As they moved into the third week of May, the Springfield Cardinals hit a speed bump, losing ground in the Texas League North Division. The club dropped five of seven games as the offense's situational hitting was silenced by the Midland RockHounds (SD) pitching staff in the latter part of the week.
The Cardinals starting pitching performance was spotty while the bullpen suffered a late hiccup in a Sunday loss to the Arkansas Travelers (LAA). Perhaps part of Springfield's offensive troubles in the latter part of the week could be attributed to Harrison Bader and Paul DeJong's recent woes at the plate. These two are integral bats' in the Cardinals lineup.
With a 2-5 record for the week and an overall 24-22 record, the Cardinals remain atop the North. However, the Tulsa Drillers (LAD, 22-23) are within a striking distance, 1.5 games back, with NW Arkansas Naturals (KC, 21-24) trailing by 2.5 games. The Travelers (18-28) are at the bottom of the pack, looking up at a 5.5 game deficit to Springfield.
This report covers the period from Thursday, May 19th from Wednesday, May 25th.
Thursday, May 19th, Springfield 2 vs. Tulsa 10
Tulsa drilled Springfield, 10-2, in the last of the four-game set, giving each team two wins in the series.
Two four-run frames proved to be the deciding factor, one against Andrew Morales and the other against Kevin Herget. Morales surrendered six runs on 11 hits, including two two-run jacks in 5 2/3 innings pitched.
Herget yielded a two-run home run himself, one of two hits and a base-on-balls in 1 2/3. Joey Donofrio was the only Cardinal reliever to have a scoreless outing, but the righty struggled to find the plate. Donofrio issued four walks on a hit in 1 2/3 innings pitched.
The Springfield offense had a collective pedestrian night at the plate with the only tallies coming in the eighth and ninth innings. Alex Mejia hit his first home run of the season and Luke Voit collected two hits and an RBI.
Friday, May 20th, Springfield 4 at Arkansas 6
The back-and-forth battle went to Arkansas, holding on for a 6-4 victory in the series-opener at Dickey-Stephens Park.
Starter Corey Baker allowed three runs on six hits in his five innings pitched, including a three-run home run in his final inning. Reliever Pedro Echemendia yielded an additional run in the sixth and John Brebbia surrendered the final two runs in his two innings of work to take the loss.
Bruce Caldwell and Chris Jacobs drove in all four of the Cardinals runs. Carson Kelly had two hits in four at-bats.
Saturday, May 21st, Springfield 6 at Arkansas 4
After a 6-4 loss the previous night, Springfield turned the tables on the Travelers on Saturday, evening the series at one-all with two left to play.
Homers from Paul DeJong (seven for the season), Harrison Bader (team-leading eight) and Luke Voit (seven) made up the Cardinals offensive output. DeJong opened the scoring with a three-run bomb to right field before Bader extended the lead to four with his solo shot in the third inning capped by a Voit solo dinger in the eighth.
Coming off a steady Triple-A outing, Mike Mayers shut out Arkansas over the first five frames. Mayers lasted two outs into the sixth, allowing a solo home run. Chris Perry and Ronnie Shaban recorded holds as the bridge to Josh Lucas. Lucas worked around a base hit with a clean ninth for his fourth save of 2016.
Sunday, May 22nd, Springfield 4 at Arkansas 6
Four late runs by the S-Cards was not enough to prevent a 6-4 loss at Arkansas. Springfield trails in the series, two games to one, with one remaining.
The Cardinals got on the board thanks to Nick Thompson's first long ball of the season, a two-run shot, to cut into the Travelers 6-0 lead. Thompson singled to open the ninth and eventually scoring along with C.J. McElroy (single). Collin Radack joined Thompson, Carson Kelly, and McElroy by going 2-for-4, accounting for eight of the team’s 12 hits.
Daniel Poncedeleon permitted four runs on five hits and three walks in 3 2/3, including two solo shots. Kevin Herget interspersed five strikeouts with four hits and a walk, resulting in two scores over 2 1/3. Pedro Echemendia permitted a hit and base-on-balls in the final two frames.
Monday, May 23rd, Springfield 8 at Arkansas 3
Springfield cruised to an 8-3 win over Arkansas to take the series finale and salvage a split of the four-game road trip.
Eight of the nine Cardinals hitters contributed at least one hit to the 15 total. Bruce Caldwell (three), Carson Kelly (three), Alex Mejia (two), Chris Jacobs (two), and C.J. McElroy (two) accounted for 12 of the hits. Caldwell doubled with two RBI while Luke Voit hit 2-run RBI triple. Breyvic Valera tallied a two-RBI single and the only hitless Springfield hitter - Paul DeJong -managed a sacrifice fly in four at-bats.
Trey Nielsen navigated through six innings, allowing three runs (one earned) on eight hits. Nielsen walked two and struck out two, but induced10 groundouts and five flyouts for his fifth win of the season. Ronnie Shaban and Joey Donofrio combined to cover three scoreless frames in relief to secure the victory.
Tuesday, May 24th, Springfield 2 at Midland 3 - 10 innings
Springfield squandered a strong effort from Andrew Morales as Midland topped the Cardinals, 3-2 to open the series and first of six on the homestand at Hammons Field.
Morales pitched seven innings of two-run ball in a tough-luck no-decision. The righty gave up six hits, walked zero, and fanned eight. Chris Perry didn't skip a beat, tossing two zeros in relief.
Springfield evened the score at 2-2 in the eighth, but the Rockhounds plated the would-be game-winning run in the 10th as Josh Lucas took his second loss.
On offense, the Cardinals had their share of opportunities but failed to capitalize, going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and leaving ten runners stranded. However, Bruce Caldwell had a pair of hits with one traveling over the left field fence for his seventh homer of the season. Carson Kelly contributed a sac fly, accounting for the other run.
Wednesday, May 25th, Springfield 2 vs. Midland 5
Springfield came up short for the second night in a row, falling to Midland by a 5-2 score. The Cardinals look to salvage the series finale on Thursday, which will be covered in next week's edition.
Four of the five hits Corey Baker allowed were RockHounds home runs. Overall, Baker went six innings yielding five earned runs, two walks but punched out five batters in his second loss of 2016. John Brebbia struck out three in his 1 2/3 scoreless innings while Kevin Herget worked around a hit and a walk by fanning four in 1 1/3 innings.
The Springfield bats' banged out 10 hits but scuffled to put runs on the board. They went 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position and left 13 runners aboard. C.J. McElroy had three hits in his four at-bats while driving in one. Harrison Bader and Paul DeJong recorded two-hit games.
Carson Kelly - A 0-fer on Tuesday night ended Kelly's six-game hitting streak dating back to May 17th. However, the catcher has caught fire in the month of May, hitting .344 (21-for-61) with a .865 OPS as the weather has warmed up. Since May 1st, Kelly has seen his average increase from .238 to a season-high .290 mark going into Thursday's action.
Trey Nielsen - Nielsen has now appeared on the "Who's Hot" feature over the last three editions of this weekly report, and it is well deserved. The 24-year old has thrown five consecutive outings of one run or less, spanning 33 innings pitched since May 2nd, including his first career complete game on May 13th. His earned run average has dropped from 4.56 to 2.91 during that stretch.
Mike Mayers - Mayers was promoted to Memphis last week to make a spot-start. The righty picked up the win in a solid outing in his first Triple-A outing since 2014. He returned to Springfield earlier this week and continued the consistency despite a high walk total.
In only one of Mayers' nine starts in 2016 did he yield more than three earned runs. Take that lone start away and he has a nifty 1.60 ERA on the season. Not too shabby from a pitcher who this time last year underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. The Springfield coaching staff has been impressed with Mayers’ ability to rely less on overpowering hitters with pure stuff and lean on pitchability for success.
Harrison Bader - Bader has cooled off quite a bit since making "Who's Hot" feature his home last month. Entering Wednesday's action, he had a minuscule .125 (4-for-32) stretch with one extra-base knock, dropping his average from .365 on May 14th to .327. It might be a freak cold spell because the outfielder managed two singles in five at-bats on Wednesday night.
Paul DeJong - Coming into Wednesday evening, DeJong's batting average had fallen 20 points to .224 over his past ten games. He has shown signs of promise though with four hits in his last 10 at-bats through Wednesday night's game against Midland.
Springbirds batting order
Bader led off in four of the seven games this week. The outfielder was out of action twice and the other instance he batted third in place of Bruce Caldwell, who received a day off on Wednesday. Breyvic Valera was Bader’s interim replacement when he wasn't hitting behind the latter. Caldwell was the three-hole hitter in five of the seven games.
Luke Voit continued his typical clean-up duties. Paul DeJong batted fifth for most of the week while Carson Kelly moved up to five once thanks to his hot bat. Most often, Collin Radack hit behind DeJong at six with Alex Mejia seeing time there.
Rounding out the typical order was Kelly at seven, Chris Jacobs or Nick Thompson at eight, and C.J. McElroy at nine.
A series of moves were made in preparation of Alex Reyes' activation from the restricted list at Memphis, which meant Mike Mayers shuttled back down to Springfield and Cody Schumacher was sent back to Palm Beach to make room for Mayers.
Other than that, it was a relatively quiet week on the transaction front, though Kurt Heyer received a promotion to Triple-A Memphis on Monday.
At the moment, Springfield is running with 24 active players, with an addition to replace Heyer yet to be announced.
5/20: Mayers to Springfield from Memphis
5/20: Schumacher to Palm Beach from Springfield
5/23: Heyer to Memphis from Springfield
Memphis receives a reliable arm who can pitch multiple innings out of the pen in right-hander Heyer. With Springfield in 2016, Heyer made two starts and ten relief appearances, logging a 2.82 ERA. He struck out 18 and walked just three in 22 1/3 Texas League innings
In his 2016 Triple-A debut, Heyer took a mop-up role as starter J.C. Sulbaran was knocked out in the second inning after allowing a whopping 13 hits on 10 earned runs. The righty Heyer provided 4 2/3 innings of three-run ball.
Peralta to continue rehab at Springfield
Jhonny Peralta's five-game rehab stint concluded with Class-A Peoria on Wednesday night. General manager John Mozeliak confirmed that Peralta will be transferred to Springfield, where he will arrive Thursday and debut on Friday. In his Peoria stint, he was 3-for-13 with a double while splitting time among shortstop, third base and designated hitter.
Following that, the organization's plan is to reevaluate Peralta after the weekend.
"This has been spring training for me," Peralta told reporters after his final game in Peoria. The first game felt weird, but I got better and better, and now I go on to Springfield."
The Cardinal Nation Top 40 Prospect Watch
#12 Carson Kelly - As mentioned above, Kelly has pushed his average to a season-high .290 mark with a scorching May. Despite the lack of beef behind that average, the catcher has made hard contact throughout the season but is now finding more holes than before.
Originally drafted for his raw power, I am curious if Kelly's primary focus is making contact and hitting for average.
#13 Harrison Bader – It is not surprising to see Bader fall back down to earth a bit, especially as one of the younger prospects in the Texas League and making the jump over High-A entirely. Regardless, Bader is arguably the top position player in the system.
On defense, scouts project Bader to remain in center field and be playable there while they think he has enough arm strength to play the corners, if necessary.
#16 Paul DeJong - DeJong fanned eight times over the week, increasing his strikeout total to 56 K's in 161 at-bats because of a big swing. That is not outrageous given the third baseman compensates with his above-average to plus raw power. Of his 37 total hits, 17 have gone for extra-bases, so he has juice. DeJong receives good reviews from his coaches for his intelligence at the plate which will hopefully help him cut down on his strikeouts a tad.
#22 Daniel Poncedeleon - Poncedeleon's 2016 campaign has certainly been a time of learning, adapting, and handling the peaks and valleys that come with pitching in the Texas League. He took a slight step back in another abbreviated outing Sunday against Arkansas but his peripherals suggest better times ahead.
#28 Trey Nielsen - Nielsen has been dominant of late, holding the opposition to four earned runs over his last 33 innings of work. He has positioned himself as a top contender for the Cardinals Pitcher of the Month for May.
Leading the Springfield pitching staff in innings pitched (52 2/3 innings), Nielsen has particularly adjusted to reading hitters this year and employs a live sinker and change for quick, groundball outs. He prides himself on living down in the zone as a control pitcher.
#37 Andrew Morales - Morales bounced back from a tough outing last Thursday with a seven-inning one-run performance on Tuesday night against Midland. The righty exhibited that excellent command which garnered him the organization's Pitcher of the Month award to open 2016.
Morales zoomed ahead in counts with his fastball and carved up the RockHounds with a sharp curveball which flashed late bite as it broke down in the zone.
The Cardinals dropped the first two games of the six-game homestand against Midland but look to salvage the series finale on Thursday night.
To conclude the homestand at Hammons Field, Springfield welcomes the always prospect-laden Frisco Roughriders (TEX) over the weekend. After an off day on Monday to travel to Texas, the Cardinals open up June with a six-game road trip against the Rockhounds and Roughriders for three each.
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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