After finishing up the road series at Tulsa, the Springfield Cardinals went on to Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock, Arkansas to start the week before winding up back at Hammons Field to end it.
At the Arkansas Travelers (SEA), the Springbirds split the four-game set before returning home to take the first two games over the Tulsa Drillers (LAD). The Drillers brought the series to two-to-one with a win on Wednesday with the finale to be covered in next week's edition.
Springfield manager Johnny Rodriguez, whose squad consists of both experienced and younger prospects, is encouraged by how they are gelling.
"Some of the older guys have been leading," Rodriguez said. "Some of the more younger, raw guys are still learning how to do things right at Double-A. It's a learning process for the young ones, but we have good leaders that are following it up."
On the pitching side, the backbone has been the starting rotation, with Rodriguez labeling three starters as being consistent: Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, and Matt Pearce.
Sandy Alcantara continues to struggle after essentially making the jump over High-A, and lefty Austin Gomber hasn't made it out of the first inning in two of his seven starts this year.
"The potential is there for guys to go out there and give you five, six innings," he said. "Starters are the strength of our club. Have to make enough plays and score enough runs for the bullpen to keep it close."
Rodriguez likes what he has seen out of an offense that ranks among league leaders in a number of the major offensive categories as well.
"Some of the guys are having good years," the manager said. "Mercado is having a good year. Adolis Garcia is holding his own being the first time in the pro game in America. Overall, we have done pretty good. I can't complain."
The Springbirds bullpen ERA was a tick above 5.00 coming into the week, but they are headed in the right direction with it decreasing to a collective 4.85 mark after this period.
"(They need to) make pitches (to get back on track)," Rodriguez said. "Establish themselves. Throw strikes. Don't walk people. Don't give extra outs. The bullpen has to come in throwing strikes. Lefty-on-lefty - get him out - don't walk 'em. Things like that."
This report covers the period from Thursday, May 11 through Wednesday, May 17.
May 11: Springfield at Arkansas – postponed
Thursday's series-opener at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock was rained out. The two squads played a doubleheader on Friday.
May 12: Springfield 7 at Arkansas 5 - Game 1 (seven innings)
In the first game of the twin bill, the Cardinals defeated Arkansas behind the quality pitching of ace Jack Flaherty, who hurled six innings of two-run ball. The Springfield offense drove in seven runs on 11 hits. Adolis Garcia, Jacob Wilson, and Anthony Garcia were each 2-for-4, while Bruce Caldwell was 2-for-3. Casey Grayson added a solo homer.
May 12: Springfield 4 at Arkansas 0 – Game 2 (seven innings)
In a bullpen game, Trey Nielsen received the spot-start for the Springbirds, going three scoreless innings. Corey Baker, Chandler Hawkins, and Pedro Echemendia threw a combined four innings to complete the 4-0 shutout. Oscar Mercado collected two hits and plated two. Bruce Caldwell and Adolis Garcia chipped in RBI singles.
May 13: Springfield 1 at Arkansas 9
Following getting swept in the doubleheader, the Travelers took revenge, beating the Cardinals soundly by a final of 9-1 on Saturday. Sandy Alcantara struggled, allowing seven runs on eight hits in five innings. Dickie Joe Thon provided the only source of offense, thumping a solo shot to avoid the shutout.
May 14: Springfield 7 at Arkansas 8
The S-Cards battled back late to tie the game in the eight before the Travs walked off in the ninth, splitting the four-game set on the road. Austin Gomber lasted only 2/3 of an inning, giving up four unearned runs on three hits with two walks. The offense was led by Casey Grayson, who went 3-for-4 on Sunday. Anthony Garcia had two RBI in three at-bats while Alex Mejia and Eliezer Alvarez contributed runs batted in as well.
May 15: Springfield 7 vs. Tulsa 2
Four eighth-inning runs sealed Springfield’s 7-2 win over the Drillers in Monday’s series-opening contest at Hammons Field. Dakota Hudson was in vintage form, holding Tulsa to two runs over his six solid innings of work. Anthony Garcia came up big with four RBI via a three-run double and sac fly.
May 16: Springfield 5 vs. Tulsa 2
Another fantastic outing by Matt Pearce spearheaded the Springbirds to a 5-2 win over their intra-division rival on Tuesday. Pearce struck out seven, allowing only one run (solo home run) on seven hits over seven innings. Three of the team's five runs were produced long balls off the bats of Jacob Wilson (two-run) and Casey Grayson (solo).
May 17: Springfield 4 vs. Tulsa 7
Ace Jack Flaherty could not stop the Tulsa offense as they handed him his shortest outing and first loss of the season on Wednesday. Flaherty went 4 1/3 innings, surrendering three runs on nine hits with a walk and seven strikeouts. Jesse Jenner, Gabriel Lino, and Casey Grayson knocked in runs.
Anthony Garcia - After joining Springfield on April 28 from Memphis, Garcia has helped pace the offensive attack out of the fifth hole in the lineup. In 14 May games entering Wednesday's action, the right-handed hitter leads the team with a .352 average (19-for-54) and 14 RBI. The Puerto Rican extended his hitting streak to nine games on Wednesday with a single, going 11-for-33 (.333) with eight RBI during that stretch.
Dakota Hudson - After an ordinary month of April, Hudson has quickly acclimated to the Texas League, holding a 2.04 ERA in May through three starts (17 2/3 innings) while posting a 16-to-2 strikeout to walk count.
Matt Pearce - Speaking of a pedestrian April followed by a terrific month of May, Pearce can attest to that as well. The righty has compiled a perfect 3-0 May record with 0.86 ERA over 21 innings (three starts), averaging seven innings per start. Pearce also has a minuscule 0.81 WHIP this month.
Kevin Herget - Since his return from Memphis on May 2, Herget has thrown four straight scoreless outings as one of the primary late-inning relievers.
Pedro Echemendia – Herget’s resurgence and Echemendia’s recent success has helped stabilize the faltering Springfield bullpen over the last week. The Cuban has also thrown four consecutive scoreless outings.
Corey Baker - Baker was on a 7 2/3 scoreless inning streak, spanning four appearances before allowing an earned run in an inning on Wednesday. The longtime S-Cards multi-purpose reliever is 35 strikeouts (201) away from tying Michael Blazek (236) to be the franchise's all-time strikeout king.
Adolis Garcia - Following a strong April, Garcia's average has dipped to season-low .258 after he went hitless in Wednesday afternoon's game against Tulsa. The outfielder has almost as many strikeouts (29) as hits (31) in 120 at-bats this season.
Jacob Wilson – Wilson is making a home on the "Who's Not" feature in recent weeks. Despite a two-run home run on Tuesday, the middle infielder is still under the Mendoza line for 2017 with nearly twice as many strikeouts (42) as hits (23) in 116 at-bats.
Gabriel Lino - Lino couldn't buy a hit this week in 12 at-bats until singling once in four at-bats on Wednesday. His average has dropped from .333 on May 2 to .286.
Sandy Alcantara - May has not treated Alcantara kindly as he has been tagged for 16 earned runs over 16 2/3 innings pitched (8.64 ERA) this month.
Tyler Bray - Over his past two outings (2 2/3 innings), Bray has yielded six earned runs which elevated his ERA from 3.24 all the way up to 7.36.
Garcia channels his inner Jackie Robinson
Springfield outfielder Adolis Garcia is certainly a burner on the base paths, turning heads with his quick-twitch athleticism and causing fear to the opponents while learning to be shrewd as well.
On Sunday, Garcia pulled off a Jackie Robinson move, taking his lead from third base before batter Gabriel Lino watched a ball high from the Arkansas hurler Blake Perry and the Travelers catcher Marcus Littlewood tossed back to the pitcher.
"I just looked at the catcher," Garcia said with teammate Oscar Mercado translating. "Not really even paying attention to me, lobbying the ball back. I just took a chance."
Garcia took off for home plate, sliding in ahead of Perry's tag for a straight theft of home. He said he accomplished the remarkable feat one other time in Cuba.
"I like to be aggressive," the Cuban defector said. "I like to run. That is a big part of my game."
Piscotty rehabs in Springfield
This past weekend, the first reports of Stephen Piscotty taking his rehab assignment to Springfield surfaced. The outfielder missed a week and a half with a hamstring injury.
On Monday, those reports became official as Piscotty went 0-for-3 at the plate with an RBI groundout and walk in his first rehab game on Tuesday night.
“Excited to be back," Piscotty said on Tuesday before the game. "It’s a great place to come and get healthy, get right, and get back into some game action.”
Piscotty expects to be activated off the disabled list sometime this weekend after potentially playing two more full games with Springfield on Thursday and Friday.
Honoring tradition for big league rehabbers, the outfielder will buy the team meal after Friday night's game.
First-half standings - Texas League Northern Division
Currently, NW Arkansas (KC) holds sole possession of first-place with a 21-16 overall record. Springfield (20-17) trails by one game with Tulsa (19-19, third) and Arkansas (14-24, fourth) rounding up the divisional pack.
5/12: LHP Jimmy Reed released
5/15: RHP Trey Nielsen to Triple-A Memphis from Springfield
5/15: LHP Ian McKinney to Springfield from High-A Palm Beach
5/15: RHP Daniel Bard released
5/15: RHP Landon Beck to Springfield from High-A Palm Beach
5/16: OF Stephen Piscotty sent on a rehab assignment
5/16: 2B Eliezer Alvarez placed on the 7-day DL
5/16: INF Danny Diekroeger to Springfield from High-A Palm Beach
Eliezer Alvarez - According to a Cardinals official, Alvarez has been diagnosed with a high-ankle sprain after sliding in head-first into first base on a groundout, leaving his ankle exposed. The 22-year old was taken directly to the hospital on Monday and currently, needs a boot and crutches to walk.
According to the x-rays, there was no ligament damage. Alvarez is expected to miss up to 3-to-4 weeks. However, given the history of the injury, those are known to linger, and it would not be surprising if he is sidelined longer.
Andrew Morales – The right-hander remains at the Jupiter complex rehabbing an injury. Whether it is his shoulder is unconfirmed.
C.J. McElroy – The outfielder is reportedly at the Jupiter complex rehabbing his still injured ACL.
The Cardinal Nation's Top 50 Prospect Watch
#6 Sandy Alcantara - See Who's Not Above.
#7 Jack Flaherty - Despite his shortest start of the year on Wednesday, Flaherty's success has been nothing short of sensational, especially considering the fact he has been reasonably effective against an Arkansas offense he has already faced three times on the young season.
During Flaherty’s Friday start, the Travelers broadcaster commended him, saying he might be the best pitcher to come through the Texas League in the last couple of years.
One of the big differences has been the "conviction" in which he throws his pitches, according to his manager.
"He believes in every pitch that he's making," Rodriguez said. "He believes every pitch that he makes is going to get somebody out. When he has two strikes on them, he believes he can strike them out. He's got great confidence. Great confidence and conviction."
Flaherty elaborated on throwing with conviction.
"I try to throw everything with conviction," he said. "Have a purpose behind every pitch that I throw, whether it's to set up another pitch or get a guy out here. Set him up for later in the count or later in the game. Just trying to work pitch-by-pitch and throw each pitch with a purpose.
"Really go out there with confidence that no matter what I throw good things are going to happen."
#8 Dakota Hudson - As mentioned above, Hudson has progressed nicely this month, particularly inducing groundouts upon groundouts. While his bread-and-butter offerings are considered to be the cutter and renowned slider, the right-hander describes himself as a sinkerball pitcher which allows him to record quicker outs instead of being a high-octane guy, who tend to be inefficient.
"I'm just trying to get through as many innings as quickly as possible," Hudson said. "I think that's about attacking the strike zone and do my best to work deeper into games."
In his most recent start, the former Mississippi State Bulldog threw a mix of cutters and sinkers from 91-95 mph with a curveball at 82 and slider at 90.
#14 Eliezer Alvarez - See Injury Updates Above.
#15 Austin Gomber - Gomber threw more fastballs than normal in his May 7 start at Tulsa, saying it was his best heater he's had all season. On Sunday, the big lefty fell behind in counts and was unable to pitch out of the first inning before his elevated pitch count caused him to be lifted in his second abbreviated start of 2017.
It starts and ends with establishing the fastball in the strike zone for Gomber. If his fastball isn't there, the curveball and changeup are eliminated by hitters, sitting on the hard stuff.
#20 Adolis Garcia - With the help from his teammates and coaches, Garcia said he feels he has acclimated to the Double-A level, but admitted his timing was off at the plate towards the beginning of the season.
"It has been awhile watching live baseball," Garcia said. "It took a little time to get adjusted and my timing was off. I knew I would get the hang of it."
Despite a dry spell (.139 average over his past 10 games) at the dish, Garcia likes where he is in terms of seeing the ball.
"I can see the ball a lot better," he said. "Just making the adjustments. I am seeing the ball a lot better. Just happy with that."
#40 Matt Pearce - See Who's Hot Above
Sleepers: Oscar Mercado - Even with three multi-hit games, Mercado had a quiet week by his standards. Previously his manager with Johnson City in 2014, Rodriguez has seen tremendous growth in the center fielder as he set the Springfield hitting streak record.
"Confidence is the biggest thing in this game," his skipper said. "He really gets after it. He believes in his ability. He's so confident now he thinks he can get a hit in every at-bat. It's confidence."
Gabriel Lino - As mentioned above, Lino has tailed off at the plate with more regular time. His manager sees a lot of room for improvement with his backstop despite the quick start out of the gates.
"He's learning the game," Rodriguez said. "Still a long way and still learning the game. There's a lot of raw in him. A lot of Rookie League stuff he has to clean up. He has been better taking charge of the game. Those are certain things he needs to get better at."
Rodriguez does see Lino as having a chance to catch in the big leagues.
Following the 4-3 week, Springfield finishes up the four-game set with the Drillers on Thursday. The Cardinals then welcome NW Arkansas to town for four games at Hammons Field this weekend until Monday before hitting the road for Corpus Christi (TEX) next week.
"One game at a time," Rodriguez said. "One game at a time."
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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