Junior Fernandez (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Weekly news from the St. Louis Cardinals’ Midwest League affiliate in Peoria

The Cardinals’ Midwest League affiliate dropped four of seven games as the hitting slowed, though the pitching remained strong.

After jumping out to an impressive 3-1 start to the season, the Peoria Chiefs seemed to take a step back last week, dropping four of their seven games. The offense, which scored 22 runs in its first four games, was relatively quiet over the last week. They were held to only 10 runs over a five-game stretch last week before breaking out for nine in Sunday’s win.

Peoria began the week at home before heading on a four-game road trip to Wisconsin.

Game Summaries

Tuesday, April 12: Peoria Chiefs 0 vs. Quad Cities Bandits 2

Chiefs starter Brennan Leitao gave up a solo-shot in the first inning, which proved to be the deciding run. Despite being effective through five innings, Leitao was given no run support from the offense.

http://www.scout.com/player/200691-brennan-leitao?s=321

No Chiefs hitters who had multiple hits in the ballgame. In fact, Peoria was only able to scratch five hits throughout the evening. Normal starters Magneuris Sierra and Eliezer Alvarez were given the day off, and their presences were missed at the top of the lineup.

R.J. Dennard continued his hot hitting by going 1-for-4 while Brian O’Keefe secured the team’s only extra base hit of the game by smashing a double.

Wednesday April 13: Peoria Chiefs 3 vs. Quad Cities Bandits 5

Peoria got on top early after Sierra scored on a Dennard RBI single. Starter Derian Gonzalez wasn’t able to hold the lead long as he gave up a run in the third. Gonzalez, who took a no decision, was dominant at times, yielding only two hits and two walks with a staggering 10 punch-outs.    

The Chiefs took a 3-2 lead into the eighth inning when reliever Tyler Bray gave up three straight two-out hits, including a bases-clearing triple that proved to be the dagger. Peoria went down in order after the Quad Cities rally and fell for the second consecutive evening.

Dennard continued his hot hitting by going 2-for-4 with two RBI. Sierra, who has been in the three hole most of the year, was 1-for-4 with two runs scored as his average improved to .263.

Thursday April 14: Peoria Chiefs 0 at Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 4

For the second time in two games, Peoria was shut out on the way to a third straight loss.

Edmundo Sosa, who has been struggling of late, had a great day at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a double. Sosa was responsible for half of the team’s hits, as Alvarez and Sierra were the only others to earn a hit. Dennard’s hit streak was ended at six games as he went 0-for-4.

Jake Woodford’s second start of the year wasn’t quite as sharp as his debut. The right-hander went 5 2/3 innings but surrendered nine hits, including a home run en route to giving up four earned runs. Woodford took the loss for his first Midwest League decision.

Friday April 15: Peoria Chiefs 5 at Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 3

After losing three straight, Peoria finally found its way into the win column. A three-run fourth inning, thanks to four consecutive hits fueled the Chiefs victory.

Alvarez, Sosa, Sierra and Dennard were responsible for the three-run third inning. The hits were the only ones each player would record in the game.

Once again, the bullpen gave up a lead in the later innings of the game. However, Vaughn Bryan drove in Craig Aikin with the winning run in the ninth.

Sandy Alcantara built off his first outing to provide a quality start for Peoria. However, similar to his prior outing, his last inning was easily his worst. The flamethrower worked into the seventh but didn’t record an out after giving up three runs on a couple hits. However, the flamethrower had an electric fastball, pumping it up to as high as 99 on the afternoon.

http://www.scout.com/player/181067-sandy-alcantara?s=321

He ended up with a line of six innings, two walks, two hits and five strikeouts. Steven De La Cruz was awarded the win and Landon Beck earned the save.

Saturday April 16: Peoria Chiefs 2 at Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 7

A six-run sixth inning for the Timber Rattlers dealt the Chiefs the loss on Saturday. Starter Ryan Helsley was cruising along through five innings until he ran into a Wisconsin rally. Helsley gave up a pair of singles, doubles and a home run before he was relieved of his duties. He ended up going 5 2/3 with four earned runs on seven hits and four strikeouts.

Alvarez and Bryan had productive bats on the afternoon, each going 2-for-4. Alvarez smacked a double in the fifth and Bryan scored in the third.

Jose Godoy was given the night off behind the plate, giving Brian O’Keefe a chance to play. Godoy and O’Keefe have been splitting time behind the plate, but look to see Godoy take the spot because of his bat, as he’s hitting .381 compared to O’Keefe’s .235.

Sunday April 17: Peoria Chiefs 9 at Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 2

Junior Fernandez was the story of the day as he dominated the Timber Rattlers in the series finale. The 19-year-old was stellar in his second outing of the year, going seven innings with three strikeouts, three walks and five hits en route to his second win on the season. Fernandez’s fastball clocked in in the high-90’s early on, and though he was a little slower in the later innings, he certainly found a way to be effective.

The Chiefs offense wasn’t silent, either. Peoria struck early and often, scoring all nine runs in the first five innings. Five Chiefs had multi-hit games and three had multi-RBI games. Alvarez was 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles, three RBI and a pair of walks.

Craig Aikin and Thomas Spitz, who hit eighth and ninth in the lineup, recorded three hits between them and combined for five runs scored and four RBI.

Monday April 18: Peoria Chiefs 11 vs. Clinton LumberKings 2

For the second straight game, Peoria’s starter was phenomenal and the offense exploded. Brennan Leitao (1-1) delivered a one-run start for seven innings on seven strikeouts, four hits and no walks. Leitao was in the high-80’s and low-90’s for most of the night and produced five 1-2-3 innings.

Peoria was limited to only two hits through the first four innings until they put up three runs on one hit, three walks and a wild pitch. The Chiefs added four more in the sixth inning thanks to hits from Godoy, Leobaldo Pina, Craig Aikin and Casey Turgeon, and from there, the rest was history.

Godoy and Aikin both ended the day 1-for-2 with a single, a walk and a pair of runs scored, while Sierra went 2-for-5 with a triple to left-center field.

There is a Reason They are Starters

Jake Woodford, Ryan Helsley and Sandy Alcantara were all having extremely solid outings in the last week until they reached their last inning of work. Each pitcher went five scoreless frames before surrendering a plethora of runs in their sixth inning. In fact, the three combined to give up 11 runs in that frame.

For Alcantara, it was the second such outing in which he yielded runs in his final inning. The likely cause is fatigue as the young pitchers probably run out of gas after five solid innings. It’s tough to blame manager Joe Kruzel for leaving those guys in an extra inning when they prove to be very effective through five.

The next challenge for the young pitchers will be learning how to economize early in outings so they can continue work effectively in the later innings.

Rotating Infield

While Edmundo Sosa and Alvarez are highly-touted prospects, they haven’t been playing every day. The middle-infielders have had multiple days off in the last week, and the likely reason is that it gives Casey Turgeon and Leobaldo Pina a chance to play routinely instead of platooning at third base.

None of the infielders have been overwhelming at the plate thus far, however, so no one has given Kruzel an overwhelming reason to play one over the other. Alvarez has the highest average among the group. The other three? .244 (Sosa), .250 (Turgeon) and .133 (Pina). However, speaking of Alvarez…

Who’s Hot

http://www.scout.com/player/158983-eliezer-alvarez?s=321

Eliezer Alvarez. He may only be hitting .257 on the year, but the second baseman has boosted his average considerably in the last week (.182). He is six for his last 20, but four of those hits have been for extra bases, and he currently boasts a four game hitting streak. Alvarez is seeing the ball well and has obviously flashed some pop in his bat. He has struggled a bit overall this season, but we have definitely seen flashes of all five of his tools, which is extremely encouraging. As the season goes on and he continues to show power, we will likely see him in the two or three hole in the lineup. Alvarez’s speed makes it enticing for Kruzel to put him in the leadoff spot, but his bat will be better utilized in a spot where he can drive in runs.

http://www.scout.com/player/192408-junior-fernandez?s=321

Junior Fernandez. The 19-year-old was fantastic in his second start for Peoria. Fernandez showed he can pump his fastball by opposing hitters early, but also proved in the later innings that he can get hitters out in other ways. Fernandez also worked with base runners on for most of the game as he yielded five hits and three walks. However, it is also extremely impressive that such a young pitcher was able to work out of trouble time and time again. His next start will be on Saturday against the same opponent, so it will be interesting to see how he backs it up.

Who’s Not

Leobaldo Pina. Pina has been playing third base lately, but if he keeps swinging the way he is now, he might not see himself in the lineup much. Pina is hitting .133 with 11 strikeouts and one extra base hit. The 21-year-old is swinging and missing quite a bit and isn’t very patient, so he is not even getting on base. Something has to change for the Venezuelan if he wants to keep seeing significant playing time. 

Last Week’s Hot and Cold Players

R.J. Dennard. Dennard cooled off considerably from his electric start, but is still hitting reasonably well. The first baseman is hitting .333 overall, but has no extra base hits in the last week with only two RBI.

Jake Woodford. As mentioned before, Woodford wasn’t as great in his second outing as he was in his first, as Woodford is now 0-1 with a 4.63 ERA in 11 2/3 innings.

Edmundo Sosa. Sosa has certainly improved since his rough start, but is still hitting .244. Sosa has a seven-game hit streak to his name, but is still relatively underperforming at the plate.

Sasha Kuebel. Kuebel had a couple chances to redeem himself last week and did a decent job. The reliever threw 3 1/3 innings, giving up one run with three strikeouts. His ERA plummeted from 27.00 to 8.31.

Transactions

None.

Injuries

Pitcher Jery Then and catcher Chris Chinea remain on the 7-day DL.

Team Stats – Season to Date

The Chiefs offense struggled immensely over the last week, despite what their last two games would imply. The pitching, aside from a few tough innings from their starting pitchers, has been impressive.

Offense Season Stat MWL rank of 16 (Last week)
BA .246 8 (7)
Runs 52 6 (7)
HR 2 T-10 (T-5)
Stolen Bases 7 15 (T-9)
OBP .312 10 (7)
OPS .655 10 (5)
     
Pitching Season Stat MWL rank of 16 (Last week)
ERA 3.09 6 (4)
Strikeouts 93 T-7 (T-12)
Walks 29 T-13 (T-10)
HR Allowed 6 T-2 (T-4)
Saves 2 T-10 (T-4)

Midwest League Western Division Standings

Club (Previous rank) W L Pct. GB L10 STRK
Cedar Rapids (1) 8 4 .667 - 6-4 W1
Kane County (6) 7 4 .636 0.5 7-3 L1
Beloit (2) 7 5 .583 1.0 5-5 W3
Clinton (4) 6 5 .545 1.5 5-5 L1
Peoria (3) 6 5 .545 1.5 6-4 W2
Burlington (5) 5 6 .455 2.5 4-6 L3
Wisconsin (7) 5 7 .417 3.0 5-5 W1
Quad Cities (8) 2 10 .167 6.0 2-8 L5

What’s Next

The Chiefs will play at home all week until an off day next Monday. Peoria will throw Derian Gonzalez (0-0, 1.80) and Jake Woodford (0-1, 4.63) in the last two games of a three-game set against the Clinton LumberKings (6-5). The Chiefs finish off the week with a four-game series against Wisconsin (4-7).

Follow Alex Kryah on Twitter @ar_Kryah9.

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