Harrison Bader (Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)

Weekly news from the St. Louis Cardinals’ Double-A Texas League affiliate

The Cardinals’ Double-A affiliate continues to hold its three-game division lead through week four of the Texas League schedule. Hot-hitting Harrison Bader picked up monthly awards.

This report covers the period from Thursday, April 28th through Wednesday, May 4th.

At Hammons Field this past week, the Springfield Cardinals finished up the last two of the four-game series with NW Arkansas Naturals (KC) and hosted the Arkansas Travelers (LAA) for four more. The Cardinals then traveled south to start up an eight-game road swing against the Naturals and Tulsa Drillers (LAD).

With uneven play and a postponement affecting the homestand, Springfield had a 4-4 record on their turf. Two games into the road-trip, the Cardinals offense has outscored NW Arkansas,15-7 en route to a pair of victories. The final two contests will be covered in next week's edition.

Springfield leads the North Division pack with 15-11 overall record through the first four weeks of 2016 regular season. Arkansas (12-14 overall record) trails by three games with NW Arkansas (11-14 overall record) four games behind and the Tulsa Drillers (8-17 overall record) off to a slow start, 6 1/2 games back of the first-place Cardinals.

Thursday, April 28th, Springfield 1 vs. NW Arkansas 4 (10 innings)

The Naturals struck for three runs in the top of the 10th to claim a 4-1 win as well the series finale as Springfield was forced to settle for a split of four games.

Cardinals starter Corey Baker continued to put up zeros by posting 5 2/3 shutout frames, extending his streak to 18 innings without a run on Thursday night. Baker held the Naturals to just two hits against two walks and fanned seven.

A stalwart of the club through the first three weeks, Springfield's bullpen coughed up the lead in the later innings. Corey Littrell's scoreless streak was snapped at 8 2/3 innings after a game-tying solo shot in the seventh. However, Josh Lucas was brilliant, striking out four in two scoreless innings before Chris Thomas was marred by a Collin Radack fielding error that allowed NW Arkansas to score three runs (one earned) in extras.

After a four-hit game Wednesday, Harrison Bader picked up right where he left off, doubling and pulling his fourth home run of the year into the visiting bullpen. C.J. McElroy and Carson Kelly had two hits apiece.

Friday, April 29th, Springfield vs. Arkansas (postponed)

Friday's game between the Cardinals and the Arkansas Travelers at Hammons Field was postponed due to inclement weather conditions. It was made up as part of a doubleheader on Sunday, May 1 as the first of two 7-inning games.

Saturday, April 30th, Springfield 5 vs. Arkansas 9

With a 9-5 loss to Arkansas on Saturday, Springfield finished the month of April with an 11-10 record while holding a two-game lead over the Travelers atop the North Division.

Mike Mayers struggled to control his fastball, and the Arkansas lineup took advantage. Mayers gave up six runs, five earned, on eight hits before departing after just 4 1/3 innings. Recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, the right-hander is on a set pitch count, as he walked two and struck out two and fell victim to his second loss of the season.

Chris Perry secured the remaining two outs in the fifth and pitched an additional scoreless inning.  John Brebbia allowed two other Travelers runs in the seventh to put the final nail in the coffin for the Cardinals.  Chris Thomas pitched a clean ninth.

The offense on both sides was especially evident as the ball was flying out, with the Cardinals generating all of their runs via the long ball. Harrison Bader and Luke Voit hit solo shots while Bruce Caldwell had a three-run blast. The only other extra base hit was from Paul DeJong, who had two hits.

Sunday, May 1st, Springfield 9 vs. Arkansas 8 - game one (makeup from 4/29)

Sunday, May 1st, Springfield 1 vs. Arkansas 6 - game two

Springfield split a pair of seven-inning games with Arkansas, taking the matinee, 9-8, but falling in the nightcap, 6-1. The Cardinals trail in the series, two-to-one, with an AM game to decide the series on a getaway day for Springfield.

The S-Cards' erupted for 14 hits in game one, scoring in all six frames in which they came to the plate with all nine hitters garnering at least a hit. Paul DeJong was a triple shy of the cycle, going three-for-four with a double, solo shot, two runs scored and an RBI. His first Double-A home run was one of four hit by the Cardinals offense.

http://www.scout.com/player/200624-paul-dejong?s=321

Harrison Bader, Luke Voit, and Breyvic Valera had two hits apiece – Bader and Voit in four at-bats and Valera in three.  Bader crossed home once with an RBI and stolen base while Voit added a two-run bomb that comprised two of his three driven in.  Valera scored once.

Springfield's pitching staff took a rare beating, surrendering 10 hits and five walks, but they were bailed out by the offense. Daniel Poncedeleon was lifted after three innings, having permitted five runs, two earned, on four hits and three free passes.

The winning pitcher, Joey Donofrio, allowed two runs on five hits over two innings of work. Corey Littrell was the most impressive pitcher of the day, fanning five in two innings, but served up a long ball and notched his first save. Littrell was effective by throwing a diving changeup and sharp slider. He rarely leaned on his fastball.

Game two was an entirely different ballgame, Springfield was hitless through the first five innings and was held to a lone hit by the Arkansas pitching staff, a single by Breyvic Valera. Bader and DeJong did not play.

The Cardinals allowed another ten hits, in a bullpen game. Kurt Heyer took the loss in his first start of 2016, allowing three runs on five hits and a walk in 3 2/3.  Josh Lucas struck out five in three frames but yielded three tallies on four hits and a free pass.  Ronnie Shaban permitted a double that scored Lucas’ final runner.

Monday, May 2nd, Springfield 7 vs. Arkansas 1

Trailing two-to-one going into the finale, Springfield forced a series split with a convincing 7-1 victory over Arkansas on Monday afternoon. Despite some ups-and-downs at Hammons Field, the Cardinals finished the homestand with a 4-4 record.

Trey Nielsen pitched a one-hit, six-inning shutout to earn his second win of 2016. After an erratic April on the hill, Nielsen honed in his control against the Travelers, and it paid dividends. The righty struck out four and did not issue any walks.

http://www.scout.com/player/179973-trey-nielsen?s=321

Chris Thomas replaced Nielsen in the seventh, retiring two batters on a double. Corey Littrell ended the seventh via a strike and proceeded to mow down Arkansas in order in the eighth. Ronnie Shaban yielded the lone run for the Travelers but closed the door on a strikeout.

With an offense that was spotty with situational hitting, the big blow of the game came off the bat of David Washington, a three-run blast to give Springfield a seven-run advantage going into the ninth. Harrison Bader notched two hits, one for an RBI double while Paul DeJong singled and reached three times on free passes.

Tuesday, May 3rd, Springfield 5 vs. NW Arkansas 1

Four runs over the final two frames broke open a tight contest, helping Springfield charge past NW Arkansas, 5-1 in the series-opener.

Held to a single and home run through seven, the Cardinals broke out for three in the eighth before capping the game with a single tally in the ninth. Seven of nine Springfield hitters contributed at least one of the collective 11 hits, spearheaded by Harrison Bader with three singles and a run scored. Paul DeJong and Breyvic Valera had two hits apiece. DeJong's home run got the Cardinals on the board in the fifth.

One of the hotter Springfield hurlers of late, Andrew Morales' night, was cut short after taking a line shot off his right arm. Morales fanned four over three scoreless innings. Coming on in long relief, Chris Perry pitched the next 3 2/3 innings, allowing a run (unearned), on two hits, two walks, and three strikeouts. John Brebbia gave up two hits but earned his first win over the last 2 1/3 innings.

Wednesday, May 4th, Springfield 10 vs. NW Arkansas 6

Springfield plated ten runs in the middle innings to defeat NW Arkansas, 10-6 in an early afternoon affair. The Cardinals have taken the first two contests of the four-game road series at Arvest Ballpark.

All nine of the S-Cards’ starting nine contributed at least one of the collective 14 hits on the day. Harrison Bader continued to tear the cover off the ball, going 4-for-5 with a double and two RBI. Bruce Caldwell and Paul DeJong each had two-run shots while C.J McElroy drove in three off two hits.

The reigning Texas League Pitcher of the Week, Corey Baker, pitched six solid innings. Baker’s span of 18 straight scoreless innings was snapped in the first on an RBI single, but the right hander followed by blanking the Naturals over the next five frames. Joey Donofrio and Chris Thomas combined to cough up five earned runs but finished the game in relief.

Who's Hot

Harrison Bader - Another week, another spot solidified on the "Who's Hot" feature for the April Player of the Month by the Cardinals organization and The Cardinal Nation. Bader has certainly distinguished himself in the Texas League in the early going; he has hit safely in his last seven games (18-for-32) with a .562 batting mark, including three home runs and nine RBI over that torrid stretch.

http://www.scout.com/player/175479-harrison-bader?s=321

That stretch has spiked Bader's cumulative batting average up to a Texas League-leading .388 clip, passing the Travelers' Sherman Johnson, who was promoted to Triple-A earlier this week. With another four-hit game on Wednesday, the outfielder has 13 multi-hit games of his 24 total games played.

Corey Baker - Entering Wednesday's action, Baker had a streak of 18 straight innings without allowing a run. The righty's streak was ended in the first inning, but that didn't stop him from working on a new one. After the first, he blanked NW Arkansas over his next five innings and earned his second of the season.

Baker has been so dominant through his first five starts, such that his ERA increased from 1.29 to 1.33 in his last outing.

Who's Not

Chris Jacobs - Signed as a minor league free agent to provide additional protection in the middle of the order, Jacobs has struggled mightily in that role and his placement in the batting order has dropped as a result. The 27-year old is hitting a team-worst .164, in a minimum of 50 Double-A at-bats.

Jacobs will need to prioritize consistent contact and discipline, as he has struck out 26 times and walked just twice in 70 at-bats.

Joey Donofrio - Donofrio's results are somewhat skewed, but he has been torched in recent outings. The former Springfield closer has yielded a combined six earned runs on 11 hits in his most recent outings, four innings of work. For the season, Donofrio holds a 6.08 ERA in 13 1/3 innings over eight games.

Baker Honored as TL Pitcher of the Week

Leading the Cardinals pitching staff in strikeouts, Baker is relishing the opportunity to pitch every fifth day, and his early results have shown this season.

Baker's performance has netted him the Cardinals first Texas League weekly Pitcher of the Week honor of 2016.

http://www.scout.com/player/158039-corey-baker?s=321

"Being recognized as Pitcher of the Week is a great feeling," said Baker. "It's a testament to the hard work I put in, so it's always rewarding to be recognized for your accomplishments.

"The whole staff has done a great job so far. We all push each other and compete to get better every day. At the end of the day, I need to compete to be the best version of myself I can be to help the team win games, so that's my focus."

I asked him what has made him so effective lately and how will that continue.

“Something I've been working on really since last year is just being consistent with my approach and getting guys out in the strike zone," Baker said. "Lately, I have just done a good job of trusting my stuff and letting it work for me.

"I've learned I don't have to be too fine, and don't have to make perfect pitches every time to have success, so going forward that is what I need to continue to do."

Springbirds batting order

Not to say Harrison Bader will get promoted, but unless he receives a promotion - the lead-off is his to lose for the foreseeable future. As the week progressed, manager Dann Bilardello went with speed to anchor his lineup as switch-hitter C.J. McElroy slotted as a two-hole hitter for most of the week. McElroy leads the club with 16 stolen bases. Collin Radack batted at three once, but after a three-strikeout game - Bruce Caldwell reclaimed the marquee batting spot.

The chiseled, barrel chested first baseman Luke Voit was clean-up hitter throughout the week. Meanwhile, David Washington hit right behind in the fifth hole, playing either right field or as designated hitter. Paul DeJong was rewarded by his recent surge at the plate, moving up to the sixth spot.

Rounding out the order was Chris Jacobs or Collin Radack at seven, Carson Kelly at eight, and Breyvic Valera at nine.

Team Transactions

Compared to the lower rungs of the pipeline, Springfield hasn't been nearly as active on the player movement front through the first month. However, one injury could cause a ripple effect at any time throughout the organization.

5/2 IF Alex Mejia activated from the 7-Day disabled list

Mejia was reactivated after sitting out the minimum of seven days. The shortstop had played in just three Texas League games after being sent down from Memphis before being placed on the Double-A club’s disabled list last Monday.

In his three Springfield contests this season, the right-handed hitter collected three singles in 10 at-bats, scored a run, was caught stealing, drove in a run and struck out twice. Mejia also drew three walks over the trio of Texas League contests.

5/2 IF Mikey Reynolds was assigned to High-A Palm Beach from Springfield

With Mejia's activation, Reynolds was returned to Palm Beach. In three games for the Double-A Cards, the 25-year-old had one single in eight at-bats, no walks and struck out once.

The Cardinal Nation Top 40 Prospects

#12 Carson Kelly - Kelly is batting .314 (11-for-36) over his last ten games, but on the season he is a more modest .247 hitter with a home run and 4 RBI. It is interesting the third baseman by trade was originally drafted for his raw power potential, but he has shown mostly singles power in his career, and his bat speed seems at times slow for someone once touted for power. The offensive bar is low for a defensive-first catcher, and Kelly is getting more and more press as "the heir to Yadier Molina".

This past weekend, Kelly officially received his Rawlings Gold Glove Award for defensive excellence as a catcher in 2015. Minor League Baseball President Pat O'Conner was in attendance to present the award to Kelly in a pre-game ceremony with Director of Player Development Gary LaRocque and Administrator of Minor League Operations Tony Ferreira also on hand.

#13 Harrison Bader - Bader has a gaudy .513 average (20-for-39) over his last ten games. He has been far and away the best offensive performer in the Texas League thus far, impressive to say the least after skipping High-A Pam Beach. I am curious how opposing pitchers will approach him once a book is out on his free-swinging tendencies. As much as Bader is getting on base, it would be nice to see him be more of an assertive base-stealer rather than using his aggressiveness to full force.

Obviously, his torrid stretch won't last forever, but by season's end, he could be a nationally ranked prospect and force the Cardinals at hand to accelerate his development. Only time will tell.

#16 Paul DeJong - After a month of acclimating to Double-A, DeJong is coming around with the stick. On Wednesday, the right-handed hitter slugged his third home run in four games, second to the opposite field. His OPS is now at .763 for the season, 50 points above league average mark. That is a quite a turnaround from his .560 OPS at the end of April.

#22 Daniel Poncedeleon - In a doubleheader slugfest, Poncedeleon lasted only three innings because of a high pitch count. It seems the Cardinals have the righty on a pitch limit after he suffered a shoulder issue last year. Poncedeleon will start the series-finale against NW Arkansas Friday night.

#28 Trey Nielsen – In perhaps his best outing of 2016, Nielsen dominated Arkansas on Monday. The righty tossed a one-hit, six-inning shutout and fanned four for his second Double-A win. He also induced nine groundouts - staying true to his biggest strength.

#34 Corey Littrell - Littrell was finally scored upon this past week, allowing runs in back-to-back outings, but he bounced back with two strikeouts over 1 1/3 scoreless against Arkansas on Monday. In an outing I saw, he flashed sharp control and command of a hard slider and softer curve while mixing in a diving changeup. He rarely if not at all, showed a heater.

#37 Andrew Morales - The Cardinals were impressed with Morales' command in the month of April, so impressed they honored him as the organization’s Pitcher of the Month. So far on the season, he's showed the ability to attack the strike zone with all three of his pitches.

http://www.scout.com/player/191409-andrew-morales?s=321

In his latest outing, Morales was pulled after taking a line drive shot off his right arm. He was able to make the play but completed only three innings. No word on his status as of yet.

What's Next

The Cardinals look to claim the series in NW Arkansas on Thursday at 7:05 PM CT with Mike Mayers on the bump. Poncedeleon will follow and has the finale Friday night.

The Cardinals conclude the road trip with their first 2016 meeting against Tulsa on Saturday night. Nielsen is scheduled to start the series-opener with the remaining probables to be announced.

Following the road-trip, Springfield will enjoy an off-day next Wednesday. They open up against the Naturals and Drillers for four each at Hammons Field starting Thursday.

Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.

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