One very cold first series down…many more to come. With game time temperatures ranging from the low 30s to the mid 40s, the Redbirds took three of four from the Oklahoma Redhawks. They opened against the New Orleans Zephyrs Monday with a 5-2 loss although Ryan Ludwick and John Nelson each hit their first home runs of the season. The starting pitching in all four games was outstanding and was the reason the ‘Birds were able to rally for consecutive sixth inning comebacks on Saturday and Sunday. Nick Stavinoha had two home runs and several key hits with runners in scoring position and John Rodriguez had a 422-foot bomb to go along with a .400 batting average. The bullpen struggled in the first game but turned it up a notch as the series went on and proved to be a strength.
John Rodriguez (pictured) has been bothered by the cold and the pollen as he told me his allergies have been acting up. He shared that information with manager Chris Maloney and instead of playing in the field, he served as the designated hitter on both Saturday and Sunday. Fortunately it hasn't affected Rodriguez at the plate. Through the first five games, he's hitting .375 with one home run, 11 total bases, and three walks and of course that homer was a straight-away center field 422-foot shot.
Nick Stavinoha has been hitting the ball well, when he makes contact. He has two home runs and five RBI's but is only batting .222 as of Tuesday. Maloney told me that Stavinoha is a guy that drives in tough runs and the type of player he wants at the plate in an RBI situation. Stavinoha's three-run home run on Sunday put the Redbirds in the lead for good and Saturday he had the go-ahead base hit.
Mike Smith (pictured), Randy Keisler and Matt Ginter all had good starts their first time through the rotation. Smith's line was 6 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K's; Keisler 5 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K's; Ginter 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K's. The bullpen has done well as Kelvin Jimenez came up big against Oklahoma's three and four hitters, Victor Diaz and Jason Botts, striking them out consecutively with a man on third to get his second hold of the season on Saturday.
The catchers, Ryan Christianson and Brian Esposito, are a combined 2-for-17 with seven strikeouts. It will be interesting to see if Maloney will try Eli Marrero back there when he comes back.
Rick Ankiel (pictured) only has two hits in his first 16 at-bats but has made good contact. Against lefties Ankiel has struggled though including going 0-for-2 against Oklahoma lefty specialist Bill White on Sunday in two crucial situations with runners on.
Blake Hawksworth's first AAA start wasn't exactly memorable, but he told me he was a little nervous and he hurt himself in the field more than on the mound. He had an errant throw to third on a comebacker to the mound that went for a run and then he threw low to Brendan Ryan on a potential double play late in the game. Ryan couldn't handle it, scoring another run. Hawksworth gave up eight hits and five runs, four of which were earned. He did battle back after early mistakes and get the club through five innings.
Keisler was called up to St. Louis and will start for the big club in Pittsburgh against the Pirates on Tuesday night. He was replaced in the rotation by Mike Parisi, promoted from Springfield (Double-A).
What We Know
The first thing we know is that Brendan Ryan (pictured), the ever-hustling shortstop, is the heart-and-soul of this team. He's also the leadoff guy, and when he gets on he can do damage on the base paths with his speed. Defensively, Ryan is very sound with good range and a good arm. He's definitely a strong spot on the infield. Ryan is the type of player you root for and a good guy to boot.
We also know this team will most likely be better than last year's version of the Redbirds. With good veteran starting pitching and some big bats in the middle of the order, the team will score runs and stay in almost every game with the strong starting pitching. Tagg Bozied in the five hole has five RBIs in five games but has been strikeout prone. That won't stop him though, because he is a tireless worker who is the first to hit the batting cage after the game and get back on track. I look for him to be vital to this team's ability to drive in runs.
Returning closer Brian Falkenborg bounced back after losing the first game with two consecutive saves and has looked good so far. Mark Worrell, who also has closing history at lower levels, has been strong in a couple of appearances but needs to limit his walks - he has three in 3.2 innings.
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