This report covers the period from Thursday, May 5th to Wednesday, May 11th.
Aside from Harrison Bader's otherworldly start to 2016 season, the Springfield Cardinals continued playing middling baseball the past two weeks. With offense and pitching in a seesaw effect, the Cardinals followed up a 4-4 homestand with an identical record on the eight-game road trip concluded Tuesday night.
Springfield lost possession of first place after being blanked 10-0 Monday. The enigmatic Cardinals recovered, though, reclaiming first after an NW Arkansas (KC) loss and S-Cards win over Tulsa (LAD) the following night.
As they have through almost all of the first month, the Cardinals (17-15 overall) are atop the North with a minuscule 0.5 game ahead of the Naturals (16-15). The Arkansas Travelers (LAA) and Drillers have fallen in the division cellar, 4.0 and 4.5 games back, respectively.
Thursday, May 5th, Springfield 2 at NW Arkansas 3
After having taken the first two on the road against NW Arkansas, Springfield's 2-1 lead slipped in the bottom of the eighth inning due to a two-run blast by Hunter Dozier, catapulting the Naturals over the Cardinals, 3-2 on Thursday night.
Springfield wasted a brilliant effort from starter Mike Mayers. Struggling to hone in his control in recent outings, Mayers threw strikes and was efficient, navigating his way through seven innings of one-run ball, an unearned run. The righty gave up six hits, walked a lone batter and struck out four in a no-decision.
Corey Littrell had a rare hiccup in relief of Mayers. Granted he threw four pitches, but Littrell gave up a lead-off single. That set up Dozier's game-winning blast, which was served up by Kurt Heyer, who was charged with the loss.
Held scoreless through the first five frames, Springfield broke out with a two-out RBI single by C.J. McElroy in the sixth off Alec Mills. Paul DeJong then shot an opposite field RBI double to extend Springfield's lead to two runs, which proved to not be enough.
Friday, May 6th, Springfield 3 at NW Arkansas 8
Springfield dropped the last two as NW Arkansas seized a series split of four games on Friday night.
Paul DeJong, who moved up to three-spot for the first time since the first week of the season, slammed a pair of home runs as the only source of offense for the Cardinals. The other anxious Springfield hitters managed just five hits, drew one walk, and struck out 11 times.
Daniel Poncedeleon has had uncharacteristic bouts of erraticness in his past two starts, though his defense and bullpen didn't help. A rare passed ball by Carson Kelly and an error by second baseman Breyvic Valera led to five of Naturals' six second-inning runs being unearned. Despite showing quality stuff, Poncedeleon was pulled with two outs in the second.
Josh Lucas and Kurt Heyer combined to hurl the final 6 1/3 innings with each allowing an earned run. Lucas yielded four hits, walked one and fanned four over 2 1/3 innings. Heyer struck out three over four innings.
Saturday, May 7th, Springfield 6 at Tulsa 4
In the first of 28 meetings between the inter-division foes, Springfield defeated Tulsa, 6-4 in the opener. The Cardinals scored four of their runs in the first four innings and held on.
Allowing an atypical amount of flyballs, Trey Nielsen avoided the long ball against a Drillers offense with punch. The righty went six solid innings, giving up two runs, one earned, on seven hits for his third win of the season.
Chris Perry and John Brebbia faced the minimum in the seventh and eighth before Ronnie Shaban had a hiccup in the ninth, allowing a two-run homer that brought the Drillers within striking distance. However, Shaban retired the final three batters to secure the win.
Carson Kelly was perfect 3-for-3, reaching base all five times he came to the plate, with two singles, a double, hit by pitch, and a walk. Kelly's single plated an RBI in the fourth. Luke Voit and Alex Mejia notched two hits and a pair of RBI.
Sunday, May 8th, Springfield 0 at Tulsa 5
Cardinals organization April Pitcher of the Month Andrew Morales attributed much of his success to staying aggressive and throwing three pitches for strikes. On Sunday afternoon, Morales threw strikes but had difficulties avoiding the walk.
The walk bug bit Morales with two outs in the first, as Tulsa took advantage with a run-scoring triple backed by an RBI single which was all the Drillers would need. They added two more runs in the second and another in the seventh for a 5-0 shutout over Springfield to even up the series at one-all.
The Cardinals one-thru-nine hitters failed numerous times to cash in on opportunities, going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and leaving 11 baserunners stranded. They recorded seven hits with Bruce Caldwell and Luis Cruz accounting for two each.
Monday, May 9th, Springfield 0 at Tulsa 10
Tulsa sprinted past Springfield on Monday afternoon, claiming a 10-0 shutout victory to pull in front two games to one in the four-game set.
There's not much positive to draw from a 10-0 loss, but one could be that Harrison Bader increased his hitting streak to 12 games with a base hit in the seventh.
Coming off the Texas League Pitcher of the Week honor a week ago, Corey Baker was roughed up for nine runs (seven earned) on nine hits over three innings. Baker served up three home runs to Tulsa hitters.
The Cardinals bullpen was very effective in relief of Baker. John Brebbia, Corey Littrell and Chris Perry combined to throw five innings of one-run ball. Perry gave up the lone run via a long ball.
Tuesday, May 10th, Springfield 4 at Tulsa 2
Harrison Bader looks poised for a promotion but in the intervening time, the Springfield lead-off hitter continues to flat out rake Double-A Texas League pitching. Bader homered twice and finished a double shy of the cycle, leading the Cardinals over Tulsa in the series finale on Tuesday night.
With the win, Springfield secured a split of four games and with an NW Arkansas loss and is back in first place by 0.5 games.
Bader added a single and triple to his two home runs, tying the Springfield record with 12 total bases in the game. He is the third Cardinal this season to hit two home runs in one game, joining 2B Bruce Caldwell and 3B Paul DeJong. Also, Bader extended his hitting streak to 13 games.
Starter Mike Mayers improved to 3-2, giving up a run on six hits and three walks while striking out one over 6 1/3 innings. Coming in with bases-loaded and one out, Corey Littrell retired two lefties in a row before throwing a scoreless eighth. Ronnie Shaban allowed just a solo homer in the ninth on route to his fifth save.
Wednesday, May 11th, league-wide day off
After ending the road trip on a formidable note, the Cardinals were rewarded with an off-day, but for travel purposes. They resume play on Thursday, May 12th for the first of four against NW Arkansas at Hammons Field.
Harrison Bader - Fellow 2015 draftee Paul DeJong's ba, has come to life in the past week, but even that emergence wasn't enough to unseat Bader. The Florida Gator product didn't quite match DeJong's overall production through the week, but Bader's four-hit performance on Tuesday capped by an ongoing 13-game hittng streak virtually cemented his place for the third straight week.
During a stretch that started April 27th, the New York native has had seven multi-hit games and is batting .466 (27-for-58) with 10 extra-base hits. Needless to say, Bader can rake.
Mike Mayers and Trey Nielsen - For the majority of the rotation, it was a rough week to be a Springfield starting pitcher, but neither Mike Mayers nor Trey Nielsen seemed affected. Mayers, a two-time TCN top 40 prospect, tossed two plus performances this week, working 13 1/3 innings, allowing a lone run. The righty continues to have grief with frequent bouts of command and control issues, but he is still able to dial up his fastball in the low 90s with a serviceable breaking ball and change. He is capable, but is not a strikeout arm; mostly a high-contact pitcher.
Nielsen, TCN’s 28th-ranked prospect last winter, allowed one earned run over his last 12 innings pitched (two starts of six innings apiece). More analysis to follow below.
C.J. McElroy and Chris Jacobs - Two players expected to employ an intriguing mix of speed and pop to manager Dann Bilardello's lineup haven’t delivered as expected. McElroy will find a niche at the higher levels because of his speed, but the fact his hit tool lags behind everything else - it's a pretty one-sided profile. The switch-hitter is batting .147 (5-for-34) over his last 10 games with 12 strikeouts.
Jacobs' recent struggles have led to a diminished role as he searches for his swing. The 27-year-old is currently in the midst of a 2-for-27 (.074) slump at the plate in his past 10 games. Jacobs had better find his stroke in a hurry as the window of opportunity for a long-time minor league journeyman shrinks by the day.
Daniel Poncedeleon - Poncedeleon is facing the challenges of being new to the upper levels of minor league baseball - growing pains. The righty has made early exits in three of his first six Double-A starts, including his latest two starts.
Springbirds batting order
Harrison Bader's early-season numbers indicate middle of the order production, but it appears that by having him lead-off, the Cardinals are emphasizing plate discipline as they did with Charlie Tilson last year. Bader led off for the entire week while C.J. McElroy slotted at two, but Dann Bilardello rolled out a new-look lineup on Tuesday with Bruce Caldwell in the two-spot, who occupied the three-hole for most of the week. Luke Voit and Paul DeJong backfilled for Caldwell whenever he wasn't penciled at three.
For five of the six games, Voit cleaned up with DeJong taking his place on Tuesday. DeJong's recent surge had him moved up to the fifth spot for much of the week. Either Collin Radack, Carson Kelly, or Alex Mejia followed DeJong at six in the lineup.
Radack, Mejia, Breyvic Valera, and Chris Jacobs all split time throughout the week at seven. Valera, Nick Thompson, or Luis Cruz hit at the eighth spot. Valera was the nine-hole hitter when the designated hitter was in effect.
In terms of player movement, there wasn't much this week. However, one injury could cause a ripple effect at any time throughout the organization.
5/5: OF David Washington from Springfield to Memphis
5/5: OF Nick Thompson from Palm Beach to Springfield
A series of moves were spurred by outfielder Carlos Peguero being placed on the Memphis' disabled list. A late-cut from big-league spring training camp, Washington impressed Cardinals officials with his raw power potential to all fields, but unfortunately he was an odd man out of a deep Memphis roster.
Washington, 25, hit .276 in 2016 at Double-A Springfield and showed an improved eye at the plate, drawing 16 walks in 76 at-bats. The 6-foot-5 outfielder hit his first Triple-A home run on Sunday night followed by his second on Monday.
Though Thompson did not perform well for the Beach Birds (.171/.267/.237/.504) in his 22-game Florida State League introduction, the 23-year-old is a smart player and good defender. An aspiring medical student, Thompson has recorded a hit in six Double-A at-bats thus far.
LHP Reed to miss ‘16 due to TJ surgery
Jimmy Reed underwent Tommy John surgery on April 11th and will miss the entire 2016 season after having his elbow repaired. With a long road ahead, the normal rehab and recovery from such surgery ranges anywhere from 12-16 months. The Cardinals’ 2013 sixth-round pick was slated to open 2016 in the Springfield rotation had the injury not occurred.
Reed, 25, split his 2015 campaign across three levels: Palm Beach, Springfield and Memphis. The lefty spent the majority of the season with the Double-A Cardinals, pitching to a 5.14 ERA in 82 1/3 innings (16 starts) there. He struck out 59 against 18 walks.
The Cardinal Nation Top 40 Prospect Watch
#12 Carson Kelly - Through first five weeks of regular season, Kelly’s off-season focus on improving his offense hasn't yet translated as initially hoped. The 21-year old seems to have better plate selection with five walks over his first eight games in May compared to zilch in April. As a result, his on-base has jumped two hundred points from .238 in April to .438 in May, a sign of a more disciplined approach.
Behind the dish, Kelly has continued to showcase a strong, accurate arm, gunning down 31 percent of would-be base-stealers. Of the baserunners who have successfully stolen second, most advance because of a quality jump or read off the pitcher.
#13 Harrison Bader - Local fans in the Springfield area had better catch Bader shortly because his stay might not last much longer. Overall, the Cardinals 2015 third-round pick leads Double-A with a .379 batting clip, ranks fifth with a 1.030 OPS in Texas League, third with 75 total bases and tied for third with seven dingers.
On Tuesday, Bader went 4-for-5 with a homer to left, homer to right, triple and single to center - peppering the ball to all parts of the field. On the season, four of his home runs have gone to left while three have gone to right field. In 2015, all 11 of his home runs were to his pull-side.
Bader can also play a steady center field due to quality reads off the bat coupled with on-line routes and great closing speed to the ball. His arm strength hasn't been on display much, but he receives good marks for a strong arm from Cardinals officials.
#16 Paul DeJong - DeJong's bat has suddenly come alive, as he is hitting .351 with five home runs and nine RBI over his last 10 games. While the strikeouts remain, the third baseman is making harder contact and has reached via base-on-balls six times since May 1st. By comparison, DeJong walked six times in all of April (20 games).
DeJong attributes his turnaround to swinging at better pitches and being in more favorable counts. As far as adjustments at the plate, the right-handed hitter said he's focused on timing and getting loaded up earlier to pick up the ball quicker.
#22 Daniel Poncedeleon - Poncedeleon looked like a seasoned veteran in his first two Double-A starts, allowing one run over his first 14 1/3 innings pitched. Since then, three of the righty's past four starts haven't been as smooth sailing, with an exception of one outing in which he had a no-hit bid through six innings.
Poncedeleon generally spots his pitches and fills up the strike zone to both sides of the plate. On a tight pitch count after dealing with a shoulder issue last year, his control has hampered his ability to be effective, though his recent early exit was due to errors behind him that made him labor more than anything else.
#28 Trey Nielsen - In his only outing this week, Nielsen pitched six solid innings, yielding two runs (one earned) on seven. The sinkerballer struck out one and issued a walk. He threw a season-high 95 pitches with 64 of which for strikes. Typically a groundball specialist, Nielsen induced 10 flyouts to six groundouts on Saturday.
#34 Corey Littrell - After his scoreless streak without allowing a run ended April 28th, Littrell's streak of consecutive innings without issuing a walk concluded Monday with a two-out walk in the seventh inning against Tulsa. Overall, the lefty still holds a minuscule 1.72 ERA in 15 2/3 innings over 13 appearances. Littrell has struck out 14 and has a staff-leading 0.57 WHIP.
#37 Andrew Morales - Morales extended his scoreless streak of 16 innings with his start last Tuesday against NW Arkansas, an abbreviated outing after taking a line drive off his right throwing arm. Fortunately, Morales was pulled as a precaution and made his next scheduled start Sunday against Tulsa.
The Drillers halted his streak at 16 innings after touching Morales for two earned runs in each of the first two innings. The 6-foot-0 righty with an up-tempo delivery was unable to stay aggressive with his four-pitch mix as he walked four over 4 2/3 innings.
Coming off an 11-10 April, the Cardinals have a 6-5 record in May thus far. They open up a pair of four-game series against NW Arkansas and Tulsa at Hammons Field, starting Thursday night at 7:10 PM CT.
Following the homestand, Springfield travels to Arkansas for four beginning Friday, May 20th.
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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