The Johnson City Cardinals Report: 07/14/08

The St. Louis Cardinals' Appalachian League club went 4-3 during the period. Niko Vasquez and Randy Santos are the Player and Pitcher of the Week, respectively.

The Johnson City Cardinals finished the week (Sunday through Saturday) with a record of four wins and three losses.  They are currently 12-13 and are in a tie for fourth place in the five-team Western Division of the Appalachian League.  They are six games behind the Elizabethton Twins and despite winning back-to-back games at home against the Twins, they have the second worst home record in the Appy League at 4-8. 

 

In the ten-team Appy League, the offense currently ranks second in home runs, third in runs, walks, and runs batted in (RBI), and fourth in total bases.  They are ninth in batting average (.250) and strikeouts and last in triples.  The pitchers have the most innings pitched, strikeouts, walks, and hit batters while ranking eighth in earned run average (ERA), ninth in walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP), and last in hits.   

 

I was able to attend four of the seven games in person and those observations provide the basis for this report.  I attended the three game sweep by the Pulaski Mariners at home and attended Friday night's fifteen inning marathon win at home against Elizabethton that was the most exciting game of the year so far. 

 

Injury Updates

Thirty-one of the thirty-two players on the active roster played this week.

 

OF Brian Buck has, according to Manager Joe Almaraz, undergone "season ending Tommy John surgery" after a short rehab with the Gulf Coast League Cardinals. 

 

OF Edgar Lara missed eight games (Games 15 through 22) with a finger injury on his left (non throwing) hand.  Lara returned to action in Game 23 (Thursday) with tape on the ring finger of his left hand.

 

OF Jarred Bogany missed eight games (Games 16 through 23) with a slight groin pull.

 

SP Kevin Thomas missed three starts with right shoulder soreness.  His return was expected in Game 19 (Sunday – first game of double header) however a rain delay gave him an extra five days to recover.  Thomas made only his second appearance of the year in Game 25 (Friday). 

 

SP Brett Zawacki was the only player to not play this week.  Zawacki was bitten on the top of his right foot by a spider in Burlington, NC.  A prescription for antibiotics has helped reduce swelling however; the infection has shelved the hard throwing right hander for at least two starts (Games 21 and 26).

 

SP Mike Blazek jammed the index and middle fingers of his right (pitching) hand into the ground while attempting to field a groundball from the very first hitter of Game 22 (Wednesday – second game of double header).  With a 2-2 count on the second hitter, Blazek motioned to the dugout for an injury consultation.  Blazek threw a curve and slider to evaluate the pain and see if he could keep pitching and the decision was made to keep him in the game.  A pick-off error, a walk, and two singles quickly followed the injury.  Blazek threw thirteen pitches and six times to first base after the injury and before being pulled from the game with one run in, the bases loaded, and nobody out.  Blazek later told me that his fastball was the most painful pitch he threw. 

 

2B Brett Lilley was hit by a pitch in the helmet in the fifth inning of Game 25 (Saturday night).  Lilley was removed from the game, presumably as a precautionary measure.  The incident apparently rattled Twins pitcher Daniel Osterbrock as he proceeded to give up a walk, three singles, and a three-run home run to consecutive batters before being removed from the game.

 

I was not able to attend the game and should be able to get an update on Lilley on Sunday, if the rains hold off.  Just three months ago, Lilley set the NCAA Division I record with 93 career hit by pitches (HBP) while playing for Notre Dame against Manchester College in his 203rd career game.  As you might expect, Lilley swings with his toes on the batter's box chalk and fouls more balls off the bat handle than just about any hitter I have ever seen. 

 

Reassignments/Call Ups

SP Andres Rosales and SP Scott McGregor have both been reassigned from the Gulf Coast League Cardinals to help with the injuries to Mike Blazek and Brett Zawacki and to help with a recently over worked bullpen. 

 

The Week in Review

The week started off with a double header win at Burlington and the merciful end of a seven game losing streak.  The first day off for the entire season (Monday) turned into a two game respite with a Tuesday rainout that provided some much needed moisture to the area.

 

A three-game, mid-week, home-series sweep led to a brief team meeting after Thursday night's loss to Pulaski.  I talked briefly with Joe Almaraz after the meeting.  He said that his pep talk emphasized the team's 2-10 record over the last twelve games and the lack of offense. 

 

An inspired and tenacious effort followed Almaraz's team meeting and led to what was both the longest and best game of the year on Friday night against the league's best team and starting pitcher.  The team rallied three times from one-run deficits (twice in extra innings) and never led until the last play of the game in the bottom of the fifteenth inning.  While eight hits in fifteen innings were far from the offensive display the team demonstrated during Week 2, a gutsy effort from the bullpen gave the offense a chance. 

 

The fans from both teams were really into this game from the start of the four hour and thirty minute marathon.  The 31st overall pick in the 2008 draft, Shooter Hunt, was throwing "91 to 94 MPH" in the first inning of his five-inning no hitter to start the game.  Hunt really doesn't belong in this league based on what I saw.  Control will be his nemesis but in the free swinging Appy League, he will have no problem racking up big strikeout numbers with his sinking two-seam and rising four-seam fastball.  In his two appearances and eight innings in the Appy League so far, Hunt has allowed no hits and two walks while recording sixteen strikeouts. 

 

The bats finally reappeared on Saturday night in a 16-3 drubbing of the Twins.  The Cardinals had a season high seventeen hits that included six doubles and an Edgar Lara opposite field home run. 

 

The team had a .260 batting average and 2.78 earned run average for the week.  They only allowed two home runs while hitting four.  They had nine errors that led to ten unearned runs.  They recorded 72 strikeouts in 58 innings pitched. 

 

Game 19 (Sunday):  Win 8-5: The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 07/07.

Game 20 (Sunday):  Win 4-1: The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 07/07.

Game 21 (Wednesday):  Loss 2-5: The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 07/10.

Game 22 (Wednesday):  Loss 5-8: The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 07/10.

Game 23 (Thursday):  Loss 3-7: The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 07/11.

Game 24 (Friday):  Win 4-3: The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 07/12.

Game 25 (Saturday):  Win 16-3: The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 07/13.

 

League Leaders (Top Ten)

Guillermo Toribio – second in stolen bases (8).

Niko Vasquez – sixth in games played (23) and seventh in doubles (7).

Alex Castellanos – sixth in triples (2).

Curt Smith – eighth in RBIs (17) and tenth in home runs (4).

Osvaldo Morales – seventh in doubles (7). 

Brett Lilley – seventh in walks (11) and eighth in on base percentage (.418). 

Matt North – fifth in earned run average (2.18) and eighth in WHIP (1.11).

Jon Bravo – sixth in strikeouts (26). 

Jorge Rondon – first in games finished (7), first in games (10), and eighth in saves (2).

Matt Frevert – second in games (9) and eighth in wins (2).

Santo Maertz – fifth in games (8) and eighth in wins (2).

Jose Mateo – fifth in games (8).

Joel Pichardo – fifth in games (8). 

Reynier Gonzalez – eighth in innings pitched (23.2). 

 

Tandem Starter Pitch Counts

Game 21 (5-2 Loss): 

Deryk Hooker (5 innings pitched) – 67 pitches, 45 strikes, 12 of 20 first-pitch strikes.

 

Game 22 (8-5 Loss):

Mike Blazek (0 innings pitched) – 18 pitches, 12 strikes, 2 of 4 first-pitch strikes.

Carlos Gonzalez (3.2 innings pitched) – 70 pitches, 41 strikes, 9 of 15 first-pitch strikes.

 

Game 23 (7-3 Loss):

Jon Bravo (4 innings pitched) – 74 pitches, 50 strikes, 14 of 21 first-pitch strikes.

Matt North (1.2 innings pitched) – 53 pitches, 31 strikes, 9 of 14 first-pitch strikes.

 

Game 24 (4-3 Win):

Reynier Gonzalez (5 innings pitched) – 70 pitches, 50 strikes, 13 of 21 first-pitch strikes.

Kevin Thomas (2 innings pitched) – 37 pitches, 24 strikes, 5 of 9 first-pitch strikes.

 

Pitch Velocities

The Johnson City display wasn't working so I don't have any to report.  Shooter Hunt's were from a hand held gun behind the plate.

 

Game Notes

Retired major league umpire Dale Ford was calling the balls and strikes in Game 23 (Thursday).

 

Minor-league pitching coordinator Dyar Miller was in town this week. 

 

Web Gems

OF Paul Cruz produced two in back-to-back innings of the game of the year on Friday night (Game 24).  Both were in extra innings and the oddest part of the feat was that each one was from a different outfield position.

 

With nobody out and a runner on first in the eleventh inning, Cruz fielded a hard rolling single and threw a perfect strike from right field to third base to nail a runner that reached base after Guillermo Toribio failed to try to field a high infield pop-up.  Toribio owes Cruz something for that great throw. 

 

In the twelfth inning, after moving back to center field to make room for eleventh inning PH Edgar Lara, Cruz made an outstanding diving catch on a sinking line drive.  For the second inning in a row, the play took place with a runner on and nobody out.  A leadoff double turned into an easy double play and a Cruz's second outfield assist in as many innings when the Twins' runner inexplicably took off early from second base. 

 

SS Niko Sanchez has quietly put together an amazingly high fielding percentage.  After 23 games, Sanchez has only one fielding error.  The 19-year old, through 21 games, has a .989 fielding percentage with 54 assists and 13 double plays.  The scouting reports appear to be accurate in that he doesn't appear to have tremendous range, a strong arm, or great speed.  His throws have been very accurate and his hands are as good as any major leaguer currently playing the game.  He generally makes good decisions about not choosing to throw to first base on what would require a very strong throw and that may easily become a throwing error. 

 

Vasquez displayed his great hands and quick reflexes on a double play in the seventh inning of Game 21 (Thursday).  With the bases loaded and one out, 2B Guillermo Toribio fielded a ball behind second base with a diving stop and shoveled a short toss to Vasquez.  The toss was slightly behind Niko, who caught the ball barehanded, shuffled his feet to touch the bag and avoid the runner coming into second base hard in an attempt to break-up the double play, pulled his right arm around his body a full 180 degrees, and got off an accurate throw to Matt Rigoli to complete the DP-4-6-3. 

 

Players of the Week

Each week, I will select one position player and one pitcher as the Johnson City players of the week.  This week, the position player, for the second time this year, is Niko Vasquez (in a close competition with Osvaldo Morales and Curt Smith) and the pitcher, also for the second time this year, is Randy Santos (in a close competition with Deryk Hooker and Reynier Gonzalez). 

 

There were eight pitchers with a walks plus innings pitched (WHIP) of less than 1.5.  Jose Mateo, Joel Pichardo, and Matt Frevert did it as relievers in three games each and starters Reynier Gonzalez, Carlos Gonzalez, Kevin Thomas, Deryk Hooker, and Randy Santos each did it in the piggyback system.  Only four of the eight pitchers had WHIPs of 1.00 or less (Mateo, Thomas, Hooker, and Santos) but only Randy Santos accomplished the feat over more than five innings pitched.  Over eight innings pitched, four of those against the best hitting team in the Appy League, Randy Santos led all pitchers in strikeouts (11) while recording the second lowest WHIP (0.88).  Santos allowed only three hits (infield single, groundball single, and opposite field double) while allowing no runs and just four walks.  Randy Santos also won the pitcher of the week award in the first week of the season. 

 

Of the eight players with fifteen or more at-bats (Paul Cruz, Jairo Martinez, Guillermo Toribio, Joey Hage, Alex Castellanos, Curt Smith, Osvaldo Morales, and Niko Vasquez), there was a very close competition at the top between three of them.  Curt Smith led the team in RBI (6) while recording a very nice AVG/OBP/SLG line of .348/.400/.435.  Osvaldo Morales has started to cut down on his strikeouts very nicely and led the team in doubles (4) while recording an equally nice line of .353/.389/.588.  However, the player that topped both Smith and Morales this week was SS Niko Vasquez.  Vasquez led the team in at-bats (25), runs (5), hits (9), home runs (1), total bases (15), and stolen bases (1) while posting team leads in all three averages: .360/.407/.600.

 

The team put up a better line this week than last week (.260/.331/.374/.705) but still needs to improve at the plate to win consistently.  Noteworthy performances from the reserves this week included a .412 OBP from Brett Lilley in 14 at bats and a .400/.455/.400/.855 line from C Jack Cawley in ten at bats.  

 

The Week Ahead

Game 26 (Sunday):  Deryk Hooker followed by Rosales or McGregor – vs. Elizabethton Twins

Game 27 (Monday):  Carlos Gonzalez followed by Rosales or McGregor – @ Kingsport Mets

Game 28 (Tuesday):  Matt North followed by Jon Bravo – @ Kingsport Mets

Game 29 (Wednesday):  Reynier Gonzalez followed by Kevin Thomas – @ Kingsport Mets

Game 30 (Thursday):  Randy Santos followed by Adam Veres – @ Bristol White Sox

Game 31 (Friday):  Deryk Hooker followed by Zawacki/Rosales/McGregor – @ Bristol White Sox

Game 32 (Saturday):  Carlos Gonzalez followed by Blazek/Rosales/McGregor – @ Bristol White Sox

 

Bonus photos

Pitcher of the Week Randy Santos in action.

 

High leg kick

 

Windup start

 

Pre-release

 

Release

 

 

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