This report covers the period from Thursday, April 14th through Wednesday, April 20th.
Cming off an impressive 4-2 road-trip to open regular season play, the Springfield Cardinals seemed to take a slight step back during the first homestand, going 3-3 at Hammons Field this past week.
The offense plated 28 runs on the road before being slowed at home. They were blanked three different times while being held to two runs in as many games, but one was a combined shutout victory for the Cardinals pitching staff. When scoring more than two runs, Springfield pushed runs across in bunches with a nine-run gallop over San Antonio Missions (SD), securing the rubber game, followed by a six-run rout over Corpus Christi Hooks (HOU) to avoid a three-game sweep.
Overall, the Cardinals continue to pace the North Division with a 7-5 record, two games ahead of the Arkansas Travelers (LAA) (5-7). Sitting right behind the Travelers is the Tulsa Drillers (LAD) at 4-8 and NW Arkansas Naturals (KC) at 3-9.
Thursday, April 14th, Springfield 0 vs. San Antonio 5
Springfield's offense was clamped by the San Antonio Missions pitching staff, as the Cardinals managed just five hits in a shutout loss in the home-opener at Hammons Field on Thursday night. With the loss, Springfield fell to 4-3.
Seeking better results in his second outing, newcomer Trey Nielsen drew the Opening Night nod. Working mostly on a sinker and slider combo, Nielsen allowed five earned runs in the first three innings as the Missions made hard contact in the early innings. The right-hander ended up going 5 2/3 innings, but the San Antonio pitching staff was the story of the night.
Of the six hits, Carson Kelly accounted for two, both one-baggers. Ruben Tejada, rehabbing his way back from a quad strain, hit two sharp balls, but had only a double to show for it in three at-bats before he was pulled in the sixth inning. Tejada tested his quad while stretching out a double and appeared to be running normally.
Friday, April 15th, Springfield 2 vs. San Antonio 0
Daniel Poncedeleon and Springfield returned the favor on Friday night, blanking San Antonio for a 2-0 victory. In just his second start, Poncedeleon suppressed the Missions' offense through 7 1/3 scoreless innings, retiring 13 batters at one point.
Though he was not the winning pitcher, Poncedeleon struck out seven while scattering only six hits and did not walk a single batter. Armed with a low 90s fastball and ground-ball inducing slider, Poncedeleon generated an impressive ten groundouts and no fly outs.
Following Poncedeleon in the eighth, Chris Thomas retired his lone two batters for his first win of the season. Ronnie Shaban picked up his first save with a clean ninth.
Despite the Cardinals offense having a relatively quiet night, they were timely. Luke Voit ignited the attack with a double to deep left-center field, setting it up for David Washington, who deposited a would-be game-winning two-run homer to set up the rubber game with San Antonio on Saturday night. It was Washington's second long ball of the season.
Saturday, April 16th, Springfield 9 vs. San Antonio 4
With a little help from an offense that thrived on situational hitting and the efficient pitching of Andrew Morales, Springfield zoomed past San Antonio on Saturday. As a result, the Cardinals won their third straight series to start the season and pace the Texas League North with a 6-3 record.
Morales pitched seven innings of four-run ball (three earned) and earned his second win. The former UC Irvine standout punched out eight, walked two, and gave up just five hits.
John Brebbia and Corey Littrell combined to pitch two scoreless innings in relief.
The offense banged out 12 hits and went 5-for-9 with runners in scoring position. David Washington hit a 2-run RBI double and 2-run opposite field homer to left capped by a perfect three-hit performance from Collin Radack, who moved up to the No. 2 spot because of his recent hot-hitting. Radack also plated starter Andrew Morales, who reached on his first-career RBI single. Paul DeJong hit a sac fly and shot a single up the middle that scored two.
Sunday, April 17th, Springfield 2 vs. Corpus Christi 3
Through six innings, Springfield had a 2-1 advantage over Corpus Christi. At that point, Astros top prospect Alex Bregman handed the Hooks their first lead of the night by lifting his fifth home run of the season to left-center field beyond the outstretched glove of Harrison Bader.
Bregman's fourth home run against Cardinals pitching helped Corpus Christi seize the series-opener with a 3-2 win.
Starter Corey Baker pitched five scoreless innings before Josh Lucas's implosion. The reliever tossed a scoreless sixth before allowing all three of the Hooks’ runs in the seventh inning. Corey Littrell and Chris Perry combined for the last 2 1/3 scoreless innings.
The Cardinals offense had a quiet night at the plate with Harrison Bader's first Double-A home run, a two-run shot, as the unit's only output.
Monday, April 18th, Springfield 0 vs. Corpus Christi 6
Corpus Christi topped Springfield 6-0 for the series victory on Monday night, snapping the Cardinals streak of three consecutive series wins to open the 2016 season.
Starter Mike Mayers started off his outing shakily, walking four in the first two innings. However, the right-hander bounced back and retired his final 13 batters before being pulled after six innings. Mayers was the hard-luck loser.
Against the Springfield bullpen, the Hooks plated five runs in the final three innings for a commanding lead and eventually the victory. Chris Thomas (three), Kurt Heyer (one), and Ronnie Shaban (one) combined to allow the five runs while Chris Perry was the lone Cardinals reliever to have a clean outing. Perry retired one batter in the ninth.
The Hooks pitching staff limited the Cardinals offense to seven hits as Springfield left eight baserunners aboard and went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. Breyvic Valera and David Washington had four of the team’s seven hits.
Tuesday, April 19th, Springfield 6 vs. Corpus Christi 3
Having dropped game one and game two, Springfield was able to salvage the series finale and avoid being swept by Corpus Christi in front of a sellout crowd at Hammons Field on Tuesday afternoon.
Trey Nielsen navigated through five shutout frames with a season-high five strikeouts, picking up his first Double-A win as a result. The right-hander had trouble throwing consistent strikes with four walks on the day but was effective with runners aboard.
Joey Donofrio worked a quick sixth, but Corpus Christi cut a six-run deficit in half by scoring two off Donofrio in the seventh. John Brebbia completed the seventh but allowed the third score. Ronnie Shaban slammed the door with his first six-out save and overall third save of 2016.
The Cardinals offense produced nine hits on the afternoon, as seven of the nine hitters contributed at least one. The biggest knocks came via a 3-run RBI double from Breyvic Valera capped by a 2-run shot by Luke Voit in that six-run fifth for Springfield. The blast was Voit's first Double-A round-tripper. Also, it was his first homer at Hammons Field since 2012 when he was a member of the Missouri State Bears.
Wednesday, April 20th, league-wide off-day
Springfield finished the first homestand going 3-3 while maintaining first place in the North Division, with a 7-5 overall record. After an off-day on Wednesday, the Cardinals open up inner-division play against their rival, the Arkansas Travelers (LAA), on Thursday.
Collin Radack - Since pinch-hitting twice in his first two Double-A games of 2016, Radack has hit safely in seven of his last eight games while warranting regular time and moving to the top of the lineup in the process. During that stretch, the outfielder is 11-for-26 (.423 average) with three multi-hit games, three RBI, four walks, and two thefts. Overall, Radack’s .393 average is third in the Texas League with teammate David Washington right behind at .371.
Radack, 24, has performed well versus appropriately aged competition to date in the lower levels with a .288/.364/.360 in 107 games between Low-A Peoria and High-A Palm Beach in his full introduction to pro ball last year. The 6-foot-3, 205 pound Hendrix College standout has above-average speed, good athleticism and gap power, but is best suited to the corners because of his size and likely will slow as he continues to mature on a professional workout regimen.
Daniel Poncedeleon - Poncedeleon debuted with seven innings of one-run ball before making an even stronger impression in his encore start on Friday night. The right-hander pitched into the eighth inning but was pulled after two singles by the San Antonio Missions. Poncedeleon finished with seven strikeouts to no walks and generated ten groundouts on the night.
In a minimum of two starts, Poncedeleon owns the lowest ERA (0.68) and WHIP (0.77) among Springfield starters and is third in the league in ERA.
Chris Jacobs - With four hits in his first 29 at-bats, Jacobs has struggled offensively to start 2016. The first baseman/designated hitter has been punched out 12 times but did slug his first homer on the 12th of April, a three-run shot.
Jacobs, 27, is a "hired thumper" and is expected to provide pop and protection to prospects. He has blasted 93 home runs in 10 minor league seasons but has fanned an absurd 670 times in 636 games, so huge swing and miss issues go along with his ability to park a baseball.
Breyvic Valera - Although Valera is coming on of late with three hits in his last eight at-bats, including a 3-run RBI game on Tuesday, for the season, the versatile position player is just 6-for-34 (.176).
Springbirds batting order
When Harrison Bader wasn't in the starting lineup leading off, rehabbing big-leaguer Ruben Tejada was. Bader led off in all but two games in this week's action. Tejada began his rehab in the two-hole before moving up to lead-off for his latter two games. Breyvic Valera replaced Tejada at short as well as the two-spot for the remainder of the week. Manager Dann Bilardello was looking to play the hot hand as Bruce Caldwell, and Collin Radack shared time in the three-hole.
David Washington and Luke Voit split at-bats between clean-up and fifth hole. Behind those two, the Cardinals seem to be easing Paul DeJong's bat into the Texas League by moving him down to the sixth and seventh spots with less pressure to perform. Radack also saw at-bats in the fifth and sixth spots while Chris Jacobs was penciled in that area as well.
Rounding out the order, Carson Kelly, and C.J. McElroy at eight and nine, respectively. Back-up catcher Jesse Jenner got a few starts this week and was slotted in Kelly's spot at eight.
4/19 INF Alex Mejia was assigned to Springfield from Triple-A Memphis
Mejia lost his job at Triple-A due to Monday's shift of Greg Garcia from St. Louis to Memphis. The addition of the middle infielder gives Springfield a more reliable hand at shortstop than Breyvic Valera.
In his 28 at-bats over ten games this time up with the Triple-A Redbirds, Mejia performed admirably, with five singles, two doubles, a triple and a pair of walks for a line of .286/.333/.429/.762.
4/20 INF Andrew Sohn was assigned to High-A Palm Beach from Springfield
Sohn was the corresponding move to Mejia's arrival on the Springfield roster. In limited action this season, the 22-year-old went 1-for-10, a double, with two walks and two runs scored. The right-handed hitter fanned three times with Texas League Cardinals.
The Cardinal Nation Top 40 Prospect Watch
#12 Carson Kelly - Kelly played in just four games over this past week, but went 4-for-13 (.307 average). In his short time at Springfield, the catcher has more than held down his position while displaying a strong, accurate throwing arm.
At the plate, he has shown a penchant for driving the ball the other way, but without much authority. Of his seven hits, Kelly has one extra-base hit, his only home run of the season. He is batting .206 overall.
#13 Harrison Bader - Bader was white hot coming out of the gates, but has since cooled in a small sample of at-bats. Since April 12th, the Cardinals center fielder is 4-for-23 (.173 average) with ten strikeouts against Texas League pitching. There will certainly be a learning curve for the former Florida Gator standout who completely skipped High-A ball.
#16 Paul DeJong - Unlike Bader, DeJong hasn't seen immediate success in his transition to Double-A. The strikeouts continue to pile up with six more on the homestand, making his total on the season 18 in 43 at-bats (41.9%). Perhaps moving down in the order will allow him to see more pitches in favorable counts and do more damage.
#22 Daniel Poncedeleon - As mentioned above, Poncedeleon has made a strong early impression in his intro to Double-A. The former 9th round draft selection throws four pitches - a low 90s fastball, power sinker, cutter, and slider with late tilt. Scouts project him as more of a relief type than a starter, but the Cardinals like his competitiveness.
Last fall, I asked Poncedeleon what pitches need refinement as well as his goals set for 2016
“I would like to refine my curveball; to throw it in any count. It is a good equalizer as it has lower velocity and greater vertical movement," he said. "The curveball was one of my best pitches while I was in State College. It helped me strike out a lot more hitters during my time there.
"This offseason I would like to keep putting on weight; to have some extra to lose during the season. Also, I would like to strengthen my body, so it is more resilient to injury."
#28 Trey Nielsen - I was fortunate to see Nielsen in the Cardinals home opener last Thursday. The former 30th round pick yielded some hard contact and suffered control issues early, but battled and pitched into the sixth inning.
Nielsen followed that up by tossing five shutout innings against Corpus Christi in the final game of the homestand. Unfortunately, the control issues persisted as he issued four walks that led to an inflated pitch count.
#34 Corey Littrell - Littrell has shined in his brief time as a reliever thus far. The lefty has been unscored upon in his first five outings spanning 6 1/3 innings. There is optimism Littrell will see a velocity spike, but word is his velocity is still in the low 90s at the moment, as he is really a pitchability guy.
#37 Andrew Morales - In his second outing, Morales was terrific against the Missions. The right-hander threw seven innings of three-run ball (one earned), but walked just one and fanned a season-high eight, his most since July 12, 2015. Things are looking up for the former 3rd round draftee.
With a 3-3 record over the first homestand of 2016, Springfield hits the road for the second time with a four-game set against an inner-division rival in the Travelers at Dickey-Stephens Park starting Thursday night.
Following the brief road trip, the Cardinals will return to Hammons Field for an eight-game homestand against NW Arkansas Naturals and the Travelers for four games apiece.
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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