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After a long and much-anticipated wait, baseball in the Pacific Coast League is back!
The Memphis Redbirds (4-4) kicked off the 2016 campaign with an eight game homestand against the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (3-4) and the Oklahoma City Dodgers (5-3). The pitching staff, the strength of the ball club, opened the season as one of the best in the league (tied for second in strikeouts and fourth in ERA in the PCL), and the lineup has upped their play compared to last season.
Here’s how the week unfolded:
Thursday, April 7: Colorado Springs (MIL) 4 at Memphis (STL) 3
The Redbirds dropped their Opening Day game against the visiting Sky Sox, 4-3, after sixth inning sub Garin Cecchini reached home in the ninth via Dean Anna’s fielder’s choice.
After five scoreless innings and a Sky Sox run in the top of the sixth, Memphis jumped on the scoreboard with a three-run sixth, highlighted by a three-run homer from Jonathan Rodriguez (1-for-4) that plated Jacob Wilson and Anthony Garcia.
That would be Memphis’ last good chance to reach home, unfortunately, as Colorado Springs rallied and scored three in the last two innings to win. Wilson (2-for-3 with a double) led all batters during the game, while Garcia (1-for-3) and Carlos Peguero (1-for-3) doubled.
Newly-acquired starter Deck McGuire put in a good debut shift. In 5 1/3 innings, the right-hander fanned four, walked three and allowed one earned run off four hits.
Justin Wright and Miguel Socolovich struck out two each in relief duty, but right-hander Juan Gonzales recorded a blown save after allowing the Sky Sox to knot the game at 3-3 in the eighth. Sam Tuivailala (1-0, 9.00), last year’s Reliever of the Year, was awarded the first loss of the season after Anna’s fielder’s choice. The flamethrower struck out two.
Friday, April 8: Colorado Springs (MIL) 1 at Memphis (STL) 2
The Redbirds grabbed a game back from the Sky Sox, 2-1, with a two-run first and a good performance from their bullpen Friday night.
Rodriguez (1-for-3) and debutant Charlie Tilson (1-for-3) plated a runner each in their first at-bats to give Memphis an early 2-1 lead. The Sky Sox scored a run in the top of the third, but the Redbirds’ bullpen pitched six shutout innings to earn the win. Wilson (2-for-4) recorded his second multi-hit game of the season, while Rodriguez plated four runners in the first two games.
Starter J.C. Sulbaran (1-0, 1.80) earned the win in his debut start for Memphis. The right-hander fanned four, walked two and allowed one earned off two hits in five innings pitched. Gonzales earned his first save as a Redbird, striking out one and walking two in the ninth.
Saturday, April 9: Colorado Springs (MIL) 0 at Memphis (STL) 4
On Saturday, Memphis shut out visiting Colorado Springs in a 4-0 win at AutoZone Park.
The Redbirds recorded 10 hits, led by Garcia (2-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI), Nick Martini (2-for-4 with a double). Veteran Alberto Rosario’s sac fly plated a runner in the second, but was injured and replaced by newcomer Michael Ohlman. Ohlman’s home run in the seventh gave the Redbirds a 4-0 lead and cemented the win.
Starter Jeremy Hefner (1-0, 0.00) earned the win after striking out five, walking three and allowing one in five shutout innings. Relievers Heath Wyatt and Socolovich each fanned two.
Sunday, April 10: Colorado Springs (MIL) 6 at Memphis (STL) 4
The Redbirds allowed 15 hits as the ball club lost to the Sky Sox, 6-4, at AutoZone Park on Sunday.
Anna (3-for-5 with an RBI) and Peguero (2-for-5 with an RBI) led the way, but Memphis’ offense could not compete with Colorado Springs. Tilson’s (0-for-2) walk in the first plated Memphis’ first runner, while Patrick Wisdom’s (0-for-2) groundout in the third scored another.
Starter Thomas Lee (0-1, 7.20) had a rough outing, allowing 12 hits and four earned runs in five innings of duty. The right-hander fanned one and walked two. Sherriff struck out two, and Wyatt fanned three in relief.
Monday, April 11: Oklahoma City (LAD) 4 at Memphis (STL) 0
The Redbirds lost the first of their series with the Oklahoma City Dodgers after being shut out in a 4-0 loss Monday night.
Wisdom (1-for-4) and Ohlman (1-for-4) each doubled, while Garcia, Peguero, Rodriguez and Alex Mejia singled. Garcia reached third in the first via Peguero’s grounder, but that would be the closest Memphis would come to scoring.
Starter Arturo Reyes (0-1, 1.80) struck out eight in five innings, but took the loss in his first start of the season. The right-hander walked one and allowed one earned on two hits. Reliever John Church fanned three in one inning.
Tuesday, April 12: Oklahoma City (LAD) 4 at Memphis (STL) 2
Memphis suffered its third consecutive loss in a 4-2 defeat to Oklahoma City at AutoZone Park on Tuesday.
Eight Redbirds recorded a hit. Ohlman (2-for-4) led all batters with two, while Anna and Wisdom scored a runner each in the fifth to give Memphis a 2-1 lead.
McGuire, going against his former club, put in a solid night. The right-hander fanned four, walked two and allowed one run (no earned) on three hits in six innings pitched. Socolovich struck out three in one inning, but blew the save in the seventh via a James Ramsey RBI double.
Wednesday, April 13: Oklahoma City (LAD) 1 at Memphis (STL) 8
The Redbirds ended their three-game losing streak with an 8-1 win over the Dodgers on Wednesday.
Memphis started the onslaught with two homers – a three-run blast from Peguero (1-for-3) and a solo shot from Rodriguez (1-for-4) – to take a 4-0 lead in the third. After a scoreless fourth, an RBI double from Wilson (2-for-4), an RBI single from Martini (1-for-4) and an RBI single from Ohlman (2-for-3) extended Memphis’ lead to 7-0. The Redbirds put the game out of reach after Tilson (3-for-5) reached on a fielding error to score Ohlman.
Sulbaran (2-0, 1.80) earned his second win in his five-inning start. The right-hander struck out two, walked one and allowed one earned on six hits. Sherriff and Wyatt both fanned one during a combined three innings of relief.
Thursday, April 14: Oklahoma City (LAD) 3 at Memphis (STL) 4
Rodriguez (2-for-3 with three RBI), who came on in the fifth as part of a double switch, singled home two runners with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to give the Redbirds a 4-3 walk-off win against the Dodgers on Thursday.
After seven scoreless innings and a 2-0 deficit, the Redbirds opened the bottom of the eighth with an RBI double from Rodriguez and a Wilson (1-for-4 and an RBI) sac fly that plated Luis Cruz and tied the game at 2-2.
When the Dodgers took back the lead with an RBI single in the next frame, the Redbirds entered the bottom of the ninth with a 3-2 deficit. With two outs, Memphis was able to load the bases after two walks and a single before Rodriguez’s walk-off single sealed the game. Matt Williams led all Redbirds’ batters with three hits in four at-bats.
Starter Hefner struck out five, walked one and allowed two earned on five hits in 4 2/3 innings pitched. Reliever Wyatt (1-0, 0.00) earned the win, while Tuivailala fanned four in 1 2/3 innings of work.
The Redbirds currently have three batters hitting above .300 – Jacob Wilson, Matt Williams and Michael Ohlman. Wilson leads the team with a .375 average while plating two runners. Williams is just behind in second with a .333 average while Ohlman sits in third with a .318 average.
However, the position player who made the biggest impact in Week 1 is Jonathan Rodriguez. The first baseman is tops on the team in HR (2) and RBI (8) with a .286 average.
Although he has yet to get his first win of the season, starter Deck McGuire leads all starters in ERA (0.79), with his best performance – four strikeouts and one run (no earned) in six innings – coming against his former team, the Oklahoma City Dodgers.
Arturo Reyes is another starter who is hot. The right-hander struck out eight in his lone start of the week, a 4-0 loss to the Dodgers.
In his Triple-A introduction, Patrick Wisdom has struggled, hitting .158 in 19 at-bats.
Dean Anna, one of Memphis’ most consistent performers in 2015, is another position player who has struggled to gain his footing. The infielder is batting .217 in 23 at-bats, but he has plated two runners.
While Memphis’ pitchers have done well so far this season, there are a few who have suffered hiccups to open the season.
Reliever Sam Tuivailala, last year’s Reliever of the Year, fanned eight during the week, but is last on the team in ERA (9.82) in 3.2 innings pitched.
Starter Thomas Lee allowed 12 hits and five runs (four earned) in his first loss of the season on Sunday against Colorado Springs.
Reliever Juan Gonzales recorded his first save of the season Friday against Colorado Springs, but the right-hander blew the save Opening Day and sports a 9.00 ERA.
Alex Reyes, St. Louis’ top prospect in The Cardinal Nation’s Top 40, was called up from Springfield to complete the remaining 40 games of his suspension at the Triple-A level.
Catcher Luis Cruz was moved up from Springfield after veteran Alberto Rosario was placed on the disabled list.
Here’s how the week unfolded:
04/07/2016: RHP Alex Reyes assigned to Memphis Redbirds from Springfield Cardinals.
04/07/2016: Memphis Redbirds placed LHP Marco Gonzales on the 7-day disabled list.
04/07/2016: Memphis Redbirds placed RHP Tyler Waldron on the 7-day disabled list.
04/07/2016: Memphis Redbirds placed LHP Tim Cooney on the 7-day disabled list.
04/10/2016: C Luis Cruz assigned to Memphis Redbirds from Springfield Cardinals.
04/10/2016: Memphis Redbirds placed C Alberto Rosario on the 7-day disabled list.
TCN Top 40 Prospects
The Redbirds have ten of The Cardinal Nation’s Top 40 Prospects on their roster, though the top three are unavailable. Here is how they have performed recently:
1. Alex Reyes: Reyes is currently on the restricted list. The 21-year-old spent time in Springfield, Palm Beach and GCL Cardinals in 2015. The right-hander went 3-2 with a 3.12 ERA in Springfield, and 2-5 with a 2.26 ERA in Palm Beach.
3. Marco Gonzales: Gonzales was placed on the disabled list to start the season. The lefty, who also missed time in 2015, had been sidelined with an elbow injury, and the Cardinals confirmed Wednesday that the prospect would undergo Tommy John surgery, ending his 2016 before it officially began.
5. Tim Cooney: Cooney was placed on the disabled list to open the year. The starter’s spring shoulder soreness is back and he has been shut down indefinitely. The lefty was arguably Memphis’ best starter in 2015 before being sidelined with appendicitis.
6. Charlie Tilson: Tilson was promoted to Memphis after a successful 2015 season in Springfield. The outfielder, known as a speedster, has already recorded one stolen base this season, and is batting .240 with two RBI.
11. Sam Tuivailala: Tuivailala led Memphis in saves last season (17) and will be used as a closer again this season. Although he has hit a rough patch early with a 9.82 ERA, the right-hander has fanned eight in 3 2/3 innings.
20. Jacob Wilson: Wilson, the hometown kid, has started the season off on a high. The infielder leads the Redbirds in batting (.375) in 24 at-bats, and has plated two runners as well.
24. Patrick Wisdom: Wisdom came in this season known as a power-hitter – the infielder hasn’t hit less than 13 home runs in three seasons (two with Springfield and one with Peoria.) His time in Memphis has started slowly, though, as the 24-year-old is last on the team in batting (.158), as it may take some time for him to adjust to Triple-A play.
25. Anthony Garcia: Garcia has started the 2016 season in good form after finishing last season with a .276 batting average in Memphis. The outfielder is batting .286 in 21 at-bats with one RBI and four doubles.
30. Michael Ohlman: Ohlman was mentioned earlier in this article as one of the three hottest batters in Memphis’ lineup. The catcher blasted 12 homers last season in Springfield, and is third on the Redbirds in average (.318) with one HR and two RBI.
33. Arturo Reyes: Reyes struggled some last season to adjust to Triple-A, but if his first game of 2016 is any indication, Reyes could catch the eyes of St. Louis management. The right-hander lost his 2016 opener, but struck out eight in the process and sports a 1.80 ERA.
Memphis’ pitching staff was the strength of the ball club last season, and they will be relied upon again this season. The Redbirds sit tied for second in strikeouts (72) and fourth in the PCL in ERA (2.38).
While the ball club struggled to hit the ball in 2015, Memphis has started 2016 on a good note offensively. The Redbirds are batting a respectable .257 and lead the league in doubles (18) after Week 1.
Memphis (4-4) finished Week 1 in second place in the Pacific Coast League American Southern Division, 1.5 games behind division-leaders and last year’s runners-up Round Rock Express (5-2). Meanwhile, the Nashville Sounds (3-4) sit .5 games behind Memphis, and the New Orleans Zephyrs (3-5) are a game behind.
The Redbirds are opening an eight-game road trip, beginning April 15 at Colorado Springs and ending April 22 at Oklahoma City. Thomas Lee will start Friday, followed by Arturo Reyes, Deck McGuire, J.C. Sulbaran and Jeremy Hefner.
Memphis, which played host to both teams to start the season, split the series against each. The opponents have a low batting average (.211 for Colorado Springs, .207 for Oklahoma City), and the Redbirds feature arguably one of the best pitching staffs in the league.
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