With two cornerstone pieces on offense gone in Harrison Bader and Carson Kelly, the Springfield Cardinals scuffled through the week, winning just two of eight games played. The Cardinals did finish within at least three runs in five of the defeats, but they also fell handicapped on defense with a combined 10 errors committed in the six losses. In addition, the S-Cards were outscored 39-25 over the eight games.
The first half North Division Champs are off to a 10-16 start in the second half of the 140-game Texas League season and have skidded to fourth place in the North, 5.5 games behind first-place Tulsa (LAD).
This report covers the period from Thursday, July 14th through Wednesday, July 20th.
Thursday, July 14th, Springfield 0 at NW Arkansas 3
Daniel Poncedeleon struck out seven in five frames but allowed all three of the NW Arkansas runs as Springfield was blanked, 3-0, dropping the first two games of the four-game road series at Arvest Ballpark.
Chris Perry fanned four in two innings but allowed Poncedeleon’s last runner to score in the sixth on his only hit permitted. Rowan Wick faced the minimum in the eighth.
The S-Cards outhit the opposition, seven to six, but could not come through when it counted, going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. Juan Herrera singled twice in three at-bats and was one for two in stolen base attempts.
Friday, July 15th, Springfield 4 at NW Arkansas 10
The Naturals jumped all over the Cardinals pitching with a double-digit tally before it was all said and done. With the win, NW Arkansas seized the series victory over Springfield in game three.
Trey Nielsen lasted just four innings, surrendering four runs, three earned on seven hits. Ronnie Shaban gave up three more runs in two innings pitched to take the loss. Kevin Herget allowed three runs, one earned, in 2/3 innings, before Josh Lucas and Justin Wright managed to stop the bleeding over the remaining 1 1/3 innings.
The S-Cards banged out 11 hits on four runs. Paul DeJong blasted a two-run home run in the third inning and was 2-for-4 with three RBI. Anthony Garcia was 3-for-4 with two runs scored, Allen Staton was 3-for-5.
Saturday, July 16th, Springfield 2 at NW Arkansas 0
Facing the potential of being swept on the road, Springfield salvaged the finale of the four-game set. A two-run homer from newcomer Allen Staton and strong effort by starter J.C. Sulbaran lifted the Cardinals over NW Arkansas, 2-0 on Saturday night.
"We needed a win," Springfield Manager Dann Bilardello told Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "Our pitching staff picked us up for sure. It makes for a nice bus ride."
Sulbaran tossed 6 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing only two hits and two walks. Earning his second Double-A win this season, the righty struck out five batters on 99 pitches against his former team and organization for the better part of four years before signing with Cardinals last December.
"Sometimes when guys know him as they would, it almost benefits the hitters," Bilardello told the newspaper. "He did a nice job of getting ahead and keeping them off balance. Fastball, he worked ahead, and obviously he has a good changeup. It was a great performance. It's always nice when you come back and face your old team, and you want to be successful."
Rowan Wick and Josh Lucas combined for 2 1/3 scoreless, hitless innings to finish the game.
Staton, who has come alive in July, provided the source of offense for the S-Cards. He finished with two hits and a run scored. Blake Drake singled and doubled in four at-bats.
Sunday, July 17th, Springfield 4 vs. Arkansas
The Travelers pushed Springfield starter John Walter into consistent high-stress situations, touching him for six earned runs on seven hits over 4 2/3 innings pitched on Sunday. With that, Arkansas downed the Cardinals, 7-4 to claim the series opener at Hammons Field.
Walter, who suffered his second loss since joining Springfield, issued four walks and fanned just three. Following the right-hander, the Springbirds bullpen combined to pitch the final 4 1/3 innings and allowed one unearned run. Perry went 2 1/3 innings, walked two and struck out four. Justin Wright and Kevin Herget pitched one scoreless inning apiece.
Six S-Cards had one hit, including three for extra bases: a solo bomb by Jenner and doubles by Nick Martini and Paul DeJong. DeJong knocked in one and Jonathan Rodriguez drove in two.
Monday, July 18th, Springfield 1 vs. Arkansas 3 - game one
Monday, July 18th, Springfield 4 vs. Arkansas 6 - game two
The Cardinals dropped both games of their doubleheader Monday, falling into the last place in the Texas League North.
In the first game, Luke Weaver pitched well, going 6 1/3 innings, striking out eight to just one walk. Weaver also had 70 strikes in his 102 pitches. Two unearned runs were charged to Weaver. Rowan Wick relieved in the seventh and retired two batters, yielding one run.
Paul DeJong provided two of the Cardinals’ four hits, including his 17th home run.
In Game 2, Nick Martini went 2-for-4 with a double. Blake Drake went 1-for-3 with a home run, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the lackluster bullpen start.
Back from Memphis, Pedro Echemendia led things off and lasted 2 2/3 innings, allowing three runs, one earned, and striking out two. Also recently sent down, John Brebbia followed with 2 2/3 innings, giving up two runs. Kevin Herget finished with 1 2/3 innings, yielding an unearned run and striking out two.
Tuesday, July 19th, Springfield 9 vs. Arkansas 6
A balanced offensive effort led Springfield to a 9-6 win over Arkansas. The S-Cards trail in the series, three games to one, with one remaining.
Eight of nine starters accumulated at least one of the team’s 12 hits and those same eight either scored or drove in a run. Luke Voit, Allen Staton, Luis Cruz and Blake Drake had two hits apiece with Voit smashing a three-run bomb, his 14th home run of 2016. Staton and Bruce Caldwell crossed home twice, the latter doubling once in two at-bats with three free passes and one knocked in.
That was enough fire power for Daniel Poncedeleon (W, 6-5), who gave up two two-run home runs comprising four of the six runs, five earned, he allowed over seven. The righty permitted just five hits and two walks. Ronnie Shaban picked up his seventh save with two scoreless frames.
Wednesday, July 20th, Springfield 1 vs. Arkansas 4
The Travelers clipped the Cardinals with a 4-1 triumph Wednesday night, seizing four of five games to finish off the home series at Hammons Field.
With a limited bullpen after Monday's doubleheader and sudden promotions of two key relievers, Trey Nielsen went the distance against Arkansas. Nielsen gave up four runs on 11 hits in his seventh loss of the season.
On offense, Springfield banged out nine hits, but only one extra-base hit and just five baserunners even reached scoring position. Nick Martini, Luis Cruz, Andrew Sohn, and Blake Drake collected two hits each, accounting for eight of the nine hits.
Luke Voit - Voit cooled off a bit from his .417 pace last week. However, the power-hitting first baseman maintained his production (.285 average), hitting safely in seven of the eight games played capped by a four-RBI performance Tuesday night against Arkansas.
Luis Cruz - Carson Kelly's heir apparent behind the plate, Cruz has lighted up with the regular playing time. The 23-year old backstop has a .371 average (13-for-35) over his past ten games with two homers and 6 RBI.
Luke Weaver - Despite suffering the tough-luck loss, Weaver dealt 6 1/3 scoreless innings against Arkansas in a doubleheader Monday night. The polished righty out of Florida State University worked around four hits and a walk with eight punchouts in his latest effort.
Chris Perry - Perry has had a nice string of outings lately. The deceptive right-hander who throws from high arm slot, has gone unscored upon in his last three appearances, stretching five shutout frames. Nine of the 15 outs Perry recorded came via the strikeout over that span.
With the favorable results, Perry was promoted to Triple-A Memphis on Wednesday.
Bruce Caldwell - Caldwell has been a mainstay in the "Who's Not" feature this month. The Texas League All-Star has seen his average tank from .280 after the first half’s conclusion to a now .247 mark. He is hitting .032 (1-for-31) over his last ten games.
"With him, it's more mental than anything else," said hitting coach 'Smokey' Ortiz. "I don't see anything in his swing path.
"In the meantime, we are working to get him back on track because we need him. He's always had that ability to be a good hitter, a contact hitter. Right now, his swing is too long; I can say mechanically because he's tried to add more dimension to his swing from the backside.
"I think it's going to be okay. It's more mental than anything else."
Juan Herrera - Herrera continued to get the bat beaten out of his hands throughout the week. The shortstop, who hits in the bottom of the order in recognition of his impact, has just 14 hits in his first 115 at-bats (.122 average) with a horrendous 30/2 K/BB ratio.
John Walter - Since his promotion to Springfield, Walter has posted one good outing and two on the other end of the spectrum. In his latest, the righty was constantly working out of high-pressure situations and allowed seven hits on six earned runs over 4 2/3 innings against Arkansas on Sunday.
Sulbaran credits defense, but honored to be TL Pitcher of Week
For the second straight week, the Texas League announced a Springfield Cardinals hurler as the league's Pitcher of the Week. In this instance, J.C. Sulbaran was recognized Monday afternoon.
"It's an honor," Sulbaran said Monday, who was quick to credit his defense for the honor. "It is' nice. I couldn't win this award without these guys playing defense behind me, especially the last game I threw. I had really good defense. They helped me going.
"I'll take the award, but it was a lot my defense that helped me."
Sulbaran helped lead the Springfield over NW Arkansas in a 2-0 win by dealing 6 2/3 shutout innings against the Naturals at Arvest Ballpark on Saturday.
"I would say I was aggressive with every pitch," Sulbaran said. "Every pitch I threw, I was committed to throwing it. I talked to my catcher before the game and during the game and just making pitches. My fastball was pretty good then when my fastball command was okay, my off-speed helped me, so it got me back in the count and kept going.
"I would say my secondary pitches were working to keep me balanced."
The Willemstad, Curacao native and Davie, Florida resident has gone 2-1 with a 3.45 ERA through eight games (seven starts) with Springfield this season. After signing with the organization as a minor league free agent in the offseason, Sulbaran made 11 starts with AAA-Memphis to start the year, before joining Springfield on June 8.
Sulbaran is taking a day-by-day approach with the dog days of summer looming and hopes to remain in the Double-A Cardinals rotation.
"Just like I'm doing, I just need to keep doing my best every day and just to have another outing every fifth day, so that I can have a chance to go back out there."
Springbirds batting order
Nick Martini led off in the seven of the eight games played this week with Jonathan Rodriguez spelling him. New arrival Allen Staton has provided a spark out of the two-hole for manager Dann Bilardello. Anthony Garcia was the three-hole hitter until his promotion on Monday night with Paul DeJong taking the reins in the back-end of the week.
As always, Luke Voit continued clean-up duties for the S-Cards. DeJong was the primary five-hitter before he moved up to three. Rodriguez, who was the six-place hitter, moved up in place of DeJong. With Rodriguez moving up, Bruce Caldwell and Luis Cruz split time at six in the final two games.
Caldwell's downturn in offense pushed him down to seven for much of the week. Cruz, Blake Drake, Jesse Jenner, and Andrew Sohn had at-bats out of the seventh spot as well. Cruz, Drake, Jenner, and Jhohan Acevedo received playing time at the eighth spot with Juan Herrera to conclude at nine.
Early on in the week player movement was quiet before speeding up over the weekend and into the early week.
7/16: RHP Pedro Echemendia to Springfield from Memphis
Echemendia returned to Springfield from Memphis on Saturday night to make room for Sam Tuivailala. Springfield was down a player so did not need to make another move to accommodate the Cuban defector on the roster.
7/17: RHP John Brebbia to Springfield from Memphis
7/17: RHP Heath Wyatt released by the Cardinals
To make room for the newly-activated Thomas Lee at Memphis, John Brebbia was returned to Springfield Sunday after a shaky Triple-A introduction.
On the brink of the big leagues at one time, Heath Wyatt was given his release by the organization on Sunday to accommodate Brebbia on the active roster.
7/19: OF Anthony Garcia to Memphis from Springfield
7/19: INF Andrew Sohn to Springfield from Palm Beach
After Jeremy Hazelbaker's abrupt removal from Monday night's game in El Paso (SD), Anthony Garcia was pulled early from the nightcap game in Springfield of the doubleheader against Arkansas (LAA). Garcia was promoted on Monday night to fill Hazelbaker's vacant spot.
In place of Garcia, the Texas League Cardinals received middle infielder Andrew Sohn from High-A Palm Beach. The S-Cards gained a hard-nosed middle infielder, who collected two hits in four at-bats in the first game of his most recent stint with Springfield on Wednesday night.
7/20: RHP Robby Rowland to Palm Beach from Springfield
7/20 LHP Chandler Hawkins to Springfield from Palm Beach
In need of a fresh arm after Monday's doubleheader, the S-Cards also received lefty reliever Chandler Hawkins from Palm Beach. Though he is likely a temporary fill in, Hawkins gives the Springbirds an additional left-handed option out of the bullpen to go with Justin Wright.
In three rehab appearances with the Low-A (short-season) State College, Spikes, Robby Rowland allowed two runs in the first outing, followed by three scoreless innings over the next two that included five strikeouts. The right-hander has now completed his rehab assignment, returning to Florida, this time, to rejoin Palm Beach for the first time since last summer.
7/20: RHP Josh Lucas to Memphis from Springfield
7/20: RHP Chris Perry to Memphis from Springfield
With Memphis already down one player and Dean Kiekhefer with St. Louis for the day, the Triple-A Redbirds received a pair of pitching reinforcements from Springfield – right-handers Josh Lucas and Chris Perry – at least temporarily
Mason Katz - Katz remains out with a hamstring injury. There is no specific timetable set for his return. The infielder remains with the club.
Andrew Morales - Morales continues to be bothered by ongoing shoulder troubles. No timetable for return was set, but he could miss up to a month or two. The right-hander remains with the club.
Robby Rowland - Rowland completed his rehab assignment with Low-A (short-season) State College. The right-handed reliever was assigned to Palm Beach on Wednesday.
Chris Thomas - Underwent elbow cleanup surgery in late June.
Jimmy Reed - Underwent Tommy John surgery in April.
C.J. McElroy - Suffered torn ACL in June. Will likely miss the rest of the season.
The Cardinal Nation Top Prospect Watch
#4 Luke Weaver- After his scoreless inning streak was halted at 19 against NW Arkansas (KC) last Wednesday, Weaver started a new streak with 6 1/3 scoreless against Arkansas (LAA). The righty fanned eight batters and walked.
I spoke to a pro scout who gave me this assessment of Weaver.
"Smallish, slight build; will always have durability concerns. Fastball was 90-93, touched 94-95. Throws a ton of strikes. Will need to refine curveball. Change was good. Cutter was alright. Ceiling: Mike Leake type; might not reach that."
#15 Paul DeJong - DeJong, who was thrust into the S-Cards three-hole, paces the squad in the run production department. The third baseman is third in the Texas League with 17 homers and fourth with 59 RBI on the season. On another hand, DeJong has struggled mightily with swing and miss with 106 strikeouts this season; fourth in the league.
#22 Daniel Poncedeleon - The Cardinals coaches have been encouraged by what they have seen in Poncedeleon this season, aka 'Ponce.' He has had a few meager starts of late but carries 2.92 ERA over his past ten games.
Springfield pitching coach Jason Simontacchi has been pleased with his progress.
"I think it got to a point where he's starting to work ahead (in counts)," said Simontacchi or 'Simo'. "He's getting more familiar with his curveball. He's been able to throw that consistently, but mainly to just get his feet wet. He's taken to paying more attention to his body - being in tune with his delivery and tried to be consistent with that.
"There's a lot of stuff moving, so the timing's not perfect with the consistency, but he seems to be doing a good job with that a lot lately."
#24 Trey Nielsen - With a shorthanded bullpen on Wednesday night, Nielsen went the distance for the second time this season, a career-high mark. He struck out six and issued no walks which is a positive given his fits with control this season.
#28 Rowan Wick - In his outing on Monday of the doubleheader, Wick topped out at 95 mph with a sharp curveball. A pro scout, who was in attendance, said the Canadian looked like a former position player on the mound just making the conversion to pitching. He said succinctly, "He's just an arm strength guy."
However, Simontacchi sees more in Wick since the conversion.
"I don't know if he commands his fastball, but he puts it over the strike zone," said Simo. "He's at 95 sometimes plus. He's been working on just his curveball with the arm speed. It's a good curveball; he just needs command of it.
"He's got a live arm; plus arm. It's a matter of getting experience and allowing his body to transform into a pitcher."
#32 Anthony Garcia - Garcia was promoted late Monday night after being pulled early from the night cap in Springfield's doubleheader. The outfielder appeared in a pinch-hit situation and singled in two at-bats against El Paso (SD) a night later for Memphis.
Following a rocky 2-6 stretch in this week's action, the S-Cards return to NW Arkansas for four games on Thursday night with J.C. Sulbaran looking to repeat his success at Arvest Ballpark from last Saturday evening. They then travel to Tulsa for a four-game series next week in a matchup against the top intradivision team so far in the second half.
Springfield will finish the month of July with a four-game home series against NW Arkansas next Thursday at Hammons Field.
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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