The tables have turned for the Springfield Cardinals as the upstart Tulsa Drillers (LAD) have taken possession of first place in North Division, winning a franchise-best ten games in a row coupled with the Cardinals dropping four of their six games this past week.
With only 12 games remaining in the first half, the Drillers pace the North with an overall 33-24 record. Springfield trails by 2 1/2 games with an overall 31-27 record. Since Tulsa will only play 69 games, winning percentage will ultimately determine the first half champion.
The Drillers currently hold a .579 winning %, with the Cardinals behind at .534.
This report covers the period from Thursday, June 2nd through Wednesday, June 8th.
Thursday, June 2nd, Springfield 3 at Midland 5
Midland pitching stymied the Cardinals offense, 5-3, in the rubber game of the series.
Trey Nielsen was touched for five runs (four earned) on 12 hits, including a two-run homer and two walks over six frames. Chris Perry and Josh Lucas each tossed a scoreless frame with two strikeouts.
The S-Cards managed just three runs on just 11 hits. Luke Voit garnered three hits, but he neither scored a run nor drove in one. Jonathan Rodriguez homered on two hits, a solo shot, his first with Springfield on the season. Collin Radack singled twice with an RBI after taking C.J McElroy’s place in left field.
Friday, June 3rd, Springfield 5 at Frisco 6
Springfield battled back with a three-run seventh inning before Frisco claimed the lead in the bottom half, edging the Cardinals, 6-5 in the series-opener.
Eight of nine S-Cards contributed at least a hit against Roughriders pitching, including Harrison Bader, who launched his 12th homer to open the game, his fourth while leading off a contest this season. Bruce Caldwell drove in two on two singles while Anthony Garcia and Paul DeJong had a pair of RBI singles.
Andrew Morales took a small step back after two terrific outings. Morales coughed up five runs (four earned) on eight hits through six innings. Heath Wyatt took the loss, allowing the game-winning run in the seventh. Kevin Herget struck out two in a clean eighth inning.
Saturday, June 4th, Springfield 6 at Frisco 11
Frisco thundered past Springfield with an 11-6 win, taking the three-game series. With the loss, the Cardinals fell a game out of first-place to the surging Tulsa Drillers.
Starter Corey Baker lasted only 3 2/3 innings, surrendering five runs on four hits, including a home run. Baker took the loss. The relief squad of Pedro Echemendia, Chris Perry, and John Brebbia added to the woes by giving up seven additional Frisco runs among them.
The Springfield offense led early, with tallies in each of the first three innings. But, the Roughriders answered with a six-run route to take a sizable 7-3 lead and added four more in the eighth to secure the victory. Anthony Garcia hit a three-run blast to left field and Jonathan Rodriguez was perfect 3-for-3 with two RBI.
Sunday, June 5th, Springfield 5 at Frisco 0
Springfield salvaged the series finale with 5-0 shutout win over Frisco behind the dazzling debut of Luke Weaver on Sunday evening.
Weaver racked up a career-high ten strikeouts through 7 1/3 spotless innings in his Double-A debut and first start of 2016. The righty allowed just four hits in a winning effort. Inheriting a runner at second with one out in the eighth inning, Ronnie Shaban retired the final five outs of the game to secure the victory.
Harrison Bader lifted his team-leading 13th homer of the season; a solo shot pulled on a line to left field. Bruce Caldwell and Michael Ohlman contributed RBI singles with the latter having two hits. Luke Voit continued his hot stretch with two hits and two RBI.
Monday, June 6th, league-wide off-day
Springfield resumed play on Tuesday, June 7th for the start of an eight-game homestand against Arkansas and Tulsa.
Tuesday, June 7th, Springfield 3 vs. Arkansas 2
Springfield held off Arkansas late with a 3-2 victory. They improved to 31-26 on the season in first of eight at Hammons Field following a six-game road trip through Texas.
In a tight pitcher's duel throughout, the Cardinals were lifted by a high towering 3-run shot by Michael Ohlman that traveled just inside the left field foul pole. It was Ohlman's first since rejoining the Cardinals last week.
Daniel Poncedeleon delivered another quality outing, spinning six shutout innings of three-hit ball. Poncedeleon countered three walks with seven punchouts in a no-decision effort. Kevin Herget retired the Travelers in order in the seventh before coughing up two earned runs on three hits upon exiting with an out in the eighth. Josh Lucas struck out three en route to picking up his sixth save of the season.
Wednesday, June 8th, Springfield 0 vs. Arkansas 6
Arkansas' pitching staff combined for a three-hit shutout in a 6-0 rout over Springfield on Wednesday. With two remaining, the series is deadlocked at one each.
Trey Nielsen suffered a first inning hiccup, allowing all of his four earned runs in that frame, including a three-run shot. After that, he settled down, posting five zeros over as many innings. Seth Maness opened his rehab with a 1-2-3 inning. Maness used only nine pitches and threw five for strikes.
Accounting for the offense’s three hits, Bruce Caldwell and Jonathan Rodriguez singled and Mason Katz doubled in the first at-bat of his Double-A career.
Luke Voit - Voit had a five-game hitting streak (10-for-18) snapped with a 0-fer on Wednesday night against Arkansas. The right-handed hitting first baseman is batting .343 (12-for-35) over his past ten games, which pushed his average up to a season-high .285 mark before his hitless night.
The former Missouri State standout has added a big leg kick as a pro and possesses huge raw power that does not translate well into games. Right-handed hitting power is a rare commodity, but scouts do not see Voit tapping into his raw power consistently against advanced pitching. He is currently second on the team with a .831 OPS, 81 points behind team-leader Harrison Bader (.912), who ranks fifth in Texas League.
Daniel Poncedeleon - Poncedeleon threw six shutout innings against Arkansas on Tuesday night. The right-hander has allowed one earned run over his past three starts, spanning 18 2/3 innings.
Carson Kelly - Following a strong month of May (.333 average), Kelly is in the midst of a 2-for-16 tailspin at the plate over his first six games to start June.
Bruce Caldwell - Dating back to May 28th, Caldwell was hitting .297 and since his average has dipped 25 points to a now .272 clip after a 6-for-40 (.150) stretch over his past ten games. He has struck out 14 times during that span.
Corey Baker - Baker had a rocky month of May but started off June on an even worse note. In his second straight abbreviated outing, the righty yielded five earned runs over 3 2/3 innings in a loss to Frisco on Saturday.
Weaver named TL Pitcher of Week
After sitting out the first two months of 2016, Luke Weaver made his long-awaited debut on Sunday and two days in the league was named Texas League Pitcher of the Week.
"It was cool," said Weaver of the honor. "It added on to everything. It's definitely exciting to come off a start like that. It's definitely humbling and an honor. I don't have much to say about it, but there's a lot of good pitchers out there. I'm just humbled by it."
Weaver tallied a career-high ten strikeouts in his Double-A debut. The righty allowed just four hits over 7 1/3 shutout frames in a win against the high-powered Frisco Roughriders offense.
"It probably exceeded my expectations a bit or what I had planned," said Weaver. "I was happy with the outcome, especially the debut of the first start of the season and something to build off with a little bit of confidence. I can take bits and pieces out of that to improve on."
Weaver commanded three solid pitches - four-seam fastball, changeup, and cutter effectively, turning the Roughriders lineup over three times while working into the eighth inning.
"I was getting ahead early," said Weaver. "I was in a lot of 0-2 or 1-2 counts - that played a big role. I think that put them in a position where they were on an uncomfortable side of things, had to make something happen, and I was in the driver’s seat.
"Also, the cutter playing that off the fastball was a huge part of getting more strikeouts and having that third pitch instead of the changeup that hitters know."
Springbirds batting order
After hitting third a couple of times last week, Harrison Bader moved back to his primary spot leading off this week. Bruce Caldwell continued batting second full-time. Jonathan Rodriguez hit third for four of the six games, while Brayan Pena rehabbed the final two games of the week and hit there.
Luke Voit moved down to the fourth spot as a result of Rodriguez' return to Springfield. Anthony Garcia was the five-hole hitter until he left the team on Monday to attend a "family issue". Paul DeJong hit fifth once in place of Garcia while Rodriguez hit there twice thanks to Pena. Primarily, DeJong was the six-hole hitter.
Rounding out the order was Carson Kelly or Michael Ohlman at seven, Collin Radack at eight, and Juan Herrera at nine.
It was another hectic week on the transaction front for Springfield as two Springbirds were cut by the organization, a demotion, a regular was shelved, and premiere pitching prospect Luke Weaver debuted after a fractured left wrist delayed his progress.
Moreover, two big-leaguers joined the Double-A club to start rehab assignments on Tuesday and Wednesday at Hammons Field. Due to another promotion and player going inactive, two other Beach Birds flew north to Springfield.
At the moment, Springfield's roster count sits at its 25-man limit, excluding the two on MLB medical rehab assignments.
6/2: 1B Chris Jacobs released by St. Louis Cardinals
6/3: RHP J.C. Sulbaran assigned to Springfield from Triple-A Memphis
With two other first base-only types on the Springfield roster in Jonathan Rodriguez and Luke Voit, Chris Jacobs was the odd man out and was given his release. The 27-year old minor league journeyman scuffled to the tune of a .212 batting average against Texas League pitching this season.
As a result of the Jerome Williams signing coupled with Jacobs’ release Thursday, J.C. Sulbaran was demoted to Double-A.
6/3: OF C.J. McElroy placed on 7-day disabled list
6/4: SS Juan Herrera assigned to Springfield from High-A Palm Beach
C.J. McElroy was placed on the 7-day disabled list on Friday. McElroy left Thursday's game early in Midland after being shaken up chasing a foul ball in the left field corner. He limped off the field and will likely miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL.
Juan Herrera joined the S-Cards from rehabbing on the backfields in extended spring training in Jupiter, FL to make his Double-A debut. Herrera appeared in his first game with Springfield on Saturday playing shortstop and singling in four at-bats.
6/4: RHP Joey Donofrio released by St. Louis Cardinals
6/4: RHP Luke Weaver assigned to Springfield from High-A Palm Beach
To accommodate Weaver on Springfield's active roster, Joey Donofrio was given his release by the organization. The 27-year old had a 3.97 ERA in 15 games (22 2/3 innings) this season. He struck out 19 and walked 13.
Weaver was officially activated off the disabled list Saturday evening and thrown right into competitive game action, making his first Double-A start the following night. The righty thrived, striking out a career-high ten batters over 7 1/3 innings against Frisco.
6/6: INF Breyvic Valera assigned to Triple-A Memphis from Springfield
6/7: INF Mason Katz assigned to Springfield from High-A Palm Beach
The organization promoted infielder/outfielder Breyvic Valera from Springfield to Memphis, replacing Alex Mejia, who should miss significant time with a broken wrist. In his third season at Double-A, the switch-hitter has posted a line of .259/.287/.300/.587 in 170 at-bats over 49 Texas League contests.
Mason Katz will fill the super-utility role of Valera from Palm Beach. Katz had been out all season with a recurring groin problem until being activated last Thursday. In his first three games of the season, the 25-year-old is still looking for his first hit in 13 plate appearances, but has two walks, two runs scored and an RBI.
6/7: RHP Seth Maness sent on medical rehab assignment
6/7: C Brayan Pena sent on medical rehab assignment
Maness, 27, was placed on the 15-day disabled list with right elbow inflammation on May 13. The right-hander pitched 12 2/3 innings over 13 relief appearances with a 0-1 record and a 6.39 ERA before landing on the disabled list. He opened his rehab with an easy 1-2-3 inning against Arkansas on Wednesday, throwing nine pitches - five for strikes. The key will be how he will respond after throwing on back-to-back days.
Peña, 34, began the season on the seven-day disabled list after suffering a left knee injury during Spring Training. The catcher will ease his knees back into game action while alternating from catching to DHing in the early part of his rehab. The Cuban struck out and grounded out and spent four innings behind the plate on Tuesday.
6/6: OF Anthony Garcia placed on Temporary Inactive List
6/7: OF Blake Drake assigned to Springfield from High-A Palm Beach
The S-Cards will be without Anthony Garcia for a period of time as the outfielder was placed on the temporarily inactive list due to a "family issue". A club official would not comment any further on his status.
Blake Drake was assigned to Springfield, taking Garcia's spot on the club's roster. Drake, who made his Double-A debut on Tuesday, went hitless in three at-bats. The outfielder did make a few impressive catches in right field. He has supposedly received rave reviews from his peers for his outfield defense.
The Cardinal Nation Top Prospect Watch
#4 Luke Weaver - In his debut against Frisco, Weaver consistently pounded the zone to get ahead with the four-seam fastball and was proficient at elevating his cutter out of the zone, changing the hitter's eye level and getting them to chase up as the recipe throughout his outing. His fastball averaged 92-95 mph, touching 97 with his cutter averaging a couple of ticks off at 89-91 mph, touching 93.
Weaver said he threw more of a slider in the Arizona Fall League, but he has developed a better feel for the cutter through spring training and extended.
"Big results (with the cutter)," said Weaver. "I think I've finally grasped what it feels like to throw that pitch and get enough under my belt to feel comfortable. So that last outing was the first outing, I took charge of that pitch."
#12 Carson Kelly - What was the reason behind Kelly's success at the plate in May?
“He’s more aggressive,” Springfield manager Dann Bilardello told Kary Booher of OzarksSportsZone.com. “There were times when Carson was kind of looking for the perfect swing. I think he’s learned that you can take that outside pitch to right field. … Mainly, he’s learned to simplify his swing.”
Entering Wednesday night's game, Kelly has guided the Springfield pitching staff to a 3.45 ERA over 388 1/3 innings caught and thrown out 32% of would-be baserunners.
#13 Harrison Bader - As much hype as Bader has received recently, his numbers have dipped since he led the Texas League in batting average and the strikeouts continue to mount, although that hasn't negated his ability to hit for power. He is one home run behind Midland third baseman Matt Chapman (14 HR) for the circuit lead. Bader also ranks sixth among league hitters in strikeouts this season.
#16 Paul DeJong - Since May 18th, DeJong has hit safely in 14 of his last 19 games. However, his average has remained consistently at or around .220-.240 during that stretch. He was punched out in 15 of those games, including five games with an average of two strikeouts.
#22 Daniel Poncedeleon - Poncedeleon falls into a tendency of losing his release point with his command slipping, but over his past three outings he has found improved consistency since altering his motion to a classic over the head windup. On Tuesday, his fastball averaged mainly in the low 90s, touching 95 on the notoriously hot stadium gun at Hammons Field. He showed a sharp slider with tilt and a curve that flashed depth down and out of the zone. The righty throws a change as well.
#25 Anthony Garcia - As mentioned above, Garcia was placed on Temporary Inactive List.
#28 Trey Nielsen - Nielsen's long streak of allowing less than three earned runs was snapped this week. The former Utah product was beaten twice, allowing four earned runs in six innings against Midland and Arkansas. His ERA jumped from 3.02 to 3.52 in that span.
#30 Michael Ohlman - Ohlman is 4-for-14 through his first five games since joining Springfield from Triple-A Memphis. As a DH, the 6-foot-5 right-handed hitter belted a three-run shot to lift Springfield over Arkansas on Tuesday night. To get regular at-bats, he has split time between first base and catcher but predominantly DHing.
#37 Andrew Morales - In a no-decision, Morales saw mixed results in his June 3rd start against Frisco. He allowed five runs (four earned) on eight hits. The righty struck out four and walked one. He is slated to make his 12th start for Springfield on Thursday against Arkansas.
The Cardinals have split the first two games of the current eight-game homestand. The final two against the Travelers will be covered in next week's edition as well as their four-game set against Tulsa.
Following the homestand, Springfield travels to NW Arkansas and Tulsa for an eight-game road trip. They will have six head-to-head matchups against the Drillers in the final stretch of the half before win-loss records reset on June 21st.
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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