
Veteran minor leaguer Dan Johnson, playing in just his third game since signing with Memphis, came to the plate in the home half of the ninth seeking his third hit in five at bats. The first baseman had two aboard with his team trailing by two and launched his first Redbird bomb, scoring Rafael Ortega (single) and Cody Stanley, who pinch ran for Ed Easley (single). Johnson ended the night a triple short of the cycle with a run scored and four RBI.
That home run turned Sam Tuivailala (W, 1-0) from the losing to winning pitcher after the righty surrendered two runs on two hits and a walk in the top of the frame that unraveled a 3-3 tie.
Memphis pounced for a run in the first plus two more the next inning, chasing the Sky Sox starter after just 1 1/3. Ortega, like Johnson, had a three-hit night, going 3-for-4 with a free pass, two runs scored and one knocked in. Singles by left fielder Xavier Scruggs and Easley accounted for the home team’s other two hits.
Thursday, May 7: Memphis 2 vs. Colorado Springs 1
The Redbirds parlayed timely hitting and stingy pitching into a 2-1 win over the Sky Sox. As a result, Memphis claimed its first series of 2015.
Limited to just three hits and two free passes, the home squad managed single scores in the first and eighth. A bases-loaded sac fly by Xavier Scruggs brought in Dean Anna (single), giving Memphis a 1-0 advantage they held until the fifth. Ed Easley later singled home Ty Kelly (walk) after the latter took advantage of a throwing error by the opposing pitcher on a sac bunt to take third.
Zach Petrick copied the his May 2nd six-frame, one-run outing at New Orleans, yielding four hits and two walks while fanning five. Tyler Waldron tossed a scoreless seventh before Marcus Hatley struck out four over the final two innings, improving his record to 1-1.
Who is Hot
Stephen Piscotty: Piscotty went 8-for-28 on the week (.286), with five of his hits going for extra bases (two doubles, a triple and two home runs). He plated five and drew four walks for an OBP of .386. Hitting in front of Johnson could be just what the doctor ordered for Piscotty.
Defensively, he leads all PCL outfielders with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage (58 total chances) in 24 games.
Dan Johnson: The new first baseman’s walk-off home run Wednesday night was a rare sight for Redbirds fans, as it was the team’s first in almost a year. Xavier Scruggs had the last Memphis game-winning blast on May 28, 2014. In his first four games with the Redbirds, the 14-year professional is batting .357 with five RBI.
Johnson continues a long and successful minor league career. He is second among active minor leaguers in home runs (246), RBI (887), OPS (.896), and total bases (2284). Johnson also ranks fourth in runs scored (754), sixth in hits (1279), and seventh in doubles (257) and has been the MVP in both Triple-A leagues, the PCL and International Leagues.
Ed Easley: The veteran catcher was 5-for-15 (.333) with two RBI last week, raising his season average to .271. On the season, Easley has excelled in tight situations, collecting 11 of his 13 RBI with two outs.
Zach Petrick: Cold last week and hot this time around, the right-hander allowed just two runs in 12 innings of work this past week for a 1.50 ERA. Petrick fanned eight, gave up 11 hits and walked three.
Who is Not
Ty Kelly: The utilityman who had such a good spring with St. Louis continues to struggle with Memphis. Last week, Kelly went 2-for-20 (.100), with his five walks raising his OBP to a still-too-low .286. His average for the season to date is .160.
Scott Moore: The veteran third baseman’s season average actually improved to .188 on the basis of his 5-for-26 (.192) week. On the positive side, four of Moore’s five hits went for extra bases (three doubles and a home run).
Nick Greenwood: The swingman had a rough week, allowing a total of six runs on 12 hits in five innings pitched. On the season, the left-hander’s ERA sits at an unsightly 10.20.
Team run scoring: Memphis has scored three runs or less in 12 of its 27 games this season (2-10 record), including four of the last seven (1-3 record).
Team base stealing: The Redbirds have only 12 stolen bases this season, third-fewest in the PCL (Reno, 7). The club has also been thrown out on 13 occasions, most in the league.
Take but Not Give
Hitters selective: Redbirds batters lead the PCL with 131 walks, 22 more than second-place Nashville (109). Memphis hitters also have the second-fewest strikeouts in the league, with only 178 whiffs (New Orleans leads with 166). At the same time, the club is second-to-last in the league in scoring runs with 103 in 27 games.
Pitchers stingy: Despite a 4.56 ERA that is just 11th in the 16-team league, the Redbirds pitching staff is not beating itself with walks. Memphis pitchers have issued the second-fewest free passes in the PCL with 73 (tie).
Transactions and Lineups
It was another busy week of player movement for the Redbirds, with all but one of seven transactions on the pitching side of the house.
The lone position player move was a big one, with Johnson immediately stepping into the cleanup spot in the batting order - between right fielder Piscotty and Scruggs. The latter, a natural first baseman like Johnson, looks to be the Redbirds’ new regular left fielder in non-designated hitter games.
Fri 5/1: RHR Miguel Socolovich added to 40-man, promoted to St. Louis
Fri 5/1: LHS Tim Cooney optioned from St. Louis to Memphis
Sat 5/2: LHS Kyle Hald promoted from Springfield to Memphis
Sun 5/3: RHR Sam Tuivailala promoted to St. Louis
Mon 5/4: 1B Dan Johnson signed to a minor league contract, assigned to Memphis
Tue 5/5: LHS Tyler Lyons promoted to St. Louis
Tue 5/5: RHR Sam Tuivailala optioned from St. Louis to Memphis
What is Next
The Redbirds finish the current eight-game home stand with four against the pesky New Orleans Zephyrs (MIA) before heading west to Colorado Springs for a four-game roadtrip that will run from next Tuesday through Friday.
The middle games of this weekend’s set should be most interesting, with two left-handed rehabbers pitching back to back on Saturday and Sunday. Marco Gonzales will get the call on Saturday with Jaime Garcia taking the mound on Sunday.
Notes to readers
TCN staffers Leonda Markee and Marliyn Green also contributed to this report.
Readers may have noticed that Brian Walton has compiled these last two Memphis notebooks. Our initial local reporter for 2015, Taylor Davey, found his summer schedule overcommitted and had to step back. His replacement, a University of Memphis journalism student, Thomas Simpson, is attending his first Redbirds game as a credentialed media member tonight, Friday. More is coming about Thomas with his first Redbirds Notebook next week.
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