Springfield Cardinals Notebook: 2015 Week 14

Despite a 3-3 week, the Double-A Cardinals have slipped into a share of first place in the second half. Shortstop Aledmys Diaz may be off the 40-man roster, but he is now hitting.

This report covers the period from Thursday, July 9th through Wednesday, July 15

The Springfield Cardinals played five of their six games on the road in this week’s edition while finishing up a Texas road trip. On the road, Springfield pulled the reverse deja vu taking two-of-three against the San Antonio Missions (SD), a club that took two-of-three at Hammons Field a week before. In the final series, the Cardinals - who had swept the Corpus Christi (HOU) at home last week - were swept themselves as the Hooks proved why they were the owners of the Texas League’s best record in first half play.

Following a 14-hour bus ride back to the Ozarks. Springfield opened up a four-game set at Hammons Field against the “friendly” rival NW Arkansas Naturals (KC) on Wednesday night. The Cardinals were blanked by big-league veteran Kris Medlen, but the momentum shifted quickly as the Cards came back to oust the Naturals in the series-opener. Three games remain to be played in this series to be reported in next week’s Notebook.

Though the club went winless in Corpus Christi, Springfield completed the week with an even record at 3-3 and currently sit in a first-place tie atop the North Division with the Tulsa Drillers (LAD). Not far behind is the Arkansas Travelers (LAA), which trail just one game, while NW Arkansas is a little farther down, 4 1/2 games back.

Thursday, July 9th, Springfield 6 at San Antonio 3

Kurt Heyer proved to be a huge lift as a spot-starter when the original starter Thomas Lee was a late scratch in preparation for a move to Memphis. Heyer pitched a strong five innings, permitting an earned run on five hits, with two strikeouts in his second win at Double-A. Springfield evened up the series at one apiece against the San Antonio Missions, with a rubber game deciding the winner on Friday night.

Four relievers were used to cover the remaining four innings. Iden Nazario didn’t retire a single batter of the three he faced. Chris Thomas minimized the damage by fanning two in a scoreless frame. Chris Perry was hit around in the first inning of his Springfield debut, allowing an earned run on two hits, but made up for it with a quick scoreless eighth to set the stage for Kyle Barraclough who slammed the door for his seventh Double-A save.

Multi-hit games by Patrick Wisdom, Jonathan Rodriguez, Michael Ohlman, David Washington, and Breyvic Valera energized the offense with 14 hits collectively. Rodriguez, Washington, and Valera each had an RBI while Ohlman finished the game with two driven in.

Friday, July 10th, Springfield 7 at San Antonio 1

Springfield rolled over San Antonio for five runs in the fourth inning and didn’t look back, claiming the series two-to-one and extending their hot streak of play to wins in six of their last seven games. The Cards moved in front of the Tulsa Drillers by a half game for first place in the North Division second half.

Starter Kyle Hald put himself on the right track with seven shutout innings while allowing only four hits, with a walk and four strikes. Hald earned his first win of the season at Double-A. Jordan Swagerty had another mixed outing, as the right-hander tossed two innings with an earned run and two hits. On a positive note, Swagerty struck out two, a sign his stuff is working better, but he also threw 37 pitches in the process.

Despite a 3-for-17 runner-in-scoring-position performance, the offense got a huge boost from Michael Ohlman’s grand slam. Right off the waiver wire, Aledmys Diaz knocked two doubles in four at-bats, one for an RBI.

Saturday, July 11th, Springfield 4 at Corpus Christi 6

The S-Cards opened the final three games of the Texas road-trip against the Corpus Christi Hooks, whom they swept at Hammons Field earlier this week. The Hooks roughed up lefty reliever Ryan Sherriff in the middle innings to claim the opener on Saturday night.

Corey Baker filled in as a starter for the second consecutive turn. Baker lasted just 3 2/3 innings this go-around, as the righty surrendered two earned runs on five hits. The bullpen conceded the lead as Ronnie Shaban and Sherriff combined to give up four runs, three earned. Josh Lucas also made his Double-A debut, as the towering figure held the Hooks scoreless over the final 1 2/3 innings.

Aledmys Diaz produced the lone shot for the stagnant Springfield offense, a three-run home run, part of his three-hit game. Looking back on opportunities, Springfield failed to cash in on runners in scoring position, going 1-for-11 as a unit, with that looming large in the end.

Sunday, July 12th, Springfield 3 at Corpus Christi 6

Starter Andrew Morales yielded five earned runs over six innings of work on Sunday evening. The Hooks collected ten hits off Morales, who issued two walks and eight strikeouts for his fifth loss of the season. Corpus Christi was guaranteed the series victory.

The offensive trend of struggling to ignite anything with runners in scoring position, continued. David Washington accounted for two of the three runs, with a solo shot and RBI double. It was Washington’s seventh home run of the season. Also, Jonathan Rodriguez had an RBI single.

Monday, July 13th, Springfield 5 at Corpus Christi 9

On Monday night, the Hooks scratched two runs over four consecutive innings to give them a sizeable enough lead to secure the series sweep of the Cardinals. Normally a steady presence but bitten by a lack of run support, Arturo Reyes was roughed up by the Hooks offense. The right-hander yielded six earned runs on eight hits in just 4 2/3 innings for his fifth loss of the season.

Springfield mustered just six hits but did manage to push across five runs in the later going, though it wasn’t enough to eclipse Corpus Christi’s output. Patrick Wisdom plated two from a triple while Breyvic Valera too tripled home a run. Charlie Tilson collected two hits along with his 30th stolen base on the season.

Tuesday, July 14th, scheduled off-day

Due to the Major League All-Star Game, there was no full-season and short-season action across minor league baseball on Tuesday evening.

Wednesday, July 15th, Springfield 6 vs. NW Arkansas 3

Springfield was shut out by big-leaguer Kris Medlen through a breezing seven shutout frames for NW Arkansas on Wednesday night. Medlen is on a rehab assignment coming back from Tommy John surgery. As soon as Medlen departed, the Cardinals offense posted a six-spot in the eighth inning against two Naturals’ relievers. That lead would stand as Springfield earned the series-opening victory.

Back-to-back RBI hits by Patrick Wisdom and Bruce Caldwell fueled the engine but it was Aledmys Diaz who put the finishing touches on the late-game rally with a grand slam. It was Diaz’s fifth homer of the season and probably the biggest one of his Cardinal career.

Jimmy Reed gutted through five innings while getting beaten up for 10 hits, two of those solo shots. Reed left as the game’s losing pitcher, but that was erased by Diaz’s grand slam. Kyle Barraclough allowed an earned run two hits in the eighth but finished as the winning pitcher while Ronnie Shaban closed the door on his first save as a member of the Double-A Cardinals.

Who’s Hot

Aledmys Diaz - In the short period of just five games since his move off the Cardinals 40 man-roster, Diaz has shown the dynamic of turning the corner. The shortstop is 8 for his last 23 (.347 average) with two of his five home runs this season, eight RBI, and three runs scored. One of the home runs includes a go-ahead grand slam that lifted the Cardinals to a victory on Wednesday night.

Charlie Tilson - A double on Wednesday night extended Tilson’s current hitting streak to seven games. The Wilmette, Illinois native has hit safely in 14 of his last 16 games since June 27th, going 24-for-64 (.369 average) during that impressive stretch of hitting.

Ronnie Shaban - Shaban has been nothing short of a stalwart for the Cardinals bullpen and has gradually pitched himself into the higher-leverage situations of late. Including his High-A Palm Beach numbers, the right-hander in his last ten games holds a microscopic 0.68 ERA, with two saves, and 11 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings pitched.

Who’s Not

Derek Gibson - Facing arguably the most advanced level of competition so far in his professional career. Gibson’s average has declined significantly - down to .111 from his High-A Palm Beach mark of .375. These struggles are in a small sample size of 27 at-bats, but bring a reminder of the considerable jump in talent from High-A to Double-A. Immediate success isn’t always a guarantee after a promotion.

Jordan Swagerty - Swagerty’s struggles continue, as his appearances have thinned out greatly in the past couple of weeks. The organization could be backing off his work given 16 2/3 innings would be the most innings he’s logged for more than three years while overcoming numerous surgical operations. The former second-round draft pick holds an ERA north of 12.00. (Editor’s note: There is an unconfirmed report out of Springfield that Swagerty has left the team. More on that coming as we get additional information.)

Ryan Sherriff - Sherriff looked sharp with a well-located fastball and command of his sweeping slider to lefties through his five scoreless outings back from the disabled list. In his last two outings, however, the lefty has yielded three earned runs on seven hits in 2 1/3 innings pitched.

Springbirds batting order

This week’s lineup featured a more set top of the order than what has been used this season. Lead-off hitter Tilson has been this lineup’s catalyst for the last 13 games. Manager Dann Bilardello leaned on Patrick Wisdom at two, Bruce Caldwell in the all-important three-hole, and Jonathan Rodriguez cleaned up.

Michael Ohlman batted fifth for three games before leaving with an injury during Saturday’s game. David Washington moved up to the fifth-hole over the next three games with Aledmys Diaz following behind at six. The bottom third of the order continued to fluctuate but Derek Gibson was normally seventh, with Alberto Rosario at eighth, and Breyvic Valera right behind at the ninth spot.

Team Transactions (additional notes)

7/10 RHP Thomas Lee transferred to AAA-Memphis from Springfield

Promoted last Thursday, Lee was swapped for Reed, who was previously at Memphis. The former started the night of his promotion, he picked right up where he left off from his last two Springfield starts and gave Memphis six solid innings of work on Thursday. Lee gave up a solo home run but countered with no walks, two strikeouts, and induced four groundouts and seven flyouts for his second win at Triple-A Memphis.

7/10 LHP Jimmy Reed transferred to Springfield from AAA-Memphis

As mentioned, Reed was sent down and took the place of right-handed starter Lee on the Double-A Springfield roster. The lefty was beat up in his return to the Texas League on Wednesday night but faced a prospect heavy order and worked the inner half of the plate effectively against their plethora of right-handed bats, something he’ll have to continue given his not-so-outstanding stuff.

7/10 SS Aledmys Diaz clears waivers and rejoins Springfield

Diaz went unclaimed by 29 other MLB teams, but that was the expectation because of the remaining dollars on his contract. The shortstop missed just two games while on waivers and returned to the field on Thursday, July 10th. So far, he is making strides at the plate with better results.

7/11 RHP Chris Thomas transferred to AAA-Memphis from Springfield

With the departures of relievers Sam Tuivailala and Nick Greenwood to the big-leagues, Thomas benefited with a promotion to Triple-A Memphis to settle in as a rubber arm in a middle relief role. The right-hander debuted with three strikeouts over an impressive four shutout innings on Saturday against the Nashville Sounds (MIL).

Though it is unclear of how long his Memphis tenure will last, Thomas was a valuable piece to the Springfield bullpen for his reliability and ability to pound the zone. His Double-A pitching coach Jason Simontacchi described Thomas as having an “invisible fastball” along with a “pretty good breaking ball, and changeup too.”

7/11 RHP Josh Lucas transferred to Springfield from High-A Palm Beach

From one dependable right-handed reliever to another as Lucas backfilled for Thomas. The reliever Lucas made his Double-A debut after posting a Palm Beach staff-leading 1.55 ERA over 40 2/3 innings in 27 games. He has appeared in two Double-A games to this point, both scoreless outings.

Lucas very much looks the part of an intimidating figure on the mound, standing at 6-foot-6, His stuff doesn’t overwhelm anyone, as he relies on his high 80s and a slider that when located down to the hitter has shown effectiveness. If not, the pitch shows little movement and is easily hittable while up the in the zone.

7/12 C Jose Gonzalez transferred to Springfield from High-A Palm Beach

Gonzalez was re-shuffled back to Springfield to fill in as an emergency catcher to Alberto Rosario after Michael Ohlman sat down due to an apparent but not serious injury on Saturday night. Gonzalez didn’t appear in any Springfield action.

7/14 C Jose Gonzalez transferred to High-A Palm Beach from Springfield

A move of precaution to offer temporary catching depth, the former Tulsa Driller back-stop was shipped back to Palm Beach on Tuesday night and will remain in his role as a backup catcher behind Carson Kelly.

Texas League North Division Standings (Second Half)

Club  W L PCT GB Home Away L10 Streak
Springfield Cardinals (STL) 10 9 0.526 - 5-4 5-5 6-4 W1
Tulsa Drillers (LAD) 10 9 0.526 - 4-2 6-7 5-5 W1
Arkansas Travelers (LAA) 9 10 0.474 1 7-5 2-5 5-5 L1
*NW Arkansas Naturals (KC) 5 13 0.278 5 3-6 2-7 2-8 L1
*first half winner                

The Cardinal Nation Top 40 Prospect Watch

#10 Charlie Tilson - Tilson’s in-game and overall improvements has led him to near the top of many Texas League statistical categories this season. Among those, Tilson ranks first among active Texas League players for total hits (98), while also ranking second in stolen bases (30, a career-high) behind the Naturals speed-demon Terrance Gore. Tilson also is fourth in batting average (.301), fourth in runs scored (53), and first in at-bats (329), which speaks to his ability to remain durable after fighting injuries while in the lower levels of the Cardinals system.

#12 Aledmys Diaz - Diaz has responded in a huge way to the wake-up call after clearing waivers last week. On Wednesday night, the Cuban worked an 11-pitch at-bat, fouling eight pitches, to then find his pitch and crank it for a go-ahead grand slam, a no-doubter off the bat. The breaking stuff still gives Diaz fits, but if he can lay off enough off those and force pitchers to attack him with fastballs, there could be room for success.

#15 Breyvic Valera – It is hard to imagine anyone with an emptier offensive profile than Valera with the lack of usable speed, extra-base pop, and plate discipline - an ability he’s focused on improving but is still not enough to make much of a profile. Seen as a predominant singles hitter, Valera almost always puts the bat on the ball, but his performance at the plate this season can be described as a Punch-and-Judy fashion with a little luck on balls in play. I wonder if the middle infielder could benefit by adding a slight uppercut to his swing for a better lift to enhance to his ability to drive the ball.

#25 Mike Mayers - Mayers pitched five effective innings of one-run ball last Saturday for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals in his second rehab start. Given this was the start the Cardinals stretched him out, Mayers should return to the upper levels relatively sooner rather than later. Unclear of his placement, however.

#27 Patrick Wisdom - Wisdom has continued his torrid hitting into the month of July. The third baseman’s actually hitting for a higher average this month. Through 13 games, Wisdom is hitting .309 with a home run and five RBI. Though the over-the-fence power doesn’t match his June totals, the amount of gap power has increased with Wisdom already matching his doubles from June as well as two more triples in July.

#35 Andrew Morales – Morales’ outing against Corpus Christi on Sunday was the theme of his season. The right-hander pitched six innings but was touched for five earned runs on ten hits. As pitching coach Jason Simontacchi told me recently, “The rough spots, there just some growing pains. It is what happens to guys who have a lot of success then all of a sudden they fail a little bit, and they really don’t know what to do or how to do it”. Because of the off-day, Morales was pushed back and should start this Saturday in the finale against NW Arkansas.

What's Next

Springfield goes into week 15 - almost 20 games in the second half - with a share of first-place in the North Division. That is a considerable improvement from the last-place finish in the first half of the season. The Cardinals will finish up a quick homestand against NW Arkansas, with three games remain to be played heading into this weekend.

Springfield will have to deal with a grinding schedule that consists of 25 consecutive games until their next off-day on August 10th. The club will set out for four against the Arkansas Travelers on a quick four-game road trip starting on Sunday and going into next week, then come back home to play another four games against NW Arkansas next weekend.





Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.

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