It was another losing week for the Springfield Cardinals, who have stalled out in the second half. The Texas League North Division Champs from the first half are far from their early form but finished Week 17 on an improving note. The Cards had a series win over Tulsa (LAD) and dramatic extra-inning victory over NW Arkansas Saturday that helped avoid a potential four-game sweep.
"I think we have a lot of younger players mixed in with some older guys," said Springfield manager Dann Bilardello in a postgame interview following the come-from-behind win over the Naturals. "We've struggled all at the same time. I don't think one win gets us back on track, but it gives us a boost."
The S-Cards scored nine runs in one game, but only 14 runs in the other six games combined, including being shut out once. In all, Springfield was outscored 31 to 23 over the week.
The Springbirds are off to a 13-20 start in the second half of the 140-game Texas League season and are currently five games behind first-place NW Arkansas (18-15) in the North Division.
This report covers the period from Thursday, July 21st through Wednesday, July 27th.
Thursday, July 21st, Springfield 1 at NW Arkansas 8
Springfield managed just three hits in an 8-1 loss to NW Arkansas in the series opener on Thursday night.
The lone run came on Jonathan Rodriguez single followed by an Allen Staton RBI double. The team drew only two walks in the contest.
Four of five runs charged to J.C. Sulbaran through five resulted from two long balls, two of four hits and four walks yielded. In his second Springfield loss, Sulbaran struck out seven.
Rowan Wick and Chandler Hawkins combined for a three-run seventh. Wick allowed two scores on a hit and two walks while retiring one and Hawkins permitted a run on two hits and a free pass over 1 2/3.
Friday, July 22nd, Springfield 1 at NW Arkansas 4
For the second straight night, the S-Cards were held to one run and limited to five hits. The Cardinals have now dropped 11 of their last 13 games.
Starter John Walter took his third loss in four Springfield starts, throwing 4 1/3 innings and allowing four runs on seven hits. Chris Perry, Kevin Herget, and Pedro Echemendia provided a combined 3 2/3 scoreless innings in relief.
In his return from brief Triple-A stint, Perry fanned four batters and issued two walks. Herget recorded two strikeouts and Echemendia struck out one.
Luke Voit accounted for a significant amount of Springfield's offense, singling twice in four at-bats and producing the lone RBI.
Saturday, July 23rd, Springfield 3 at NW Arkansas 1
Slugging third baseman Paul DeJong powered Springfield past NW Arkansas with a 3-1 victory in extra innings at Arvest Ballpark on Saturday night.
"Tonight's win was a huge boost," said DeJong of the win after his team had sustained struggles over the past two weeks. "It was a big team win. It is something we can build on moving forward."
DeJong belted a go-ahead home run in the top of the 10th, crushing a 2-1 offering from Naturals right-handed reliever Reid Redman to deep left center field for his team-leading 18th homer.
"My approach against Redman was to get a fastball early in the count that I could do damage with," DeJong said.
The Cardinals tied the game on passed ball which plated Luis Cruz in the 7th to get starter Luke Weaver off the hook for the loss. The Cards pushed across two runs in the 10th, including DeJong's solo blast.
Weaver went seven strong innings and allowed one run on three hits in a game with pitching at a premium.
"He commanded his pitches again, down in the zone," manager Dann Bilardello said. "He made one mistake; changeup up and it got hit out of the ballpark. Other than that; he was impressive early in the count, got after hitters, worked ahead, and mixed in everything."
After serving up the second inning home run, the righty out of Florida State retired 17 of his final 20 batters in a no-decision. Weaver struck out six and walked one.
John Brebbia threw two shutout innings to force extra innings. With the lead in the bottom half of 10th, Ronnie Shaban slammed the door to notch his 8th save of the season.
"It was really good performance (by Weaver), and our pen did a great job," the manager concluded.
Sunday, July 24th, Springfield 0 at NW Arkansas 2
After stealing a late-inning win on the road Saturday, Springfield flatlined, blanked by NW Arkansas, 2-0 in the series-finale. As a result, they dropped three of four against the Naturals to open the eight game road-trip.
With Naturals runners on first and second in the fourth, Paul DeJong erased the jam by starting an around-the-horn triple play to the second baseman Bruce Caldwell to the first baseman Luke Voit.
That triple-play was just the second in Springfield history. Greg Garcia, Kolten Wong and Travis Tartamella turned the first one on June 13, 2012.
Starter Daniel Poncedeleon navigated through 5 1/3 innings, surrendering two earned runs on six hits. In his sixth loss, the righty walked three and struck out two.
Monday, July 25th, Springfield 9 at Tulsa 4
The Springfield offense reignited on Monday night, walloping Tulsa in the series-opener, 9-4.
Nick Martini hit his first home run with Springfield as part of a 2-for-5 game with three RBI. Jonathan Rodriguez went 2-for-4 including a double. Mason Katz had a pair of singles.
Trey Nielsen went eight strong innings, giving up four earned runs and striking out two. Nielsen threw just 94 pitches, 61 for strikes. Chandler Hawkins followed with a scoreless inning of relief.
Tuesday, July 26th, Springfield 4 at Tulsa 3
The S-Cards picked up a much-needed series win Tuesday night in dramatic fashion on a sacrifice fly by Allen Staton in the 10th inning.
Juan Herrera had a great night at the plate, going 3-for-4 and scoring two runs, including the game-winner. Paul DeJong had the lone extra-base hit, a two-run double.
J.C. Sulbaran started and pitched five innings, allowing three runs. Newcomer Nick Frey followed with two effective, scoreless innings. Ronnie Shaban walked four, but delivered similar results, keeping the Drillers scoreless in two innings and getting the win. In the 10th inning, Justin Wright and Kevin Herget (seventh save) combined to preserve the victory.
Wednesday, July 27th, Springfield 5 at Tulsa 7
Tulsa jumped on Springfield for all seven of their runs within the game's first three frames en route to salvaging the finale, 7-5. On the bright side, the S-Cards claimed two of three in the series.
In a bullpen game, swingman Pedro Echemendia was spanked for five runs on four hits in his lone inning of work and suffered his first loss at the Double-A level. Chris Perry coughed up two runs on three hits over two innings before Chandler Hawkins, and Justin Wright combined to go four scoreless innings.
On offense, lead-off man Nick Martini led the way with a two-run homer and a sac fly, finishing with three RBI. Luke Voit collected two hits including an RBI single while Casey Turgeon had two singles and scored twice in his Texas League debut.
Luis Cruz - With a base-knock on Wednesday night, Cruz extended his hitting streak to six games, dating back to July 19th. Since Carson Kelly's promotion on July 11th, the catcher is hitting .333 (11-for-33) with 3 RBI and for runs scored.
Luke Weaver – His latest start against NW Arkansas was just another night at the office. The highly-touted righty, who likely received call-up consideration to make his MLB debut Sunday, added seven innings of one-run against the Naturals on Saturday night.
"It was a mix of everything," said Weaver, who served up a second-inning homer before finding a rhythm, retiring 17 of his last 20 batters. "I think early; I was rushing a little bit with my mechanics. That one pitch, I'd obviously like to have back, and my changeup flattened out a little bit. Need to stay back on it well.
"Besides that, I can assess it in a positive way, and I like where I was at."
Justin Wright - Wright has quickly shaken off a rough couple of outings in early July. Since July 15th, the lefty has gone unscored upon and yielded just three hits over 5 2/3 innings pitched in six relief appearances.
Chris Perry - Perry returned from Triple-A Memphis after a promotion last week. Including two outings with Springfield this week, the deceptive right-hander who throws from high arm slot has not allowed a run over his last 7 2/3 innings pitched since July 11th. He struck out a whopping 15 batters.
Chandler Hawkins - Hawkins has had a nice taste of the Texas League in his brief time thus far. The lefty has allowed just one earned run on four hits over 5 1/3 innings for a 1.69 ERA. Hawkins has struck out six batters.
Kevin Herget - After dominating the Florida State League earlier this season, Herget has settled in quite nicely in the Texas League. The righty has given up just one earned run over his last ten outings. In July, he has a 1.08 ERA with 10 strikeouts through 7 1/3 innings.
Paul DeJong - DeJong is among the plethora of Springfield hitters in a current tailspin at the plate. The third baseman is hitting just .100 (4-for-40) over his last ten games.
Jonathan Rodriguez - Expected to provide thump in the middle of the order, Rodriguez has shown the occasional over-the-fence power but is also falling prey to the swing and miss. Over his past ten games, the Puerto Rican first baseman hit just .167 (6-for-36) with 13 punchouts. Rodriguez has struck out 62 times in 49 games for Springfield, 108 strikeouts overall (88 games).
Allen Staton - Staton has consistently hit at the top of the order for Springfield but has slowed substantially since getting off to a hot-start in his initial acclimation to the Texas League. Staton is hitting .129 (4-for-31) over his last 10 games.
Pedro Echemendia - In his Wednesday bullpen start, Echemendia gave up a five-spot in his lone inning of work.
Springbirds batting order
Nick Martini led off in every game this past week with either Paul DeJong, Allen Staton or Casey Turgeon hitting behind at two. Bruce Caldwell was the three-hole hitter in four games before landing on the disabled list.
Luke Voit cleaned up throughout the week with either Jonathan Rodriguez, Luis Cruz, or Mason Katz protecting Voit at five. Staton, Cruz, Andrew Sohn, and Juan Herrera saw time in the sixth spot over the week as well.
To round out the order, Cruz, Rodriguez Jesse Jenner, and Blake Drake had at-bats out of the seventh place. Sohn was the primary eight hole hitter before his demotion and Herrera took his place in the back-end of the week with the pitcher hitting with the NL rules in effect.
MLB slugger Moss to rehab in SPF
The Cardinals announced that first baseman/corner outfielder Brandon Moss is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with the S-Cards at Hammons Field on Thursday, July 28th.
Moss has been out since July 5th with a sprained right ankle. There has been no specific plan shared other than he will play Thursday against Tulsa.
The roster changes continue from Week 15, fueled by need at the big-league level with two doubleheaders in the last week along with the subtraction of a mid-season all-star.
7/22: RHP Chris Perry to Springfield from Memphis
To accommodate lefty Dean Kiekhefer on Memphis’ roster, who returned after serving as 26th man in St. Louis for the Wednesday day-night doubleheader last week, Perry was sent back to Springfield following his promotion to Triple-A last Wednesday.
7/25: INF Mason Katz activated from 7-day DL
7/25: INF Andrew Sohn to Palm Beach from Springfield
Sohn was needed to fill in at Double-A temporarily for the injured Katz. When the latter was activated Monday, the former was returned to High-A Palm Beach.
7/25: RHP John Walter to Palm Beach from Springfield
7/26: RHP Corey Baker to Springfield from Memphis
The Beach Birds received former independent league pitcher Walter back from Springfield Monday, where he was battered in four starts to the tune of a 7.97 ERA.
In turn, Baker returned to his old stomping grounds in the Texas League after being punished in his introduction to Triple-A, surrendering 28 earned runs over 31 innings pitched for an 8.13 ERA in six starts. He punched out 23 batters and walked 10.
7/26: INF Bruce Caldwell placed on 7-day DL
7/26: INF Casey Turgeon to Springfield from Palm Beach
Springfield lost its all-star second baseman in Bruce Caldwell to the disabled list on Tuesday. Casey Turgeon was promoted to Double-A from High-A Palm Beach. The hot-hitting infielder made his Texas League debut on Wednesday night against Tulsa (LAD).
7/26: RHP Nick Frey to Springfield from Peoria
7/27: RHP Nick Frey to Peoria from Springfield
In the corresponding move for Caldwell on Tuesday, Springfield temporarily acquired a dependable relief arm in Nick Frey from Low-A Peoria. Frey made his Texas League debut Tuesday night and dealt two shutout innings against Tulsa (LAD). After the game, he was returned to the Midwest League.
7/26: RHP John Brebbia to Memphis from Springfield
7/27: RHP Josh Lucas to Springfield from Memphis
With Jeremy Hefner's activation becoming official, Josh Lucas received the boot. Lucas was returned to Double-A Springfield just a week after being promoted to Memphis. The righty produced better results in this second stint with the Redbirds this season, tossing 3 2/3 scoreless innings through three outings.
With Sam Tuivailala and Dean Kiekhefer called up for Tuesday's doubleheader, John Brebbia was promoted to Triple-A Memphis from Springfield to provide a fresh arm out of the bullpen. This will make his second stint in the Pacific Coast League.
7/27: INF Mason Katz placed on 7-day DL
7/27: INF Jacob Wilson to Springfield from Memphis
Just two days after activating him, Springfield placed Mason Katz back on the seven-day disabled list on Wednesday. Katz has suffered through an injury-riddled 2016 with three stints now on the disabled list.
With a roster full of more productive middle infielders, Jacob Wilson was the victim of a roster crunch as he was demoted to Double-A Springfield. Wilson returns to the Texas League for the first time since May 18, 2015.
Bruce Caldwell - There is no official word on Caldwell's status other than he is out. When asked about his struggles in the second half, Springfield hitting coach 'Smokey' Ortiz called it a mental issue last week, so perhaps there is no physical issue here rather than time to allow him to get right mentally.
Mason Katz - Katz was activated Monday shortly before being DL'd for the third time his season on Wednesday. There is no official word yet on the second baseman's injury and specifically if he had a setback with his previous hamstring problem. I should find out more on Thursday.
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.
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 - With 10 Texas League starts under his belt, Weaver has proven he can work consistently deep into games, having pitched into the seventh inning in four starts, including a career-high eight-inning effort on June 16th. He has worked into the sixth in seven starts and has yet to allow more than four earned runs in any outing. The righty has given up less than two earned runs in nine starts as well.
The pressing question becomes - how can he continue to refine his craft?
"Each outing is a different story," Weaver said, who sat 90-93 and touched 94-95 in his latest start. "There's always something you've got to work through. Tonight (Saturday) I got a little quick in rushing down the mound which is about getting back a little more on my load."
Weaver said his stuff has been a positive for him, especially the off-speed stuff, his nascent cutter, and a curveball he has implemented into games more frequently.
"Having that four-pitch mix is huge, and it has allowed me to get deeper into games and get more outs when needed."
#15 Paul DeJong - As noted above, DeJong has hit a wall at the plate of late. However, the slugger, who ranks among Texas League leaders in home runs and RBI, delivered in clutch situations this past week with a would-be game-winning home run against NW Arkansas Saturday and game-tying two-run RBI double in a 7-5 win over Tulsa Tuesday.
According to the TrackMan at Arvest Ballpark, DeJong's 18th home run was 103 mph in exit velocity off the bat and traveled to deep left center field.
With the overall run production, DeJong was asked what adjustments he is making to improve plate discipline.
"I'm trying to swing only at pitches in my zone early in the count and protect with two strikes," DeJong said.
#22 Daniel Poncedeleon - Poncedeleon made one start during Week 16, lasting 5 1/3 innings against NW Arkansas Sunday. The righty scattered two earned runs on six hits and three walks.
#24 Trey Nielsen - Nielsen has pitched a combined 17 innings over his last two outings, going the distance on July 20th against Arkansas (LAA). He tossed eight innings, allowing four earned runs on eight hits in his Monday night start against Tulsa.
#28 Rowan Wick - Wick has not appeared in any official game action since throwing 1/3 of an inning on July 21. I can report the hard-throwing converted outfielder was not in uniform when I was around the club Saturday night in NW Arkansas. My guess is they are monitoring his workload because of general fatigue. I should have more details Thursday.
Following a 3-4 week of action, the S-Cards open a seven-game homestand against NW Arkansas (four) and Tulsa (three) over this next week into early August.
They continue baseball in the dog days with brief four-game series at Arkansas starting next Thursday, August 4th before returning to Hammons Field for six games against intra-division opponents Frisco (TEX) and Midland (OAK).
Probable starters against NW Arkansas for July 28th-thru-July 31st:
7/28: RHP Luke Weaver (4-3, 1.31 ERA)
7/29: RHP Daniel Poncedeleon (6-6, 3.45 ERA)
7/30: RHP Trey Nielsen (7-7, 3.73 ERA)
7/31: RHP J.C. Sulbaran (2-2, 4.14 ERA)
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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