This report covers the period from Thursday, May 12th through Wednesday, May 18th.
The 2016 Springfield Cardinals have maintained a firm grip on first place in the North Division while extending their lead to a season-best 3.5 games ahead of NW Arkansas at week's end.
Springfield showed no ill effects playing in chilly Midwest conditions for mid-May and have taken five of seven games in the current eight-game homestand at Hammons Field. The concluding game of the set against Tulsa will be covered in next week's edition.
Tied for the Texas League-leading mark in home wins, the Cardinals are now 22-17 on the season and have built a sizable cushion on interdivisional foes. The Drillers trail by 4.5 games while Arkansas has fallen 7.0 games out of first place as they hope for a resurgent push as the first half winds down in the next month.
Thursday, May 12th, Springfield 6 vs. NW Arkansas 5 (10 innings)
Springfield scored runs in the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th innings to win 6-5 over NW Arkansas in walk-off style on a Paul DeJong deep right-center field home run.
DeJong thought about his previous at-bats against the Naturals relief pitcher Kevin McCarthy before his second walk-off hit and sixth Double-A home run.
"He (McCarthy) was working a lot with the slider," said DeJong. "I wanted to make sure I saw the ball up because he was working the ball down pretty well. He threw me a first-pitch slider; it was actually up for a ball.
"I was just thinking 'stay on the fastball, fastball.' I got a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it."
Struggling with location and efficiency in recent starts, Daniel Poncedeleon appeared to be headed on that same track in first three innings, allowing three earned runs while needing 61 pitches in the process.
However, Poncedeleon started throwing his off-speed pitches more and made his fastball "harder" following that slow start, per his manager Dann Bilardello. He retired 11 of his final 12 batters on the night, finishing with six innings.
"I think what happens," said Billardello, "is when he's throwing that many off-speed pitches - it got him back on track with his fastball command. He pitched better as the game wore on and did a nice job of keeping it right where it was for us to have a chance to win the game."
Josh Lucas, Joey Donofrio, John Brebbia and Kurt Heyer pitched the last four innings in relief. Brebbia served up two homers in the ninth that forced extra innings.
Harrison Bader extended his hitting streak to 14 with an RBI double in the eighth. Luke Voit hit a 2-run blast, his sixth of the season, but fanned three times.
Friday, May 13th, Springfield 6 vs. NW Arkansas 1
Behind a complete-game performance by Trey Nielsen and homers from Carson Kelly and Tommy Pham, Springfield defeated NW Arkansas, 6-1 in game two of the four-game set.
Nielsen, who recorded his first career complete-game, allowed a solo run on seven hits. That was the only blemish as the sinkerballer struck out six and induced a whopping 14 groundouts to earn his third straight victory.
Nielsen's support came via Kelly's second Double-A home run and a Pham two-run shot. Kelly's homer traveled over the hand-operated scoreboard beyond the left field bullpen. Breyvic Valera was a catalyst as he had three hits while Harrison Bader extended his hitting streak to 15 games with a double down the right field line. That was Bader's only hit in five at-bats.
Saturday, May 14th, Springfield 2 vs. NW Arkansas 7
NW Arkansas topped Springfield, 7-2 before 4,592 fans at Hammons Field on Saturday evening. The Cardinals still hold a two-to-one edge in the four-game set and 1.5 game lead over the Naturals for first place in North Division.
Andrew Morales was hampered by one mistake that proved costly in the end. The righty served up a grand slam to Frank Schwindel but kept the visiting team at bay over his final four frames before the Naturals broke it open with three runs against newly-added reliever Kevin Herget.
In his lone inning of work, Chris Perry faced the minimum in the seventh. Herget gave up three runs (two earned) on four hits covering two innings.
The Cardinals offense managed just six hits and fanned a collective ten times against NW Arkansas pitching. However, Harrison Bader and Luke Voit extended their hitting streaks to 16 games and 12 games, respectively. Bader also hit a sac fly while Breyvic Valera had a pair of hits and an RBI. ML rehabber Tommy Pham tested his oblique by running out an infield single, his only hit in four at-bats.
Sunday, May 15th, Springfield 5 vs. NW Arkansas 2
A string of eighth-inning hits led to three runs, lifting the Double-A Cardinals over NW Arkansas (17-18) on Sunday evening. Springfield (20-16) claimed the home series, winning three-of-four against their archrival of the North.
Notched at 2-2 with six outs to go, the Cardinals scored three times on four singles, a walk, and a sac fly. Luke Voit led the way with two hits, a single and double in four at-bats, with a run scored and RBI. He fanned twice but extended his hitting streak 13 consecutive games, the second-longest active streak in the Texas League.
The longest active streak continued as well. Harrison Bader hit safely for the 17th straight game with a single and walk in three at-bats, touching home once and swiping a bag. Tommy Pham concluded his rehab with a single, walk, and run scored in his final game with Springfield. Playing center field, Pham also brought another home run back, making a leaping grab at the left-center field wall.
Ronnie Shaban took both his first win and first blown save after allowing a run on two hits and a base-on-balls in his only inning of work. Josh Lucas earned his second save, allowing a hit.
Both pitched in relief of Corey Baker, who struck out six over six, minimizing the opposition to just a long ball, one of three hits and two bases-on-balls. Joey Donofrio bridged the gap between Shaban and Lucas.
Monday, May 16th, Springfield vs. Tulsa - postponed
Monday's series opener at Hammons Field was postponed due to inclement weather. The game will be made up as part of a doubleheader on Wednesday, May 18th.
Tuesday, May 17th, Springfield 5 vs. Tulsa 3
A four-run fifth inning propelled the Cardinals over Tulsa Drillers, 5-3, in the series-opener.
Eight Springfield players either scored or drove in at least one, led by Bruce Caldwell and C.J. McElroy, who both went 2-for-4. Caldwell knocked in two while McElroy touched home once with an RBI.
Harrison Bader was not one of them. The centerfielder’s league-leading consecutive game hit streak ended at 17, one shy of the club mark. Bader did work two free passes, scored once and swiped his sixth base.
On the hill, Daniel Poncedeleon held the Drillers to two runs on five hits and two walks through six innings of work. He fanned five in his winning effort. Pedro Echemendia allowed a run on two hits in his Double-A debut while John Brebbia tossed two scoreless innings for his first save of the season.
Wednesday, May 18th, Springfield 0 vs. Tulsa 3 - game one
Tulsa followed up a quiet night with a 3-0 blanking of the Cardinals in the matinee game of the doubleheader on Wednesday.
Trey Nielsen suffered a tough-luck loss, tossing six innings of one-run ball. Nielsen held the Drillers to just two hits and a walk and struck out four. Tulsa added insurance in the seventh, touching Ronnie Shaban for two solo home runs.
The Drillers starter Chase DeJong went the distance in the seven-inning affair and two-hit the Cardinals offense. Bruce Caldwell and Carson Kelly had the only hits - singles.
Wednesday, May 19th, Springfield 3 vs. Tulsa 0 - game two
In the nightcap, Springfield returned the favor with a two-hit 3-0 shutout over Tulsa.
In a bullpen game, Kurt Heyer faced the minimum over five perfect frames. Heyer fanned three. Chris Perry gave up a lead-off single, ending the perfect game bid, however he finished the sixth inning unscathed. Josh Lucas notched his third save of the season with a scoreless seventh.
Paul DeJong's RBI double in the bottom half of the first stood as the only scoring for Springfield until the sixth inning. The Cardinals tacked on two runs via an RBI bunt single from Bruce Caldwell and fielding error which later plated Caldwell to seal the win.
Bruce Caldwell - For the first time in three weeks, a hitter not named Harrison Bader appears in the "Who's Hot" feature. Overshadowed by Bader, Caldwell has put together a fabulous month of May with a .347 (17-for-49) average with a .900 OPS. The left-handed hitting middle infielder is hitting .361 (13-for-36) over his last 10 games with five of those coming in multi-hit fashion. He has hit safely in eleven of his fourteen games this month as well.
While Caldwell punches out at a reasonably high rate, he will draw his fair share of walks and run into the occasional home run, but mostly his power lives within the gaps. He profiles as a utility reserve with a live bat if there is enough glove to play on the left side of the infield. He has played third and short in the past with more reps at the former position.
Trey Nielsen - This marks Nielsen's second consecutive appearance on "Who's Hot" in as many weeks. The unheralded righty went the distance for the first time in his career this week, putting those doubters who question his durability to rest for at least another week. On Wednesday, Nielsen took a tough-luck loss with six innings of one-run ball due to a silent offense.
Paul DeJong - DeJong was starting to see upward results until his bat trended back down after a 0-for-11, entering Wednesday's doubleheader. The third baseman is hitting .156 (5-for-32) over his past 10 games but drilled an RBI double in Springfield's victory over Tulsa in the nightcap.
Ronnie Shaban - TCN's 2015 Springfield Reliever of the Year has had a shaky month of May. Shaban posted strong results in April while converting all four of his save attempts, but his ERA has skyrocketed to an 11.81 mark in six games (5 1/3 innings) this month. One of his primary problems: the long ball. Of the nine hits Shaban has allowed, four of them are four-baggers.
Springbirds batting order
Per usual, Harrison Bader was the lead-off man throughout the week. However, Tommy Pham slid Bader over to right field as the former was patrolling center rehabbing his way back from an oblique injury. Pham appeared in four games and hit in two-spot and at three. Alex Mejia and Breyvic Valera filled in for Pham while he was in the three-hole. Bruce Caldwell was in the three-hole after Pham's departure late in the week.
Luke Voit was the clean-up hitter for six of the seven games. Voit received the doubleheader nightcap off. Paul DeJong continued to hit fifth in the order but was the three-hole hitter in the nightcap on Wednesday. The final four spots had a merry-go-round like effect throughout the week as Dann Bilardello likely designed his lineup by individual matchups, handedness, and performance.
In the past few weeks, player movement was few and far between, but this week featured a whirlwind of moves. As a whole, the Cardinals organization made 21 roster moves over the weekend alone.
As a result of these changes, the entire Springfield pitching staff – starters and relievers - are right-handed. The S-Cards are at full roster strength, currently.
5/12: OF Tommy Pham sent on rehab assignment from St. Louis Cardinals to Springfield
Pham joined the S-Cards last Thursday night from Memphis to stay close to St. Louis. As a result, the Las Vegas, Nevada native appeared in his first game with Springfield since 2013, a level at which he spent four years - battling good health.
5/14: RHR Chris Thomas placed on seven-day disabled list
5/14: RHR Pedro Echemendia to Springfield from Palm Beach
Thomas went on the shelf last Saturday with an apparent injury. No word on the specifics of his injury, but the righty has been out since pitching two innings on May 8th. In his third season in the Texas League, he was charged with nine runs, six earned in 15 innings over 11 contests, for a 3.60 ERA.
Echemendia, a 24-year-old native of Cuba, fanned 18 and walked five in 20 1/3 innings with Palm Beach, but FSL hitters hit .300 against him. His ERA was 3.93. The righty allowed an earned run on two hits over an inning of work in his Double-A debut.
5/14: LHR Corey Littrell to Memphis from Springfield
5/14: RHP Kevin Herget to Springfield from Palm Beach
The Cardinal Nation’s Relief Pitcher of the Month for April has been nothing short of outstanding for Palm Beach. Herget, 25, appeared in 12 games, throwing 23 innings without allowing a run. He allowed just five hits, struck out 21 and issued just one free pass.
Herget struggled in his four-game cameo with Springfield last year. He yielded two earned runs on four hits in two innings in his Double-debut this year.
Littrell, 23, went to Memphis after just 13 games at Double-A while in the early stages of acclimating to the bullpen. The former starter worked 15 2/3 innings, giving up eight hits and three runs for a 1.72 ERA. Littrell had 14 strikeouts against just one walk with Springfield. The lefty made his Triple-A debut on Saturday night and has tossed two scoreless outings so far.
5/15: Mike Mayers to Memphis from Springfield
5/15; Cody Schumacher to Springfield from Palm Beach
Mayers, 24, is back to where he was late in the 2014 season – Triple-A Memphis. An injury-riddled 2015 meant the right-hander had to back-track to Springfield and Mayers returned there for seven starts to open this season, as well.
Recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, Mayers went 5 1/3 innings, surrendering a lone run on five hits in his Triple-A debut for Memphis. He struck out four and walked two.
Another former Missouri State Bear returns home to Hammons Field in reliever Schumacher, 25. Able to pitch effectively over multiple innings, the right-hander tossed 21 2/3 innings in 12 games for Palm Beach this season. Schumacher fanned 19 and walked just three. He also had a one-game debut with Springfield in 2015.
Schumacher has yet to make his first Double-A appearance this year.
The Cardinal Nation Top 40 Prospect Watch
#12 Carson Kelly - Kelly popped his second Double-A home run last Friday night, a solo shot to left-center field. Even though the run production isn't there, Kelly has a healthy .286/.412/.405 slash line for the month of May. He has as many hits as strikeouts (12) and added two more walks to his seven total this past week.
#13 Harrison Bader - Bader's 17-game hitting streak ended Tuesday night with a 0-for-2 performance at the plate. However, it wasn't an entirely quiet night - he drew two walks and swiped his sixth bag of the season. It was still an impressive 0-fer considering he took positive gains in other areas of his game that need polishing besides his hitting.
Scouts have been surprised by how much power Bader has shown this year. They say he has maintained good plate discipline and should be able to stay in center field as an average defender. It will be interesting to see how he handles the Texas League another time around.
#16 Paul DeJong - DeJong was hitting .351 over his last ten games going back to last week. It is amazing how fast that has reversed in his favor, but that comes along with the ebbs-and-flows of a first full season coupled with the adjustment of jumping over a level. On the other hand, scouts project him as a .260 hitter, more or less, because of a big swing.
That big swing has led to 48 strikeouts in his first 135 at-bats on the season.
#22 Daniel Poncedeleon - Poncedeleon had success in his first start this week by throwing his off-speed pitches more to make his fastball that much more deceptive. The 24-year old continues to have lapses of not throwing strikes, but he has made two straight quality outings and his stuff certainly hasn't backed up.
#28 Trey Nielsen - In a recent interview, Nielsen attributed his early-season struggles to just "elevating the ball". He believes he has corrected that issue, and the results are reflective. The sinkerballer has allowed three runs over his last 27 innings (1.00 ERA).
#34 Corey Littrell - Littrell was promoted last Saturday. Fortunately, I was able to interview him before his move to Memphis.
#37 Andrew Morales - In his only start this past week, Morales pitched six innings of four-run ball. He gave up seven hits, walked one, and struck out four in a loss against NW Arkansas. The still only 23-three-year-old will make his eighth Double-A start on Thursday in the finale against Tulsa.
The Cardinals complete the eight-game homestand at 7:10 PM CT, Thursday night. Following will be a brief four-game road trip to Dickey-Stephens Park in Little Rock, Arkansas to oppose the last-place Travelers this weekend.
After the weekend, Springfield returns to Hammons Field for a potentially tough homestand against Midland and Frisco for three games each. The first-place Roughriders have a Texas League-best 25-12 record, while despite losing four straight, the South Division Missions are 20-17 on the season.
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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