The Johnson City Cardinals Report: 09/01/08

Their first winning season since 1996 means the 2008 Cardinals had a successful Appalachian League campaign.

The Johnson City Cardinals finished the week (Sunday through Tuesday) with a record of one win and one loss (with one rainout).  The remnants of Fay washed out the entire Appy League schedule the last day of the season.


Johnson City finished the season with their first winning record since 1996 (36-30).  They finished in second place in the five-team Western Division of the Appalachian League, five games behind the eventual Appy League champion Elizabethton Twins.  Elizabethton swept the best of three season ending series from the Pulaski Mariners to secure their third championship in the last four years. 


I will be writing a season ending report later on this year so this will be a short report to reflect the short week (two games).  I was able to see both games in person and get some pretty good pictures of the two newest Johnson City Cardinals (Ryde Rodriguez and Yunier Castillo). 









End of Season Promotions


Scott McGregor, who posted a 4-0 record with 0.33 ERA and 0.74 WHIP with Johnson City over twenty-seven innings pitched this year, earned a well deserved promotion to Quad Cities on Sunday.  McGregor made two scoreless relief appearances for the River Bandits last week, allowing three hits and one walk while recording two strikeouts over three and one third innings.  McGregor, with his low pitch-counts and pin-point control, was a very valuable mid-season addition to the pitching staff. 


Samuel Freeman and Jose Mateo were both promoted to Palm Beach after the Johnson City season ended.  Freeman, a left-handed reliever with good velocity, served as our closer for the last two weeks (after Jorge Rondon was promoted to Quad Cities).  Mateo, a versatile spot starter and long reliever, pitched a complete game in Palm Beach to help their pitching staff rest and prepare for the post season. 


Matt Frevert was promoted to Quad Cities.  Frevert made two scoreless appearances this week allowing three hits and two walks while striking out none over 2 2/3 innings. 


That brings the total number of promotions from this year's Johnson City Cardinals to fourteen.  Six were position players, four were starting pitchers (I count Jose Mateo as a starter), and four were relief pitchers.  The active roster this year has seen a total of forty-one players (nineteen position players and twenty-two pitchers).  Fourteen of those forty-one were promoted to Palm Beach (two), Quad Cities (six), or Batavia (six). 


LaCurtis Mayes was promoted early in the year to Batavia.  Adam Veres, Brett Lilley, and Jairo Martinez were promoted four weeks ago.  Deryk Hooker, Jorge Rondon, and Alex Castellanos were promoted three weeks ago.  Curt Smith, Niko Vasquez, and Osvaldo Morales were promoted two weeks ago.  McGregor, Freeman, Frevert, and Mateo were promoted this week. 


Injury/Playing Time Updates


Matt North is in Florida rehabbing from a sore shoulder.  Pitching Coach Tim Leveque said of North, "His arm's tired.  He is suffering from a little bit of shoulder fatigue.  We sent him back down to Jupiter, Florida to rest and to get a little bit of strength back in that shoulder.  We decided not to take any chances with him."


The Week in Review


Johnson City split the two-game series against the Bluefield Orioles this week.  The last game was rained out thanks to the remnants of Fay. 


The hitters struggled to put up good numbers again this week.  The team put up an even worse AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS line (.219/.265/.266/.530) than last week's .254/.313/.352/.664 line.  The defense committed five errors (two by Luis Mateo) that led to three unearned runs.  The pitchers saw their team season earned run average and walks plus innings pitched both improve for the third week in-a-row by posting a 2.50 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in eighteen innings pitched.


Game 66 (Sunday):  Win 6-2:  The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 08/25.

Game 67 (Monday):  Loss 1-6:  The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 08/26.

Game 68 (Tuesday):  Rained out. 


End of Season League Leaders (Top Ten)


Curt Smith won the Appy League batting title this year.  Smith finished the season with a .378 batting average.  The last Johnson City Cardinal to win the Appy League batting title was Isa Garcia.  Garcia hit .339 in 2006 and is now playing at the Double-A level with the Springfield Cardinals.  As mostly a designated hitter and utility infielder, Garcia has posted a .280 batting average in sixty-nine games in the Texas League this year. 


Johnson City had five different position players in the final top ten.  Curt Smith led the team by finishing in the top ten in eight different offensive categories and finishing first in the league in three categories.  Alex Castellanos finished in the top ten in six categories, Niko Vasquez in five, and Osvaldo Morales and Travis Mitchell in one each. 


Osvaldo Morales fell out of the top ten in the last week in slugging and OPS based on minimum at bats to qualify.  Morales had 152 at bats and needed 178 to qualify.      


Curt Smith – first in batting average (.378), on-base percentage (.418), and RBIs (49); second in on-base plus slugging percentage (1.004); third in slugging percentage (.585); fifth in hits (73); eighth in total bases (113); tenth in doubles (14).


Alex Castellanos – second in stolen bases (20); fifth in runs (42); sixth in slugging percentage (.536); seventh in triples (4); eighth in on-base plus slugging percentage (.889); tenth in doubles (14).


Niko Vasquez – second in on-base percentage (.416); fourth in walks (29); fifth in runs (42); seventh in doubles (16); ninth in batting average (.317).


Osvaldo Morales – fourth in home runs (12).


Travis Mitchell – seventh in stolen bases (13).


One disadvantage of the piggy-back pitching system is getting pitchers to qualify as one of the league leaders.  The minimum to qualify this year was 0.8 innings pitched per team game.  Johnson City played 66 games so a pitcher would need 53 innings pitched to qualify.  Unfortunately, Johnson City only had one pitcher (Reynier Gonzalez) meet this criterion.  R. Gonzalez just barely made it, pitching one inning this week out of his normal rotation to go to fifty-three and two thirds innings for the year.


Jose Mateo – first in holds (5); fifth in games (20).


Jorge Rondon – third in games (21); seventh in saves (6).


Matt Frevert – third in games (21).


Samuel Freeman – fifth in games (20); eighth in holds (2). 


Joel Pichardo – fifth in games (20). 


Randy Santos – eighth in holds (2).


Tandem Starter Pitch Counts


Game 66 (6-2 Win):

Jose Mateo (5 innings pitched) – 86 pitches, 57 strikes, 12 of 21 first-pitch strikes.

Joel Pichardo (3.2 innings pitched) – 49 pitches, 35 strikes, 11 of 16 first-pitch strikes.


Game 67 (6-1 Loss):

Mike Blazek (5 innings pitched) – 76 pitches, 49 strikes, 10 of 18 first-pitch strikes.

Reynier Gonzalez (0.1 innings pitched) – 24 pitches, 13 strikes, 1 of 4 first-pitch-strikes.

Carlos Gonzalez (3.1 innings pitched) – 49 pitches, 32 strikes, 12 of 16 first-pitch-strikes.


Pitch Velocities


Johnson City didn't have the display working this week. 


Game Notes


Randy Santos was on the receiving end of one of the better dugout jokes this year late in Monday's game.  I saw Santos pass behind home plate from Johnson City's third base dugout heading toward the clubhouse with the Cardinals in the field in the top of the eighth inning.  This is not unusual as players often need to head for the clubhouse between innings for various reasons.  Santos stopped at the first base coaching box, which is also not unusual as the bench players typically serve as the first base coaches throughout the season.  When Santos stopped, there was a pretty audible ruckus coming from the Johnson City dugout, with Jon Bravo and Santo Maertz producing the most noise.  Apparently, someone in the dugout had convinced Santos that it was his turn to coach first base.  Apparently, the Bluefield Orioles didn't want him coaching their base runners.  Santos sheepishly made his way back to the dugout, waving his finger at the dugout with every step!  That was a good one! 


Right fielder Ryde Rodriguez led the "web gem" list this week.  Rodriguez made two really nice catches in Monday's game.  The first one in the fourth inning was a nice running catch of a line drive on Mike Blazek 0-2 mistake pitch.  The second one was an even nicer seventh inning running and leaping catch in the right-centerfield gap that took a sure double from Buck Britton of Bluefield. 


Other notable web gems this week were recorded by Matt Rigoli at third base (diving stop and assist to first base to end the first inning of Sunday's game), Joey Hage in left field (sliding catch for the first out of the fifth inning of Sunday's game), and Yunier Castillo (grounder nicely fielded in the hole at shortstop and turned into a close force-out at second base for the first out in the seventh inning of Sunday's game).


Sunday's game saw two notable people pay a visit to Howard Johnson Park in Johnson City.  Appalachian League President Lee Landers accompanied the President of Minor League Baseball, Pat O'Conner for a brief visit with the Cardinal's team management during the game.  O'Conner, elected President last December with a vote at the baseball Winter Meetings in Nashville, talked briefly with Robert Branum of the Johnson City Sports Foundation (JCSF) between innings.  The JCSF is the non-profit organization charged with preserving and promoting minor league baseball in the City of Johnson City as a historical and recreational source of community pride and as an affordable and wholesome form of public entertainment. 


The team had four walks this week.  Jack Cawley had all four of the team's walks and led the team in on-base percentage (.625) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.875). 


Joey Hage led the team during the short week in hits (3), total bases (4), doubles (1), batting average (.375), slugging percentage (.500), and on-base plus slugging percentage (.875). 


Luis Mateo and Yunier Castillo each scored two runs this week.  Castillo did it while going hitless. 


Ryde Rodriguez' double in the seventh inning of Monday's game looked like it was going to be his first home run in the United States.  Rodriguez absolutely crushed a 2-2 pitch about two thirds of the way up the left field scoreboard.  The line drive had enough to easily be a home run if it was hit with a higher trajectory.  It is just a matter of time before Rodriguez' power and compact swing starts producing a higher slugging percentage. 


I didn't have a chance to ask Ryde how to pronounce his first name but his host family, while cheering for him in the last game of the year, pronounced his name "reed" (not ride, rye-dee, or ree-dee).  It would be nice, for purely selfish reasons, to see Rodriguez play again next year for Johnson City but I would suspect that he will be hearing his first name mispronounced somewhere else in the states next year.


(Editor's note: It is REE-day.)


Players of the Week


With the short week, I will skip rewarding a player and pitcher this week.  Neither the pitchers nor the hitters really separated themselves from others with their performance this week. 


Quotes from Tim Leveque


On reinforcements from the Gulf Coast League:  "One of the jobs here is to get your guys promoted.  It is always nice to have reinforcements come in and pick up where (the promoted players) left off.  Miguel Flores and Eric Fornataro have been able to do that for us.  We really haven't skipped a beat with our pitching and I am pretty happy about that."


On the pitcher's performance throughout the year:  "The first third of the year, we struggled.  Ever since then, for the most part, we have been pretty good.  I have been, with the exception of a few games, pretty pleased with the pitching the last month and a half."


On Brett Zawacki, his decrease in strikeouts for his most recent outing, and any changes in his pitching approach:  "One of the challenges (of the piggy-back) is the difference of when they pitch on the back end and when they pitch on the front end.  When they pitch on the front end, they get more of that starter's mentality.  I think Brett (lately) has realized (the difference).  Brett has pitched a little more to contact and has let his defense work behind him.  (Zawacki) is a young pitcher and he is learning.  I like when pitchers can strike guys out.  (I also like) when they are able to adapt, sometimes get some groundballs, and get some contact outs too.  He was throwing more strikes with his fastball (and) working quick.  I don't (think) it was a trend.  It was just something that happened."


Bonus photos


Pitcher Brett Zawacki in action.




Pitcher Jose Mateo on the mound.




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