The Johnson City Cardinals Report: 07/26/09

21-year-old outfielder Ross Smith hit three home runs this week to help Johnson City (2-4 week, 16-15 overall) hold onto second place in the Western Division of the Appalachian League.

The Johnson City Cardinals struggled for the second straight week against the best competition that the Appy League can offer.  They were swept for the second time this year by a first place team and suffered their first losing week of the year.   They are currently in their longest losing streak of the year (4 games).  The Cardinals are seven and one half games behind the Elizabethton Twins (24-8) and two and half games ahead of both the Greeneville Astros and Bristol White Sox (14-18). 


Johnson City has hit 35 home runs in 31 games (2nd in league).  The offense is also second in slugging (.443).  The hitters are second from last in triples (8) and are middle of the pack in all other offensive categories.  The pitchers continue to lead the league in shutouts (4), holds (12), and fewest walks (84).  The team earned run average (ERA) has fallen to 4.65 (7th in league).   


I was able to attend three of the seven games this week in person and those observations provide the basis for this report.  I attended the 3-game home series against the Danville Braves in the middle of the week.  I also listened to the internet broadcast of the last two games of the week against Princeton. 


Roster and Injury Updates


Johnson City added a pitcher this week from the Gulf Coast League (GCL) Cardinals.  This brought the roster up to 33 players (35 max).  The Cardinals now have 17 pitchers (10 tandem starters and 7 relievers) and 16 position players (3 catchers, 6 outfielders, and 7 infielders) on the roster.  However, one pitcher and one outfielder are currently in FL on rehabs.  One infielder could be shelved for the season.   


Cale Johnson (1-0, 1.42 ERA), the Cardinals 41st round pick in this year's June draft, moved up from FL this week.  Johnson is a 21-year-old right handed tandem starting pitcher out of McKendree University in Lebanon, IL.  Johnson had nine complete games and one shutout in 14 starts in 2009 for the Bearcats, an NAIA school.  Johnson pitched 12 innings in the GCL (0-0, 2.25 ERA) while allowing 8 hits and 2 walks and recording 14 strikeouts.  GCL batters hit for an average of only .182 against Johnson. 


Pablo Ortiz (2-0, 6.75 ERA), a starting tandem pitcher, missed his scheduled start on Monday July 20 due to weakness in his shoulder and elbow.  Ortiz is rehabbing in Jupiter, FL.  There is no specific time frame scheduled for his return to Johnson City.   


Outfielder CJ Beatty (.191) has been reduced to a designated/pinch hitter due to a bruised bone in his elbow.  An MRI indicated that no surgery was needed and that rest and ice would get CJ healthy again.  CJ was scheduled to start throwing again on Saturday or Sunday in Princeton.  Beatty's last game in the outfield was June 26. 


Infielder Romulo Ruiz (.125, 3 HR) returned last week from a hamstring injury that kept him out of action for 12 games.  This was after Ruiz missed all of the 2008 season due to labrum surgery.  He returned to action at third base this week (3 games) however, he looked a bit rusty on Thursday night (one throwing error and a questionable decision on a fielder's choice).  Ruiz will need to be slowly integrated back into a day-to-day fielding position according to the coaches. 


Outfielder Michael Swinson (.315, 4 SB) had a wrist injury that forced him to miss 14 games.  Swinson returned to the lineup on Friday night and extended his hit streak to 6 games (10-for-22, .454). 


Second baseman Luis Mateo (.319, 3 HR, 5 SB, 18 games) suffered a hamstring injury on a single in the sixth inning at Elizabethton on July 12.  Mateo rehabbed in Johnson City and missed 9 games before he was cleared to play again on Thursday night against Danville.  Unfortunately, during pre-game warm-ups, Mateo reinjured his hamstring and was noticeably limping out of the dugout for the national anthem.  Hitting coach Johnny Rodriguez speculated that the injury could be bad enough this time to cost him the rest of the season.  That would be very unfortunate for a player that was returning to Johnson City from last year's team and who has the fourth best batting average on this year's team.  Mateo was on a 4 game hit streak (7-for-16, .438) when he was injured. 


Outfielder Rainel Rosario (.286, 7 doubles) suffered some kind of blood clot or cyst above his right knee that forced him to return to Jupiter, FL for rehab.  Hitting coach Johnny Rodriguez put a two-week time frame on his possible return to Johnson City.   


The Week in Review


Johnson City won the last two games of the three game series against Bluefield to start the week.  They out-scored the Orioles 19-1 and out-hit them 25-7.  The Cardinals then came home and were swept by the Eastern Division leading Danville Braves.  They finished the week by losing the first game of a three-game series against the Princeton Rays.  Saturday night's game was suspended due to rain and lightning just before the start of the fifth inning with the score 2-2.  


Sunday:  Reynier Gonzalez (2-3, 6.23 ERA) and Andy Moss (0-1, 1.73 ERA) combined on a one hit 6-0 shutout of the Orioles on Sunday afternoon.  It was the league leading 4th shutout of the season for Johnson City.  Moss got the first save for a tandem starter this year.  The lone Bluefield hit was a 4th inning double by Michael Flacco.  2B Ted Obregon (.288) was 3-for-4 with a triple and 1B Matt Adams (.388) was 3-for-5 with an RBI.  


Monday night saw the first changes to the opening-day tandem starting pitching rotations.  Pablo Ortiz was scheduled to start before Jesse Simpson however, the Cardinals sent Ortiz to rehab, switched Simpson to the primary starter, and added Cale Johnson on the back end of the tandem. 


The game started as a duel of Jesse's as Bluefield starter Jesse Beal and Johnson City starter Jesse Simpson (1-0, 1.35 ERA) battled to a 1-1 tie through five innings.  Beal held the Cardinals to three singles and one unearned run while Simpson allowed a double, single, and one earned run while striking out four.  The Cardinals broke the game open in the eighth inning against the Oriole bullpen after Beal left the game.  The Cardinals scored six runs in each of the last two innings to win 13-1.  2B Ted Obregon (.288) hit his first two Johnson City home runs and C Audry Perez (.214) hit a grand slam home run and a 2-RBI double.  Cale Johnson (1-0, 1.42 ERA) cruised through three innings (two singles and Racobaldo outfield assist at home) but then ran into trouble at the start of the 9th inning (two singles and a walk).  Reliever Aaron Terry (3-0, 3.00 ERA) used a SS Yunier Castillo (8 errors, 27 games) unassisted, line-drive, double play at second base and a swinging strikeout to close out the game and give the Cardinals a 2-1 series win over Bluefield.


Tuesday:  The opening game of the series against Danville was an easy 9-2 win for the Braves.  Chris Notti (1-1, 8.50 ERA) and Justin Smith (1-1, 4.12 ERA) (pictured) both struggled in their tandem starting pitcher roles.  The Braves connected on eight extra base hits against the duo over six innings pitched.  The game featured the appearance of Danville Braves relief pitcher Cory Rasmus.  The brother of St. Louis Cardinal Colby Rasmus faced eight Johnson City batters after the game was out of reach in the seventh and eighth innings.  Rasmus struck out Rich Racobaldo (.410), Yunier Castillo (.228), and Ted Obregon (.288).  Hector Alvarez (.241) just missed a home run to left field when he banged a 3-2 pitch off the wall for a double.  Matt Adams (.388) hit his team leading sixth home run on Rasmus' first pitch to him in the seventh inning.  Adams drive was well over 400 feet to the deepest part of right centerfield.   


Wednesday:  The middle game of the Danville series was a depressing 6-5 loss.  The Braves jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning on a couple of singles and a walk off of starter Anthony Ferrara (1-1, 3.43 ERA).  The Cardinals took the lead in the second inning when Danville starter Tyler Stovall had major control problems.  Rich Racobaldo (.410) and Edgar Lara (.276) led off the inning with back to back doubles on 2-1 pitches but then Stovall proceeded to miss the plate with 24 of his next 31 pitches (2 outs and 5 walks) to make it 4-1 Johnson City.  Ferrara struggled with is control over the next two innings and left after four innings (32 balls in 71 pitches) with the Cardinals leading 4-3. 


It appeared that the Braves tied the game against second tandem starter Michael Thompson (0-1, 5.40 ERA) in the sixth inning when Matt Weaver doubled home Jordan Kreke.  Many of the fans by the Cardinal dugout, including at least one in the Cardinal dugout on the third base side, noticed that Kreke missed third base as he was heading home.  The appeal at third base was granted by home plate umpire Rich Gonzalez.  The Cardinals kept the lead at 4-3 and CF Ross Smith (0 errors) got his second outfield assist of the game. 


The Cardinals added to the lead in the seventh with their great hitting duo of LF Rich Racobaldo (.410) and 1B Matt Adams (.388).  "Rock" singled on his first pitch and then Adams hit a high, opposite-field drive toward the scoreboard in left field on a 2-1 pitch.  "Rock" knew that it wouldn't be caught, ran hard from the crack of the bat, and scored easily when the ball appeared to bounce off the very top of the scoreboard and creep back onto the field for a double. 


The Cardinals gave up a run in the eighth and then two more in the ninth to lose 6-5.  Closer Dave Kington (1-1, 6.00 ERA) got his first blown save and the loss.  The Cardinals didn't get another hit after Adams' double.  Reliever Travis Lawler (0-0, 0.87 ERA) did another really good job holding down the damage in the eighth by striking out both batters he faced.  Described as being "not ready to be a starter" at the beginning of the season, Lawler has been one of the most impressive relievers for Johnson City.  


Thursday:  The last game of the series was a 13-5 blowout and a series sweep for the first place Braves.  Johnson City jumped ahead 3-0 on the strength of the bat of CF Ross Smith (.175).  Smith hit his first two professional home runs:  an opposite-field solo shot on a 1-1 pitch in the first inning and a two-run, no-doubter to left centerfield a 1-0 pitch in the third inning.  After the game, Smith credited hitting coach Johnny Rodriguez with his recent hitting improvements.   


Starter Randy Santos (1-3, 4.63 ERA) struggled a bit through the first three innings (46 pitches, 4 hits, hit batter) but took a 3-0 shutout into the fourth inning.  Danville went on to score five runs (one earned) in the fourth on four hits (two doubles), an error, and a hit batter.  The second double of the inning was ruled to be a fair ball down the third base (Cardinals dugout) side of the field by home plate umpire Lawrence Reeves.  Manager Mike Shildt took exception to the call and, after a lengthy discussion, was tossed from the game.  For at least the second time this year, Shildt slammed his helmet to the ground when he was thrown out of the game and needed Johnny Rodriguez to help get him off the field before something worse happened.


Santos finished his four innings in 75 pitches (47 strikes, 14-for-23 first-pitch strikes).  LHP John Durham (0-1, 10.80 ERA) started the fifth inning with a 5-3 deficit and left the game four outs later with Danville leading 8-3.  Durham continued his struggles this year by allowing a triple, two doubles, a single, a walk, and three runs with his 38 pitches (25 strikes). 


Reliever Aaron Terry (3-0, 3.00 ERA) pitched well during his longest outing of the year (2.2 IP, no hits, no runs, one walk, four strikeouts, 37 pitches, 25 strikes, 6-for-10 first-pitch strikes).  Reliever Kyle Heim (0-1, 8.44 ERA) started the ninth inning with an 8-4 deficit and finished it with the Cardinals down 13-4.  Ross Smith (.175) added another single and run scored in the bottom of the ninth to finish the game 3-for-5 with 2 HR and 3 runs scored.  Every starting position player had at least one hit however, only one of the ten hits was with runners in scoring position (1-for-15).  Smith's home runs brought the number of hitters on the roster with at least one HR to 13-of-16. 


Friday:  The Cardinals travelled to Princeton, WV on Friday to face the second place Rays for the first time this year.  Princeton carried a team ERA of 3.45 (second best in the Appy League) into the start of the series.  The Rays were second to the Danville Braves, who just swept the Cardinals in Johnson City. 


The Cardinals suffered their second shutout of the year in the first game against Princeton.  Johnson City could muster only four singles (two for Rich Racobaldo) and one walk against two Rays' pitchers.  Four Cardinal errors led to six unearned runs and eight Princeton doubles contributed to six earned runs as the Cardinals were blown out by a score of 12-0.  Andy Moss (0-1, 1.73 ERA) took his first loss despite going five innings and throwing a season high (per me following radio play-by-play) 81 pitches.  Reynier Gonzalez (2-3, 6.23 ERA) suffered through three consecutive infielder errors in a five run sixth inning that put the game out of reach.  Gonzalez threw 53 pitches to record five outs on the night and was only 4-for-16 on first pitch strikes.  That certainly doesn't help keep the defense on their toes. 


Saturday:  The second game of the series against the Rays was suspended at the beginning of the fifth inning with the score 2-2.  Johnson City jumped ahead in the top of the second on a two-run home run by LF Ross Smith (.185) but they couldn't hold the lead for long.  Starter Cale Johnson (1-0, 1.42 ERA) gave up a lead-off home run in the second.  A SS Yunier Castillo second inning throwing error (8th) led to an unearned run and a 2-2 game.  Johnson was pulled in the fourth after 65 pitches (43 strikes, 10-of-17 first-pitch strikes).  Reliever Jose Rada (2-0, 2.45 ERA) and Castillo got a crucial double play to shutdown a Rays rally in the bottom of the fourth.  The suspended game will resume at 2 PM EDT on Sunday afternoon.  Jesse Simpson (1-0, 1.35 ERA) will likely be the pitcher to come out for the bottom of the fifth.  


Tandem Starting Pitchers


Listed below are the new pairings for Johnson City (Cale Johnson replaces Pablo Ortiz).  The primary starters are now up to a 75 to 80 pitch limit while the secondary starters are up to about 60 to 65 pitches.  The primary starter of the game rotates every five days.    

RHP Reynier Gonzalez and RHP Andy Moss

RHP Jesse Simpson and RHP Cale Johnson (replaces Pablo Ortiz)

RHP Chris Notti and RHP Justin Smith

LHP Anthony Ferrara and RHP Michael Thompson

RHP Randy Santos and LHP John Durham


Who's Hot (Hitters)


LF/3B Rich "Rock" Racobaldo was named the Appalachian League Player of the Week (for his accomplishments last week) on Monday of this week.  Racobaldo continued to wield a hot bat this week as he raised his average from .407 to .410.  Rock has an 11 game hit streak (.475).  "Rock" was 8-for-19 (.421) this week with six runs and six walks in six games. 


Rock now leads the team in batting average (.410), on-base percentage (.472), and OPS (1.082).  Racobaldo is in the top five in the Appalachian League in seven different offensive categories:  OBP (2nd); AVG, hits, and OPS (3rd); total bases (4th); runs and SLG (5th). 


2B Ted Obregon had a very good week.  Obregon was 8-for-19 (.421) with three runs, a triple, two home runs, and 4 RBI.  Obregon has a very good line with runners on base:  .381/.417/.524.  However, he has struggled with his fielding (7 errors, .891 fielding percentage) at 2B (15 games, 4 errors), 3B (7 games, 2 errors), and SS (1 game, 1 error). 


1B Matt Adams had another solid week at the plate.  Adams was 9-for-23 (.391) with three runs, two doubles, one home run, three RBIs, and two walks in 6 games.  Adams is leading the team in home runs (6), RBIs (23), and slugging (.633) and is second on the team in virtually all other offensive stats.  Adams is in the top ten in the Appalachian League in nine different offensive categories:  home runs (2nd); AVG, OBP, SLG, and OPS (4th); total bases and RBIs (6th); hits and doubles (7th).   


C Robert Stock (.306) was 4-for-11 (.364) this week with four runs, a triple, a home run, and two RBIs.  Stock has an impressive line on the road:  .379/.500/.759 but is hitting only .200 against left-handed pitching.   


RF Edgar Lara (.276, 9 doubles) has a very quiet 10-game hit streak and is 7th in the league in doubles.  Lara is 12-for-44 (.273) with just one double in his hit streak. 


Who's Not Hot (Hitters)


3B Romulo Ruiz (.125) was 1-for-11 (.091) this week.  Ruiz is hitting .251 against left-handed pitching this year however; he is hitting just .071 against right-handed pitching and .063 with runners in scoring position. 


SS Yunier Castillo (.228) took a six-game hit streak into this week.  He was 9-for-29 (.310) with a triple last week.  Castillo was only 1-for-17 (.059) this week with three strikeouts.  Castillo is the only hitter who has yet to take a walk this year (92 at-bats and 22 strikeouts). 


Five other hitters had .200 or less batting averages this week:  Matt Rigoli (.167), Travis Tartamella (.182), Ross Smith (.190), Hector Alvarez (.190), and Audry Perez (.200). 


Who's Hot (Pitchers)


Jesse Simpson (20 IP) is the only current starter with double digit innings to allow no home runs.  Simpson is 1st amongst the ten starters in ERA (1.35) and is the only starter with an ERA and WHIP (0.95) near one.  Simpson is leading all 17 pitchers in batting average allowed (.181).  Simpson has still not figured out the reliever part of the tandem starting pitcher system yet.  His starter/reliever splits are 0.69/2.57 for ERA and .130/.269 for batting average allowed. 


Justin Smith is 2nd on the team in walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP) at 0.97 and is 1st in SO/9 (14.2).  Smith is 6th in the league in strikeouts (31).  Smith has yet to allow a hit on the road (6 IP) and is holding the opposition to a .213 average.  When he figures out how to get hitters out with runners in scoring position (.357), watch out!


Reliever Travis Lawler (10.1 IP) leads the team in earned run average (0.87 ERA) and is 1st among the relievers in SO/9 (13.1).  Lawler is 5th in the league in holds with two.  Lawler struck out both of the batters he faced this week.  The opposition is hitting only .206 against Lawler and he is particularly stingy at home (.083 batting average allowed).    


Andy Moss is 2nd amongst the starters in batting average allowed (.194).  Moss is third amongst the starters in ERA (1.73) and WHIP (1.00).  Moss is in the top ten of the Appalachian League in three categories:  ERA (3rd), WHIP (4th), and holds (5th).  Moss is very good at getting left-handed hitters to groundout (3.60 GO/AO) and has performed better in the reliever role (0.69 ERA and .146 average) within the tandem system. 


Closer David Kington is leading the league in saves (6), is 2nd in games finished (10), and is 3rd in games (11).  Kington has not allowed a home run in 9 IP.  Kington is second among the relievers in WHIP (1.22).  Kington is looking to improve his batting average allowed against left-handed hitting (.400). 


Reliever Aaron Terry (3-0, 3.00 ERA) is 4th in the league in victories and 10th in games (10).  Terry ranks second among the Cardinal relievers in SO/9 (12.8) and is second amongst the 17 pitchers in batting average allowed (.182).   Terry and his slider are a very good groundball combination against right-handed hitters (10.0 GO/AO).  He is allowing only a .111 batting average against both right handed hitters and with runners in scoring position. 


Michael Thompson, despite allowing hitters a .370 batting average, is first in the league in holds with three.     


Who's Not Hot (Pitchers)


LHP John Durham (0-1, 10.80 ERA) allowed 4 hits and 3 earned runs in one tandem start (1.1 IP) this week.  His 3.76 WHIP and 20.25 ERA this week were the worst for the starters.  The opposition is hitting .362 against Durham this year.     


Chris Notti (1-0, 8.50 ERA) allowed six hits and three earned runs in three innings pitched this week.  The opposition is hitting .369 against Notti this year.  As the second tandem starter (reliever), he allows a .421 batting average.  Hitters are hitting an eye-popping .423 average against him with runners in scoring position. 


Reliever Kyle Heim (0-1, 8.44 ERA) allowed five hits and five earned runs in two innings pitched this week.  The opposition is hitting .341 against Heim this year. 


Week Six Schedule


Game 33 (Sun):  Justin Smith followed by Chris Notti – @ Princeton Rays

Game 34 (Mon):  Michael Thompson followed by Anthony Ferrara – @ Elizabethton Twins

Game 35 (Tue):  John Durham followed by Randy Santos – @ Elizabethton Twins

Game 36 (Wed):  Reynier Gonzalez followed by Andy Moss – @ Elizabethton Twins

Game 37 (Thu):  Jesse Simpson followed by Cale Johnson – @ Elizabethton Twins

Game 38 (Fri):  Chris Notti followed by Justin Smith – vs. Bluefield Orioles

Game 39 (Sat):  Anthony Ferrara followed by Michael Thompson – vs. Bluefield Orioles


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