The St. Louis Cardinals came to Memphis Thursday to play the Redbirds and won 9-3 in front of a sellout crowd of 10,220. The big league team has beaten their AAA affiliate in the “Battle of the Birds” the last six times now. They have played each other nine times, and Cardinals are 6-2-1 since the Memphis team was founded in 1998.
The game presents an opportunity for local Redbirds fans see their favorite major league team play. It also serves a chance for the Redbirds to face major league talent in an exhibition, and it allows the Cardinals to get their hitters and pitchers additional live action before the season starts.
“It will be a good, fun game without having to worry about numbers or anything like that,” manager Stubby Clapp said. “St. Louis will get their guys a couple of more live at bats and some pitching to get prepared for the season.”
For many of the Cardinals, AutoZone Park is a familiar sight. Of the 25 players on the anticipated 25-man roster for Opening Day, 16 have played for the Redbirds.
Memphis sent 15 players to St. Louis last season, six of whom made major league debuts. One of the rookies was Aledmys Diaz.
“Looking back on my career and being here last year, it’s going to be special for everybody,” Diaz said. “For us too, to be able to come back to Memphis and play for these fans. It’s going to be great for everybody.”
Diaz finished fifth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting and made an All-Star appearance after being called up April 4. He played in 111 games for the Cardinals and had the team’s second highest batting average and on base percentage.
Before the game, Cardinals’ General Manager John Mozeliak spoke about some of the things he would like to see in Memphis.
On how he would like to see center field covered:
“I think (Harrison) Bader is going to get a lot of that. You look at what he accomplished this spring and what he did last year. Certainly he is going to play the majority of the time out there, but we will move him around as well.”
On Paul DeJong playing shortstop every day:
“I’d like to see him probably get about four days, maybe five at short, but then allow him also to play second and third from time to time.”
On DeJong’s play this spring:
“I think the latter half of last year and even when you think back to how he played in the fall league, I think really set the direction of how he was going to be used, and then of course this spring. When you think about his versatility and how the big club might need help, we like him more in that versatile role.”
On Carson Kelly:
“I think he is still developing. As you know, he was a converted player, to catcher. And so he is still learning the position, but we are very excited about where he is at.”
The Cardinals controlled the contest from the start. In the top of the first, three singles, two homers and a walk produced five runs. Jhonny Peralta’s three-run homer and Yadier Molina’s solo home run scored the first four runs. Then Jedd Gyorko brought in Matt Adams with a sacrifice fly.
The Redbirds got their first hit in the third inning when Breyvic Valera singled to left. But after Mike Mayers pitched a perfect fourth inning, Memphis got on the board when Kelly was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
The Cardinals scored one more run during the game while the Redbirds got back-to-back solo homers in the eighth. Blake Drake and Alex Mejia hit balls over the wall in left-center to bring Memphis’ total runs to three.
It is hard to have realistic take-aways from one game, but there are a few things to definitely note.
The Cardinals organization is very high on Bader and DeJong. They both played a few innings for the Redbirds before switching jerseys and playing for the Cardinals.
You can also add Kelly to that list, confirmed by the way Mozeliak spoke of him.
The Cardinals pitchers looked good. Besides the eighth inning homers, the St. Louis pitching staff looked tough to hit and limited the number of hard hit balls. The Redbirds had just four hits and struck out 10 times.
Memphis’ pitchers looked good, too, after the fifth inning. In the last 4 2/3 innings, the Redbirds allowed one hit and zero runs. The trio of Kevin Herget, Blake McKnight and John Brebbia kept the Cardinals’ offense quiet.
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