Springfield Cardinals Notebook: 2015 Week 9

Though it appears too late for the first half, the Double-A Cards are building momentum for a better finish. Newcomer Jeremy Hazelbaker has been a difference-maker.

This report covers the period from Thursday, June 4th through Wednesday, June 10th

With two weeks of June wrapped up and the first half of the Texas League winding down by next week, the Springfield Cardinals have started to piece their play together in the North Division. After struggling to make the transition through April and May with a younger core group of players with less experience than last year’s club, the result has been the ability to log more victories, coming in longer streaks compared to earlier this season.

Springfield played six games in week nine on the grinding 140-game minor league regular season schedule, with a league-wide off-day on Monday. To recap this week, the club went 5-1 with the only loss against the Frisco RoughRiders (TEX) in the series-finale. In the series, the Cardinals pried the first two away from the Riders, as covered in Week 8’s edition. Springfield returned to the home-faithful and broke out their first three-game series sweep of the season, against the Midland Rockhounds (OAK). So far, they have also taken the first two from division-rival Arkansas Travelers (LAA), with two remaining.

The standings in the Texas League North have been consistent since the NW Arkansas Naturals (KC) overtook the Travelers for first place in Week 4. The chances of the Tulsa Drillers (LAD) and Springfield winning the first half division are remote. But Springfield has surged to win eight of their last nine games and have jumped to within a game of the lethargic Tulsa club in the fight for third place in the four-team division.

Thursday, June 4th, Springfield 7 vs. Frisco 8

Springfield’s bats remained hot but they failed to produce enough offense to eclipse an eight-run night posted by the Frisco Roughriders. Coming off his worst two starts this season, Andrew Morales lasted five innings this time around. The right-hander allowed six earned runs on nine hits, with two walks and three strikeouts.

Chris Thomas picked up the inefficient Morales with two scoreless innings, punching out three Riders batters. Iden Nazario pitched 1 2/3 innings and allowed what would be the game-winning run.

The offense continued to rattle the bats, battling back to tie the score up twice, but came up short in the end. Jonathan Rodriguez ignited the offensive attack by parking his fifth home run, a two-run blast. Anthony Garcia and Breyvic Valera added two RBI, Garcia’s via an extra-base double and Valera of the one-bag variety.

Friday, June 5th, Springfield 6 vs. Midland 2

The S-Cards’ offense and defense came together for a 6-2 victory over the RockHounds in the series’ opener.

The home team banged out 15 hits, with six players having at least two. Jeremy Hazelbaker went 4-for-5 with four doubles and an RBI, batting third while Bruce Caldwell, Michael Ohlman and David Washington all went 2-for-5. Caldwell doubled once, scoring twice and knocking one in with Ohlman adding a three-run bomb, his third of the season. Jonathan Rodriguez and Patrick Wisdom each singled twice in four at bats, Rodriguez scoring one and driving in another.

That was more than enough offense for Jimmy Reed, who earned his first Double-A win in his first start of 2015 for Springfield. Reed limited second-place Midland to single tallies in the second and third, the result of five hits and a walk through seven.

Corey Baker walked one in the eighth and Kyle Barraclough continued his dominance of Texas League hitters with a one-two-three ninth.

Saturday, June 6th, Springfield 8 vs. Midland 0

Springfield’s utilized “the big inning” to take care of business in game two of three against the Rockhounds to finish off the home-stand with series wins and log three consecutive series wins for the first time in 2015. This was the Cards’ fifth shutout of the season.

Developed as a starter, Kurt Heyer has pitched exclusively in relief this year until Saturday night. In a spot start, the right-hander kept the Rockhounds at bay through 4 1/3 scoreless innings. He walked just one and struck out four, but failed to pitch out the fifth inning to be in line for the win.

Meanwhile, Joey Donofrio logged 2 2/3 scoreless innings in relief, with Jordan Swagerty and Ronnie Shaban adding a scoreless inning apiece to slam the door.

Two-run homers by Michael Ohlman (5th) and Patrick Wisdom (3rd) lifted the Cardinals pitching staff for a commanding lead and eventual victory. Anthony Garcia recorded two doubles, with two RBI. Aledmys Diaz, who has been in a rough patch at the plate, had his second multi-hit game in a row on Saturday night.

Sunday. June 7th, Springfield 7 vs. Midland 1

A Cardinals team with eight consecutive games of ten or more hits continued that streak for another day. In addition, Springfield executed their first series-sweep of the season against the Midland Rockhounds on Sunday afternoon, for which they drew a crowd well over 6,000 fans for the third straight game.

Thomas Lee pitched seven dominating innings of one-run ball, allowing one earned run scattered across just four hits, one walk, and five strikeouts for his staff-leading fifth win of the season. Lee Stoppelman and Chris Thomas pitched back-to-back perfect innings to seal the win.

All but one hitter in the Springfield lineup contributed a hit, part of the ten-hit offensive attack. Aledmys Diaz is gradually warming up of late, as the Cuban tripled home three runs while Patrick Wisdom improved his average to a season-high .264 mark with two hits and two RBI. Mike O’Neill, who was demoted from Triple-A Memphis on Saturday, drove in one with the atypical two walks from his disciplined plate approach.

Monday, June 8th, Springfield was off

Springfield was off Monday, June 8th and used that day for travel to oppose rival Arkansas Travelers one last time before the conclusion of the first half.

Tuesday, June 9th, Springfield 2 at Arkansas 0

Springfield took the first of four at Arkansas thanks a dominant start by Arturo Reyes, who blanked the Travelers for seven-shutout frames while walking just one and striking out seven batters. The win improved his record at Springfield to 3-2.

After Reyes was finished at 98 pitches, manager Dann BIlardello relied on his relief corps to slam the door on the shutout victory. Kyle Barraclough pitched a scoreless eighth inning before running into trouble in the ninth with his control giving way, with three walks. Chris Thomas notched his first save of the season, after retiring the game’s final hitter.

The Cards only needed so much offense with the pitching staff blanking the Travelers over nine innings. The two runs were produced off a Jeremy Hazelbaker RBI double and Bruce Caldwell solo blast, the latter’s second at Springfield.

Wednesday, June 10th, Springfield 6 at Arkansas 5

The S-Cards scored single tallies in three consecutive innings to break a tie and used that to squeak past Arkansas in game two. Springfield holds a two-game series advantage, with two remaining to be played, both of which will be covered in next week’s Notebook.

Andrew Morales failed to pitch out of the fourth inning, exiting after just 3 1/3 innings. In three of his four outings, the right-hander has left early due to a high pitch count. On Wednesday night, Morales gave up three earned runs on seven hits, with 74 pitches thrown.

In relief of Morales, Corey Baker covered the next 2 2/3 innings without any damage. Baker was the game’s winning pitcher, his second win. Despite Jordan Swagerty allowing the Travelers to inch within a run, Joey Donofrio and Kurt Heyer held the lead intact with the final 2 2/3 scoreless relief innings.

Springfield’s consecutive streak of ten or more hits had ended on Tuesday night with just six hits recorded in a shutout victory, but the offense started a new streak with 11 hits on Wednesday. Ten of those hits came via two-hit performances from Charlie Tilson, Mike O’Neill, Jonathan Rodriguez, Aledmys Diaz and Patrick Wisdom. Rodriguez and Diaz both blasted solo shots.

Who’s Hot

Jeremy Hazelbaker - One of the newest additions to the Springbirds, Hazelbaker has made his presence known by hitting .332 in his first 24 games as a Cardinal. The former fourth-round selection by the Boston Red Sox has slugged two home runs with 10 RBI, and even has been a base-stealing threat with five successful stolen attempts.

Michael Ohlman – The catcher is scorching hot in his last ten games, having hit .417 (15-for-36) with three home runs and15 RBI. This performance was worthy of Ohlman winning the Texas League Player of the Week for June 1st through June 7th.

Thomas Lee - Lee has been nothing short of fantastic his last four outings. Covering 29 innings, the righty yielded just four earned runs, scattering 22 hits, with the 25-year old winning three-of-four decisions. Along with Ohlman, Lee won the Texas League Pitcher of the Week as Springfield swept this week’s awards.

Who’s Not

Jordan Swagerty - For a club without many negatives for the week. Swagerty is one. The right-hander had pitched three scoreless outings prior to taking a huge step backward on Wednesday night. He allowed two earned runs on three walks with just one batter retired in one of his more erratic outings. These hiccups are to be expected given how much time the former strapping reliever missed due to shoulder and elbow injuries.

Springbirds batting order

Charlie Tilson has been manager Dann BIlardello’s reliable lead-off hitter all season long, with Tilson appearing in the most games of any Springfield position player this year. Aledmys Diaz and Bruce Caldwell split duties as two-hole hitters this week, until long-time organizational soldier Mike O’Neill returned to Springfield and has since stepped in as the primary two-hole hitter. Jeremy Hazelbaker has the three-spot locked up for the time being, having proven himself as the “marquee guy” to help the offense score with consistency recently.

Clean-up hitter Jonathan Rodriguez hit well with this week, with Texas League Player of the Week Michael Ohlman often protecting Rodriguez in the five-hole, though Nick Martini batted fifth when Ohlman was given a scheduled day-off. Otherwise, Martini typically hits sixth, with shortstop Aledmys Diaz at seventh, second baseman Bruce Caldwell at eighth, and Patrick Wisdom at ninth to round out the order.

Team Transactions

6/6 OF Mike O’Neill transferred to Springfield from AAA-Memphis
6/6 1B David Washington transferred to High-A Palm Beach from Springfield
6/8 C Alberto Rosario transferred to AAA-Memphis from Springfield
6/8 C Jose Gonzalez transferred to Springfield from High-A Palm Beach

Texas League North Division Standings

Club W L PCT GB Home Away L10 Streak
NW Arkansas Naturals (KC) 33 24 .579 - 22-10 11-14 3-7 W1
Arkansas Travelers (LAA) 30 27 .526 3.0 14-16 16-11 3-7 L4
Tulsa Drillers (LAD) 24 32 .429 8.5 11-13 13-19 4-6 L1
Springfield Cardinals (STL) 24 34 .414 9.5 12-16 12-18 8-2 W5

The Cardinal Nation Top 40 Prospect Watch

#10 Charlie Tilson - With a two-hit performance on Wednesday night, Tilson bumped his season average up and over the .280 mark. The outfielder has had a streaky June, hitting .264, a 9-for-34 stretch at the plate. It would be encouraging to see an increase in extra-base hits for Tilson, but the majority of his contact comes via the ground-ball and limits his ability to maximize his speed potential for the extra bag.

#12 Aledmys Diaz – I mentioned last week that Diaz’s average tanked over the previous two weeks. The shortstop is starting to find his stroke of late with a current streak of 7-for-21 over five games. That was enough to shoot his average up fifteen points from last week’s .224. It is good to see an improvement in his average. That should rise, and if so, so will his confidence.

#15 Breyvic Valera - Keep an eye on Valera as it is only a matter of time before he goes on an absolute tear given his consistent approach. He owns a .350 batting average in his last ten games with four multi-hit outings.

#20 Nick Petree - Petree was placed on the DL last week with lower back soreness. It was first reported as precautionary, but he has officially missed a turn through the rotation. I expect him to be activated and start during the coming week, barring a setback, that is.

#25 Mike Mayers - Mayers has been shelved for nearly a month now and continues to rehab a right arm strain in Florida. It is apparently more significant than initially communicated.

#35 Andrew Morales - Morales was beaten up in his last four starts, but that is evidence of learning how to pitch at the Double-A level. This is the first time the UC Irvine product is not dominating hitters with his stuff in his career. His track record of success and potential are good enough to put trust into the Springfield coaching staff that he will be able make necessary adjustments sooner rather than later.

What’s Next

12 games remain in the season’s first half. Springfield is playing some brilliant all-around baseball, having won eight of their last nine games, and trail current third-place holder Tulsa by just one game in the standings.

The Cardinals have two games left against Arkansas at their place, finishing on Friday night. Then they’ll square off at Tulsa this weekend for a showdown to decide the third-place spot in the Texas League North Division. Next week, Springfield comes back home to conclude the first half with four games against first-place NW Arkansas.

Join the minor league discussion with other Cardinals fans here

Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.

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