Oscar Mercado (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Weekly news from the St. Louis Cardinals’ Florida State League affiliate in Jupiter

Despite a .500 week, the Cardinals’ Florida State League affiliate remains just one game out of first place, with an 11-8 record. Oscar Mercado is leading the offense.

The Palm Beach Cardinals had another so-so week, winning half of their games. On a positive note, they outscored their opponents 23-19, which shows some of the bad luck the team had in close games. Currently just a game behind the St. Lucie Mets in the division at 11-8, the Cardinals managed to stick near the top of the standings despite the .500 week, so with a solid showing in the coming period, they can easily bounce right back into first place.

Now let’s take a look at what happened in the games. The report covers the period of Wednesday, April 20 through Tuesday, April 26.

April 20: Palm Beach Cardinals 3, Bradenton Marauders (PIT) 0

A strong start from Austin Gomber assured the Cardinals a win, as he went 6 2/3 shutout innings while striking out five, walking none, and allowing just six hits before the bullpen took over and closed the game out.

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Offensively, Michael Pritchard led the way, going 2-for-2 with a walk and a run scored, and shortstop Oscar Mercado added a couple of stolen bases. With five walks, Palm Beach managed to score enough to win despite only recording six hits.

April 21: Bradenton Marauders 4 at Palm Beach Cardinals 2

In the final game of the series with the Marauders, the Cardinals were unable to pull out a victory. The offense only managed four hits, and didn’t walk at all, but some good timing helped them tally two runs and make it close.

Blake McKnight had a reasonable start, allowing just two runs over six innings on eight hits and a walk. He only struck out one batter, so it wasn’t his best night, but he still managed to limit the Marauders. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for the victory.

April 22: Palm Beach Cardinals 9 at Jupiter Hammerheads (MIA) 5

The Cardinals bounced back nicely on offense, scoring nine runs on just seven hits and six walks. One of the more impressive performances came from Oscar Mercado, who failed to record a hit, but drew two walks, was hit by a pitch, stole three bases, and scored two runs.

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Starter Jacob Evans had a reasonable game, going 6 2/3 innings and allowing just three runs while striking out three. Unfortunately, he allowed 11 hits and may have come away looking a little bit better than he actually was.

April 23: Jupiter Hammerheads 4 at Palm Beach Cardinals 3 (11 innings)

After exploding for nine runs the night before, Palm Beach lost a close game against the Hammerheads in an extra inning affair. Matt Pearce gave the Cardinals a strong six innings, allowing just two runs while striking out four, and Oscar Mercado again led the offense with a 3-for-4 night, including a walk and an RBI.

On the downside, Pedro Echemendia coughed up the lead in the seventh via a solo home run, and Silfredo Garcia gave the game away in the 11th inning.

April 24: Jupiter Hammerheads 3, Palm Beach Cardinals 2

In another close contest, the Cardinals narrowly lost their second in a row. After being knocked out in the first inning last time out, Jack Flaherty had a much better outing on Sunday. The right-hander allowed two runs on just three hits and two walks over five innings while striking out seven, but ultimately couldn’t earn the win.

First baseman Danny Diekroeger led the offense by going 2-for-3 with a double and a walk, and catcher Brian O’Keefe drew three walks of his own, although he was 0-for-1 in his only official at-bat. In the end, however, the bullpen allowed the unearned run that gave the Hammerheads the lead and the victory. Former starter Ian McKinney appeared in relief and was charged with the loss, with help from Cody Schumacher.

April 26: Palm Beach Cardinals 4 at Bradenton Marauders 3

Oscar Mercado, center fielder Blake Drake, and first baseman Casey Grayson combined for three doubles, four runs scored, a walk, and an RBI out of the two, three, and four slots in the lineup en route to the Cardinals victory.

Finishing the week on a high note, Austin Gomber led Palm Beach from the mound and earned his second win of the week, allowing just two earned runs over five solid innings, striking out five and walking just one.

Who’s Hot

Austin Gomber is back on this list after another strong week from the 6’5” lefty. In two starts, Gomber allowed just two earned runs over 11 2/3 innings, while striking out 10 and walking only one. That performance earned him two wins, and with an ERA of 1.54 and a WHIP of 1.03 on the week, he certainly earned them. The young lefty is definitely off to a hot start.

After a slow start, Oscar Mercado really turned it on this past week. With his incredible speed, he just needed to reach base a bit more to turn into a stellar offensive player, and he finally did just that, going 5-for-17 with five walks, stealing a total of six bases in ten times on base. If he can keep his OBP above .330 the way he did this past week, he will be a dangerous weapon.

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Reliever Kevin Herget added four perfect innings and three strikeouts to his totals this past week, meaning he has allowed just two hits, a walk and no runs over 15 2/3 innings while striking out 16 batters thus far this season. At some point, Herget will give up another hit (or perhaps even a run), but until he does, he definitely qualifies as hot, and has earned the right to stay right here on this list. It would not be surprising to see Springfield calling soon for our 2015 Palm Beach Reliever of the Year.

Who’s Not

Middle infielder Andrew Sohn is no stranger to this list, and he is struggling with the bat again in 2016. This past week, he managed just one hit in 17 at-bats with one walk. Reaching base twice in 18 trips to the plate isn’t the best way to endear yourself to your manager or to hang on to playing time. I would imagine that he will not see the field nearly as often if he cannot figure out a way to reach base more consistently.

After being in the “hot” section last week, Michael Pritchard really struggled this week. Going just 3-for-17 with three walks wasn’t how the young outfielder hoped to follow up his hot streak, but he has plenty of time to bounce back. He is still hitting nearly .300, and with an OBP up around .500, no one should complain too much about his performance for quite a while.

Cardinals hitting at or below the Mendoza Line through three weeks include Darren Seferina (.200), Casey Grayson (.190) and Allen Staton (.186).

Team Stats

Overall, the Cardinals are ninth in the league with a .227 team batting average, but fifth in runs scored. The pitching staff as a whole is in the middle of the FSL pack with a 3.48 team ERA, seventh of 12 clubs. They are seventh in strikeouts and issued the fifth-fewest walks.

Rotation Change

As has been the case about a month into the season in past years, the Cardinals have apparently dropped from their season-opening six-man rotation to five, as lefty Ian McKinney 's last turn was skipped and he pitched from the bullpen this week. In his two starts, the 21-year-old had one good and one bad outing, yielding five earned runs in 9 1/3 innings on seven strikeouts and six walks.

In his initial relief appearance, McKinney took the loss on Sunday on an unearned run which was inherited by Cody Schumacher.

The current Beach Birds rotation is Flaherty, Gomber, McKnight, Evans, Pearce.

Transactions

4/19: C Joshua Lopez from Palm Beach to Johnson City

4/20: RHR Cody Schumacher from Palm Beach to State College

4/20: RHR Jeff Frey from State College to Palm Beach

4/20: OF Orlando Olivera from Palm Beach to Peoria

4/22: Frey from Palm Beach to Peoria

4/23: Schumacher from State College to Palm Beach

4/25: C Jesse Jenner from Springfield to Palm Beach

4/25: C Steve Bean off Palm Beach seven-day disabled list

4/25: C Chris Rivera from Palm Beach to State College

4/25: IF Mikey Reynolds from Palm Beach to Springfield

To say it was a busy week on the transaction front is putting it mildly.

The Cardinals participated in a series of catching moves that were in part due to dominoes that fell when Alberto Rosario was activated at Memphis. That led to the return of Jesse Jenner and with Steve Bean coming off the DL, Joshua Lopez and Chris Rivera were returned to extended spring training.

Coming into the week, the relief corps was taxed, as indicated by position player Allen Staton pitching in an extra inning game on the 19th. That led to a short-term move of Cody Schumacher off the roster in favor of a fresh arm, Jeff Frey. Before the week was out, Frey was re-assigned to Peoria after allowing two runs in his lone three-inning outing and Schumacher was back with Palm Beach.

Olivera was trying to make the jump from State College, but after batting just .206 in 34 at-bats, the 25-year-old outfielder was sent down to Peoria to regroup.

Mikey Reynolds was an injury promotion, needed at Springfield when Alex Mejia was placed on the DL. In 14 games with Palm Beach, Reynolds’ line was .182/.270/.218/.488.

Injuries

Five Cardinals remain on the DL - pitchers Luke Weaver and Will Anderson plus infielders Mason Katz, Juan Herrera and Andrew Brodbeck.

Up Next

The Cardinals will finish off their road trip against the Bradenton Marauders (PIT) and the St. Lucie Mets (NYM), before returning home to face the Fort Myers Miracle (MIN). The latter two are among the top teams in the division, offering Palm Beach an opportunity to re-take first place.

Follow Chris Greene on Twitter @PBCBeat.

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