Memphis Redbirds Notebook: 2015 Week 7

St. Louis’ Triple-A Club tightened the race for second place in the American Southern Division in another big week. Greg Garcia continues his hot-hitting May while Tim Cooney has been a man on a mission in his last four starts.

What has happened to the Memphis Redbirds? A team that started out looking for an identity while struggling to contribute both offensively and on the pitching mound has now turned in two consecutive 5-2 weeks, including a Pacific Coast League-leading eight-game win streak.

Memphis was California dreamin’ as the club completed its first four-game sweep of the season, against Sacramento (SF), before traveling south where they split their four-game series with a dangerous Fresno (HOU) team.

The third-place Redbirds are 1.5 games behind New Orleans (MIA) and 7.5 back of Round Rock (TEX) while 2.5 games ahead of Nashville (OAK).

Here’s how the week unfolded:

Friday, May 22: Memphis (STL) 8 at Sacramento (SF) 6

Memphis continued the hot hitting as they scored three late. It was their second win on their California road trip and season-high fifth consecutive win.

The Redbirds scored early as Dan Johnson’s sac fly plated Dean Anna in the first inning. Sacramento scored two in the next frame off Adam Duvall’s two-run home run to left center.

Sacramento scored another in the bottom of the third before Memphis responded with a two-run fourth inning. Jacob Wilson singled on a line drive to left that brought home Stephen Piscotty while Rafael Ortega singled on a grounder to center that plated Greg Garcia. Scruggs added to Memphis’ tally via his solo shot in the top of the sixth, his seventh of the season.

Wilson recorded his second RBI of the day in the eighth when his line drive to left field scored Scruggs before the Redbirds offense scored three in the ninth to win the game with Johnson’s RBI single to right. Piscotty’s sac fly scored Easley, and Garcia’s double to center brought home Matt Williams.

Redbirds starter Tim Cooney struck out seven, walked two, and allowed four runs, including two homers, in five innings. Dean Kiekhefer, Tyler Waldron and Nick Greenwood each did their share of relief duty before Marcus Hatley (2-1, 1.57), who recorded the win, came in to pitch in the eighth while allowing two hits and one walk. Tuivalala later relieved Hatley in the ninth to record his fourth save of the season.

Saturday, May 23: Memphis (STL) 6 at Sacramento (SF) 4

Memphis extended its season-high win streak to six games in the club’s third win of the Fresno series on Saturday night.

The Redbirds threw the first punch when Garcia’s RBI single plated Dean Anna in the top of the first. Memphis extended the lead to 4-0 after Anna’s line drive single brought home Stanley, Johnson’s soft line drive single to center scored Ortega and Garcia’s walk brought Anna home.

Memphis’ big lead did not last long as Sacramento scored four in the bottom of the fifth, but the Redbirds fought back with two in the top of the seventh. Garcia’s RBI single to right plated both Piscotty and Johnson to win the game.

Redbirds starter John Gast pitched a solid four innings before allowing four earned runs in the fifth. Gast ended the night with a line of four strikeouts, one walk and nine hits. In the fifth, Keith Butler relieved Gast and recorded the win. Tuivailala arrived after relievers Kiekhefer and Hatley to add his fifth save of the season.

Sunday, May 24: Memphis (STL) 5 at Sacramento (SF) 4

The Redbirds recorded their season-high seventh consecutive win while completing the club’s first four-game sweep this season in Sunday’s 5-4 victory.

The Redbirds threw the first punch by scoring four runs in the top of the second. Mike O’Neill knocked an RBI single off the first base bag to start the action. Later that inning, with the bases loaded, Ty Kelly hit a line drive single to left field that plated Jacob Wilson while O’Neill scored on a Sacramento fielding error. Ed Easley drove in the last run of the frame with an RBI single to center field. It was Easley’s 13th RBI this season with two outs in the inning.

Xavier Scruggs added the fifth run for the Redbirds in the top of the fifth, doubling home Stephen Piscotty, on base after recording a walk.

Zach Petrick (3-3, 4.44) tossed seven innings with ease until a Brett Jackson three-run home run in the eighth. The right-hander allowed three earned runs while fanning a career-high 10. Tyler Waldron recorded the save.

Monday, May 25: Memphis (STL) 5 at Fresno (HOU) 1

The Redbirds inched closer to the club’s record nine-game winning streak after recording their eighth consecutive win. The Redbirds win streak leads the PCL while Monday’s win also moves Memphis within one game of the .500 mark, improving their record to 22-23.

Cody Stanley was the star of the day as he recorded a game-high three RBI in the second and fourth innings. The Redbirds scored two more in the fifth when Piscotty knocked his sixth homer of the season and Kelly plated Stanley with a double off the left field wall.

Nick Greenwood (3-1, 7.53) put in five innings of work with one strikeout and one earned run while filling in for the injured Marco Gonzales – Gonzales was placed on the 7-day DL May 21. Memphis’ bullpen excelled in mop up duty in relief of Greenwood as Kurt Heyer, Justin Wright, and Keith Butler held Fresno scoreless in the final four innings.

Tuesday, May 26: Memphis (STL) 2 at Fresno (HOU) 5

The Redbirds were four runs away from matching the club’s record nine-game winning streak, but were ousted by the Grizzlies offensive firepower early in the game and were unable to get back in the contest.

Both clubs each scored a run in the first inning, but the Grizzlies flexed their muscles in the fourth and fifth, adding a pair of runs each frame.

The Redbirds had an opportunity to close the gap in the fifth after loading the bases with no outs following walks to Stanley and Kelly and a bunt base hit from Rafael Ortega. Dean Anna brought home Stanley on a fielder’s choice for Memphis’ second and final run of the game. The inning ended after Kelly was doubled off third on an Easley line drive.

Tyler Lyons (3-2, 3.57) did not have the command he has shown recently while allowing five runs off eight hits, fanning five, and walking two in 4 2/3 innings. Lyons had been 3-0 with a 1.69 ERA and 32 strikeouts in his last four starts.

Heath Wyatt relieved Lyons in the fifth to make his Triple-A debut in 2015 – the right-hander appeared in 45 games with Memphis in 2014 while earning a 1-2 record with a 4.34 ERA. This night, he tossed 2 2/3 perfect innings while striking out two.

Wednesday, May 27: Memphis (STL) 6 at Fresno (HOU) 1

The Redbirds rebounded from Tuesday’s loss, which snapped the club’s season-high eight-game win streak, with a demolition of the Grizzlies on Wednesday night.

Memphis scored first in the third by a Scruggs two-run homer deep over the left field wall – it was Scruggs’ team-leading eighth home run of the season. An inning later, Travis Tartamella – activated from the DL prior to Wednesday’s contest after Easley was recalled to St. Louis - knocked a ground ball off Fresno’s Matt Duffy, plating Ortega.

The Redbirds extended their lead to 4-0 after a Piscotty solo home run in the fifth, his seventh of the season. Memphis scored again sixth due to an Ortega RBI triple, followed by a Tartamella sac fly that plated Ortega.

Tim Cooney (4-2, 3.00) was unstoppable against Fresno’s potent offense, shutting down the Grizzlies over seven innings while allowing only two hits and striking out two – Memphis is now 4-0 over Cooney’s last four starts. Waldron relieved Cooney in the eighth and gave up Fresno’s only run of the game – a Max Stassi home run – before Sam Tuivailala finished out the game in the ninth.

Thursday, May 28: Memphis (STL) 4 at Fresno (HOU) 5

Memphis fought tooth and nail with Fresno Thursday afternoon, but it was Fresno that drew the lucky straw as Joe Sclafani hit a walk off line drive to center in the 11th.

The Grizzlies started with an early 1-0 lead in the first inning before Bartlett, TN native Jacob Wilson’s two-run home run in the second – his second with Memphis – that gave the Redbirds a 2-1 lead.

Fresno plated three more runs in the second and third inning to chase Redbirds starter John Gast after only 2 2/3 innings. The southpaw allowed four runs, three of which were earned, on nine hits. The Redbirds tied the score at 4-4 in the sixth after Stanley brought home Scruggs via an RBI single and Ortega’s sac bunt plated Garcia.

Heyer, Wright, Marcus Hatley and Dean Kiekhefer threw a combined 7 2/3 scoreless innings in relief. Redbirds manager Mike Shildt turned to Tuivailala in the 11th that, unfortunately, led to the winning score. It marks just the second Redbirds’ loss in their last 11 games.

Who’s Hot

Tim Cooney: Cooney was a force to be reckoned with when he was on the mound facing Fresno’s potent offense. Cooney threw seven shutout innings while allowing only two hits and fanning another two. In his last four starts for Memphis, Cooney is 4-0.

Greg Garcia: The infielder not only has had a hot week, but he has been on fire the whole month of May. Garcia’s batting .307 so far on the year, but since May 1, his average is a whopping .375.

Xavier Scruggs: Scruggs had a rough week back in Memphis after being optioned down by St. Louis about two weeks ago, but he has returned to his early season form again. Scruggs blasted two homers this week to bring his team-leading total to eight. He also added four RBI for good measure while he raised his batting average on the year from .207 to .213.

Who’s Not

Dan Johnson: The veteran first baseman started off well in Sacramento, batting 4-for-9 with three RBI in the first two games this week. He tailed off towards the end of the week, though, going just 2-for-12 afterward, bringing his average down to .209.

John Gast: The 26-year-old lefty (1-3, 5.31) had a difficult time this week in starts on May 23 vs. Sacramento and May 28 vs. Fresno. In all, Gast pitched a total of 7 1/3 innings while allowing seven earned runs off 18 hits.

Transactions

Another busy week of transactions occurred during Week 7 of the Redbirds’ season. The club received two RHP (Wyatt from Springfield and Socolovich from St. Louis) after releasing RHP Boone Whiting while Tartamella was activated from the DL after Easley was called up to St. Louis.

05/22/2015: Memphis Redbirds release RHP Boone Whiting.
05/24/2015: RHP Heath Wyatt assigned to Memphis Redbirds from Springfield Cardinals.
05/27/2015: St. Louis Cardinals recall C Ed Easley from Memphis Redbirds.
05/27/2015: Memphis Redbirds activate C Travis Tartamella from the 7-day DL.
05/27/2015: St. Louis Cardinals option RHP Miguel Socolovich to Memphis Redbirds.

What’s Next

The Redbirds return home to Memphis to open the week with a four-game home series against the Salt Lake Bees (LAA), who are in third place in the PCL Pacific Southern Division at 22-25. Memphis then starts a four-game home set on Tuesday, June 2 against the Las Vegas 51s (NYM), a club that is in first place in the PCL Pacific Southern Division at 29-18.

Las Vegas will likely be the tougher matchup of the two opponents as the 51s are first in the PCL in RBI (257), second in the PCL in home runs (47) and stolen bases (51), and third in the PCL in batting average (.291). LHP Steven Matz is the guy to watch out for on the mound as the #61 prospect in baseball is 6-2 with a 1.99 ERA.



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