Jonathan Rodriguez (Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)

Weekly news from the St. Louis Cardinals’ Double-A Texas League affiliate in Springfield, MO.

The Cardinals’ Double-A affiliate can take the first-half title, but need road wins this week to achieve their goal. Jonathan Rodriguez has been swinging a hot bat.

As the first half winds down this coming week, the Springfield Cardinals have bounced back from an uneven Week 9 with a superb 5-2 record over the last seven days, including taking six of eight in their latest homestand at Hammons Field.

The Cardinals breezed past chief rival Arkansas and Tulsa, sliding a half-game in front of the latter for first-place in North. However, the lead changed back into the Drillers’ favor after Springfield dropped a rough 12-6 loss to NW Arkansas on Wednesday night.

With only five games remaining, the Cardinals (36-29 overall record) look up at Tulsa (36-28 overall record) by a half game margin.  Since the Drillers will only play 69 games, winning percentage will ultimately determine the first half champion.

Tulsa currently holds a .563 winning percentage, with Springfield on their heels at .554.

This report covers the period from Thursday, June 9th, through Wednesday, June 15th.

Thursday, June 10th, Springfield 4 vs. Arkansas 3 - 11 innings

Paul DeJong lifted the S-Cards to a 4-3 victory over Arkansas and a two games to one series advantage with one left to play.

DeJong homered for the ninth time - his third walk-off hit of the season and second extra-inning walk-off blast. Luke Voit had a perfect three-for-three night with two doubles, a run scored, and an RBI. Jonathan Rodriguez doubled twice in five at-bats and touched home once while Collin Radack collected two hits. Brayan Pena singled once in three at-bats, departing after the sixth.

Winning pitcher Josh Lucas limited the Travelers to a hit and base-on-balls over the final two frames.  He was the fourth Springfield hurler, following Andrew Morales, Chris Perry, and John Brebbia.  

Morales fanned six over six, permitting three runs, one earned, on three hits and two free passes.  Perry (1 1/3) and Brebbia (1 2/3) held down the fort in the middle frames, Perry walking one and Brebbia leaving that runner on.

Friday, June 11th, Springfield 6 vs. Arkansas 4

For the second straight night, Paul DeJong put the Cardinals ahead with a late-inning home run. His three-run blast sent Springfield to a 6-4 win over Arkansas and the four-game series, three games to one.

The Cardinals trailed for the majority of the game before DeJong's eighth inning go-ahead shot. Carson Kelly had a big night with three hits, including a homer, and two RBI. Brayan Pena singled in four at-bats before leaving in the bottom of the eighth.

Corey Baker's effort was overshadowed by an error, as he was charged with four runs, but only one earned, over 5 1/3 innings pitched. The righty walked struck out five and walked one in a no-decision.

The Springfield bullpen stifled the Arkansas offense over the final 4 2/3 innings thanks to Pedro Echemendia (2/3 of an inning), Seth Maness (one inning), Ronnie Shaban (1 2/3 innings), and Kevin Herget (1/3 of an inning) combined. The winning pitcher Shaban gave way to Herget, who earned his first Double-A save.

Saturday, June 12th, Springfield 4 vs. Tulsa 3

The Cardinals took the series-opener against Tulsa with a 6-3 victory on Saturday night at Hammons Field.

Luke Weaver earned his second win since his activation from the disabled list. Weaver pitched five innings, giving up one run on seven hits and striking out nine.  The one run came on a solo home run in the first inning.  

Chris Perry allowed no runs and only one hit in the sixth and seventh innings.  Heath Wyatt followed, yielding one run on three hits while recording only one out.  Kevin Herget retired the final two batters and then pitched the ninth, allowing one additional run to score but earning the save.

Jonathan Rodriguez and newly-added Mason Katz provided the offense. Rodriguez blasted a two-run homer and added an RBI single for three of the four runs. Katz collected three hits, one his first Double-A home run, a solo shot.

Sunday, June 13th, Springfield 4 vs. Tulsa 3

Springfield cooled off Tulsa with another close win over the Drillers, reclaiming first-place in the North Division despite a three-hour delay due to a torrential downpour.

The offense keyed on the long ball, as Jonathan Rodriguez drilled a two-run homer for the second game in a row while Bruce Caldwell and Carson Kelly added solo shots.

Daniel Poncedeleon struck out two and walked one over four innings of one-run ball. His early exit was attributed to giving big-league rehabber Seth Maness work in the fifth. Maness served up a homer in his inning.

Pedro Echemendia and John Brebbia combined to throw three straight zeros before Josh Lucas preserved the lead in the ninth for his seventh save of the season.

Monday, June 14th, Springfield 4 vs. Tulsa 9

Springfield fell to Tulsa in game three, a Monday matinee, with the Drillers moving back into sole possession of first in the North.

Trey Nielsen was hampered by control issues, with four walks against four strikeouts over five innings of four-run ball. He took his sixth loss. The Cardinals bullpen then imploded, allowing six runs over the final four innings.

Despite four runs on ten hits, the Springfield offense was untimely against Tulsa pitching. Harrison Bader had an RBI single in three at-bats while Carson Kelly recorded a single and double for a pair of hits in four at-bats.

Tuesday, June 15th, Springfield 7 vs. Tulsa 6

Springfield slipped past Tulsa with a 7-6 victory, taking three-of-four and sliding back into first place in North with six games left to play in the first half.

Keyed by three consecutive bases-loaded walks in the bottom of the eighth, the Cardinals grabbed the lead, then Josh Lucas and Kevin Herget preserved the one-run advantage in the ninth.

The Springfield two and three hitters, Bruce Caldwell and Anthony Garcia, went a combined six-for-eight at the plate with two doubles and four RBI. Jonathan Rodriguez launched a two-run blast to right center field for his fourth homer of the season.

J.C. Sulbaran allowed four earned runs on five hits over six innings in a no-decision. John Brebbia coughed up a run on two hits in two innings of work.

Wednesday, June 16th, Springfield 6 at NW Arkansas 12

Following a successful homestand, Springfield took a step back in the opening game of the eight-game road trip, dropping first game of four against NW Arkansas by a final score of 12-6 on Wednesday.  The Cardinals fell out of first-place with the loss.

Corey Baker zoomed through the first three innings against the Naturals before the home squad handed him an early exit after he allowed five earned runs in the fourth. NW Arkansas tagged Chris Perry with three more runs before an inning-ending flyout.

From that point on, the Naturals jetted to claim the win.

The Cardinals offense had their moments in the form of 15 collective hits but squandered 11 chances with runners in scoring position. Harrison Bader and Bruce Caldwell collected three hits apiece while Paul DeJong belted his 11th Double-A home run. He also contributed a sac fly to finish with a game-high two RBI.

Who's Hot

http://www.scout.com/player/133111-jonathan-rodriguez?s=321

Jonathan Rodriguez - Rodriguez has steadily improved his performance since being demoted from Memphis on May 29th. Over his past seven games, the now left fielder is batting .344 with three homers and 8 RBI. He collected four multi-hit games through this week.

http://www.scout.com/player/160140-mason-katz?s=321

Mason Katz - Despite being a temporary fill-in for Anthony Garcia, Katz took advantage in his brief sip of coffee at Double-A, batting .400 (4-for-10) with a solo homer over five games. The former LSU standout also doubled and drew two walks.

http://www.scout.com/player/179139-luke-weaver?s=321

Luke Weaver - Even though he is 22 years of age, TCN’s fourth-ranked prospect has immediately distinguished himself as a man amongst boys. Over his first two outings of his Double-A career, Weaver has logged 12 1/3 innings of one-run ball against two prospect-laden lineups in Frisco and Tulsa. He struck out a whopping 19 batters over that stretch as well.

Who's Not

Luis Cruz - Granted, Cruz has played sparingly throughout this season with Springfield, but the back-up catcher is only hitting .171 (6-for-35) in limited action against Texas League pitching. He had a stint with Triple-A Memphis and two stints at Double-A after being summoned from Class-A Peoria with catching depth light in the upper levels at the time.

Corey Baker - The right-hander, St. Louis' 49th rounder in 2011, has suffered three abbreviated outings over his previous four starts, yielding 14 runs on 22 hits in just 13 innings pitched.

Six S-Cards named TL All-Stars

On Tuesday afternoon, the Texas League released its official All-Star Game rosters two weeks ahead of the mid-season classic set for Tuesday, June 28th at Hammons Field. The hosting Springfield Cardinals will be well-represented by six players and their entire coaching staff, with C Carson Kelly, OF Harrison Bader, and DH Luke Voit all named starters.

2B Bruce Caldwell, 3B Paul DeJong will serve as All-Star infield reserves while RHP Mike Mayers was also selected to the North squad but has been promoted to Triple-A Memphis.

Springbirds batting order

Harrison Bader was the lead-off hitter in five of the seven games this week. Bruce Caldwell and Jonathan Rodriguez spelled him in his absence. Rodriguez was a spark out of the two-hole for six of the seven games while Caldwell hit second once. Brayan Pena was the three-hole hitter before his rehab was paused due to a personal issue. Garcia and Caldwell slotted in the three-hole for the back-end of the week.

Luke Voit cleaned up throughout with Paul DeJong following, though Garcia and Michael Ohlman were penciled in at five as well. Caldwell and Carson Kelly intertwined between duties at the sixth spot.

Rounding out the order, Mason Katz, Collin Radack or Ohlman were at seven with Breyvic Valera or Juan Herrera at eight. Herrera also concluded the order at nine before the NL rules came in effect when Tulsa rolled through town.

Team Transactions

A hectic past week was followed by a steadier set of moves, as three Springbirds returned to the active roster.

6/13: INF Breyvic Valera assigned from Triple-A Memphis to Double-A Springfield

6/13: OF Blake Drake assigned to High-A Palm Beach from Springfield

Drake was sent back to the Beach Birds when Breyvic Valera was bumped back down to Double-A from Memphis. Valera was returned to Palm Beach as a result of Jacob Wilson's activation at Triple-A.

More details on these moves here.

6/14: RHP Andrew Morales placed on 7-day DL

6/14: RHP Chris Thomas activated from 7-day DL

Morales was scratched hours before his scheduled Tuesday night start and was placed on the seven-day disabled list. Thomas was activated after missing the past month with an undisclosed injury.

More details on these moves here.

6/14: OF Anthony Garcia activated from Springfield temporarily inactive list

6/14: INF Mason Katz assigned to High-A Palm Beach from Springfield

Katz made his brief Texas League debut but was returned to Palm Beach when Anthony Garcia was reactivated by Springfield. Garcia missed exactly a week time attending to a family issue.

More details on these moves here.

The Cardinal Nation Top 40 Prospect Watch

#4 Luke Weaver - Weaver's fastball command wasn't quite as sharp early on in his second start against Tulsa, which led to high pitch innings before he found rhythm in the third. The right-hander tossed 97 pitches, with 57 of them for strikes - 33 of which were fastball strikes (four-seam and cutter), according to my unofficial count. Weaver worked primarily off his fastball/changeup combo but threw more breaking balls than cutters from my viewing.

Weaver will make his third start on Thursday against NW Arkansas.

“He has stuff between his ears that resonates when he’s on the mound,” Springfield pitching coach Jason Simontacchi recently told Springfield News-Leader. "He’s kind of a silent assassin.”

#6 Harrison Bader - Bader was on the verge of falling below .300 for the first time this season had it not been for a three-for-four performance on Wednesday night, jumping his average back up to .309. The outfielder has fanned eight times over his past ten games, but a positive is the walks are quietly filtering into his offensive profile. Bader has drawn seven free passes dating back to June 5th (ten game stretch).

In addition, the Texas League North All-Star starter showed off a cannon on Tuesday, uncorking a throw on a line from medium center field to cut down a runner at home plate. Bader now has five assists on the season.

#12 Carson Kelly - Kelly had a decent week at the plate, most notably launching two homers to give him six in 2016. In the pitcher-friendly confines of the Florida State League, the catcher had eight all of last season (108 games) with High-A Palm Beach.

#15 Paul DeJong - Adapting to Double-A continues to be the ongoing test for DeJong, as he was punched out eight times over 25 at-bats this week (36% strikeout rate). On the bright side, the third baseman still managed to crank three long balls for 11 on the season, ranking sixth in the Texas League.

#22 Daniel Poncedeleon - Poncedeleon's start on Sunday was shortened because of rehabbing Seth Maness getting work in relief. The former pitched four innings of one-run ball, walking one and striking out two after throwing 57 pitches, 34 for strikes.

Poncedeleon is slated to make his next start on Friday night against Northwest Arkansas.

#24 Trey Nielsen – The previously untouchable Nielsen has been knocked around in his past three outings after a dominant May. The righty has allowed a combined 12 earned runs on 23 hits over 17 innings of work this month with each resulting in a loss.

Nielsen’s next scheduled turn will be Saturday night against Northwest Arkansas.

#32 Anthony Garcia - Garcia returned from the inactive list with a pinch-hit single on Monday night. The Puerto Rican followed that up with a three-for-four game in the finale against Tulsa, raising his average up to .387. However, his average dropped 44 points after a 0-fer on Wednesday, including three strikeouts.

#33 Michael Ohlman - Ohlman continued to move among catching, first base, and DH over this week. The 6-foot-5 right-handed hitter went 6-for-18 (.333) over five games played.

off Andrew Morales - Morales was scratched from his scheduled turn on Tuesday evening. I was told the right-hander was placed on the 7-day disabled list because of innings pitched. It is unknown how many starts he will miss, but he will not appear in this section in the future as he fell sout of the latest TCN monthly top 40 prospect ranking.

What's Next

Springfield wrapped up the 6-2 homestand, improving their season record at Hammons Field to a Texas League-best 22-14 mark. The Cardinals have won 10 of their last 12 at home.

Meanwhile, they will look for better results on the road as they have dropped 8 of their last 14 away games. They have opened an all-important eight-game road trip to continue the rest of this week and into next. Springfield finishes up the final three games with NW Arkansas on Saturday before heading to Tulsa on Monday to complete the first half.

The Cardinals conclude the road trip with the Drillers on Wednesday. With W-L records reset, they return home next Thursday for four against Arkansas before the all-star break.  

Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.

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