Triple-A Pacific Coast League
Last Game: T, 1-1 (vs. Round Rock, play suspended)
Next Game: vs. Memphis (Thu. April 27, 7:05 p.m. CDT)
In Des Moines, things had recently gotten so bad for Iowa's pitching staff that they'd turned to none other than Augie Ojeda to stop the bleeding.
All jokes aside, the I-Cubs did give up a combined 25 runs on 33 hits to Round Rock on back-to-back nights over the course of their current seven-game losing skid. Entering play Tuesday night, the team's pitching staff had fallen to 10th in ERA in the Pacific Coast League after a promising start.
The slide all started last week when the Cubs went to Albuquerque and were swept away by the PCL's hottest team: the Isotopes, winners of eight straight and 11 of their last 12.
Since then, Iowa has lost three to Round Rock with Tuesday's game being a wash after six innings. The score was tied, 1-1, after six innings and will be completed when Round Rock visits Iowa again in June.
Left-hander Les Walrond's luck may be finally starting to run out. He was charged with nine runs in four innings in Saturday's 10-5 loss Round Rock. Despite a 0.53 ERA entering the weekend, Walrond had still given up six runs in his first three starts, but just one was earned. Even with his recent nine-run showing against the Express, four runs were unearned.
Cuban sensation Raul Valdez had likewise gotten off to a fairly fortunate start before recent struggles. After allowing one run in his first two starts despite 11 hits, the left-hander has given up 13 runs on as many hits in his last two outings to raise his average against to .338 and his ERA to 7.13.
"Early on, the most impressive aspect of this team was its defense," acknowledged veteran Iowa broadcaster Deene Ehlis. "I still think they'll be very sound in the outfield. The pitching had looked really good before losing [Roberto] Novoa and [David] Aardsma."
All of the pitching struggles have been in spite of Rich Hill, who tossed his fourth straight quality start with six innings of one-run, two-hit ball on Tuesday before Mother Nature set in. He struck out 10 and walked two.
Hill was named the Pacific Coast League's Pitcher of the Week with 16 strikeouts to one walk and two runs on seven hits in 13 innings for the week of April 10. Hill's 33 strikeouts in 25 innings ranks first in the PCL with his 1.44 ERA placing third.
As for the veteran Ojeda, who is back with the Cubs after two seasons with the Minnesota Twins organization, he pitched one inning and allowed one hit and one walk in one inning on Sunday. It was his first career appearance as a pitcher in 10 seasons.
The Cubs added RHP Kerry Ligtenberg to their roster over the past weekend. Ligtenberg has appeared in two games and notched three strikeouts to nine batters faced.
The 34-year-old Ligtenberg had a 2.53 ERA in nine games with the Florida Marlins this spring. He spent last year mostly with Triple-A Tuscon and appeared in seven games for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
At the plate, third baseman Casey McGehee is starting to heat up. He hit his first career Triple-A home run earlier in the week and now has three straight multi-hit games to raise his batting average to .273.
OF Felix Pie meanwhile continues on his steady pace with hits in all but one of his last eight games. Pie is batting .320 with nine extra base hits and a team-high 16 RBIs on the year. He is 10-for-24 against left-handers.
Elsewhere, power-hitting first baseman Brandon Sing continues to struggle. Since April 10, Sing has just five hits in 44 at-bats for a season to date average of .167 in 18 games. By comparison, Sing was batting .344 with 12 extra base hits and 14 RBIs through 18 games a season ago at Double A.
"The biggest question mark in the Pacific Coast League is always power," said Ehlis. "You always wonder how many home runs you can hit and if they'll have enough power hitters from top to bottom to contend."
So far, Iowa has answered that question with an unflattering answer. The team has hit 11 home runs through their first 19 games, seven of which have been solo shots. Only Colorado Springs' six roundtrippers are fewer than that in the hitter-friendly league.
"In this league, it's always tough without home run hitters to keep up with the rest of the league," Ehlis added.
West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx
Double-A Southern League
Last Result: L, 3-2 (vs. Chattanooga)
Next Game: vs. Jacksonville (Thu. April 27, 7:05 p.m. CDT)
For the first time in 2006, West Tenn is in their first miniature funk of the year with its loss on Tuesday. The team recently dropped its first back-to-back games of the season to Chattanooga over the weekend and lost its first series of the year, three games to two, to the Lookouts.
The series saw two pitchers picking up their first career Double-A wins. On Monday, left-hander Chris Shaver threw 6 1/3 innings shutout innings, allowing five hits to go with seven strikeouts and a walk. Shaver was recently promoted from Daytona after two relief appearances in which he threw 8 2/3 innings.
A former college teammate of Shaver's at William & Mary recently commented on the 6'7 left-hander.
"I played with him for three years and he's a bonafide professional athlete," said Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs pitcher and top Washington Nationals prospect Bill Bray, a first-round draft pick in 2004. "Of course, with his height, it has to be hard on opposing batters to get a hit. He throws a good hard fastball in the low 90s and a really good slider."
In the series opener on Friday night, right-hander Lincoln Holdzkom faced 10 batters and gave up a run on two hits for his first win in almost three years.
Holdzkom has a 4-16 career minor league record in spite of his 2.92 ERA in four-plus seasons, and earned his first win since May 30, 2003 while pitching in the South Atlantic League for Class-A Greensboro. He appeared in only nine games last year after missing all of 2004 with Tommy John Surgery.
West Tenn pitching still leads the Southern League with a 2.67 ERA, but they allowed 24 earned runs in the Chattanooga series for an even .300 average against to opposing hitters.
Offensively, first baseman Micah Hoffpauir continues his torrid pace to open the year. He has hits in all but two of his last 13 games and homered on back-to-back nights against Chattanooga to bring his season total to seven.
Hoffpauir's career high for home runs in any one season is 11 for the Diamond Jaxx back in 2004. He leads the Southern League in home runs and RBIs (19).
The recent Chattanooga series was tough on several Jaxx hitters with only catcher Jose Reyes and shortstop Carlos Rojas standing out. Reyes finished with four hits in 11 at-bats to raise his average from .238 heading in to the series to .281 leaving it. Rojas is still batting below .200 but had six hits in 17 at-bats in the series after beginning the year in a 5-for-40 rut.
West Tenn is hitting .254 as a whole, good for first in the Southern League over Jacksonville's .251 clip.
Class-A Florida State League
Last Result: W, 14-7 (vs. Jupiter)
Next Game: at Palm Beach (Wed. April 26, 6:05 p.m. CDT)
Just as catcher Alan Rick recently predicted, Daytona appears to have broken free of its struggles from earlier this month with wins in six of their last seven games, including a three-game series sweep of Jupiter on Tuesday.
Over their last five games, Daytona is batting .308 as a unit with OF Sam Fuld and catcher Jake Fox leading the charge. Fuld has hit safely in six straight games and finished with a season best four-hit performance on Tuesday to raise his average to .297 for the year.
"When you look back to last year, ‘Sammy' didn't catch fire until the second half," Rick said of Fuld, the team's strong leadoff hitter. "You know you don't have to worry about him because it's just a matter of time."
The team totaled 17 hits in Tuesday's victory, including two by Fox who is 10-for-19 with two homers and eight RBIs in his last five games. The 2003 third-round pick from Michigan is batting a season best .381 thanks to a current 11-game hitting streak that dates back to April 12.
OF Ryan Harvey has two home runs and six driven in over the course of his last four games, but is still slumping with a .219 average overall. For the second straight year, it's shaping up to be a thrilling race to see which the 2003 first-round pick totals more of: home runs, or walks.
Last year, Harvey split it dead even with 24 apiece. This year, after his first 15 games, it's an even five against five.
"‘Harv' started off semi-hot last year, but not smoking. It's the same thing as Fuld, he'll come around," Rick said.
Duly noted is OF/DH Nic Jackson's 13-game hitting streak, which dates back to April 11. A former top five prospect in the organization, the 26-year-old Jackson has eight extra base hits and seven RBIs through 18 games to make up his .275 season average. He also has six stolen bases in eight attempts.
The Cubs are batting .266 as a whole through their first 18 contests, which places them second in the Florida State League behind Brevard County's .306 mark.
"I think we're all still trying to get used to a different league and trying to get into a comfort level here," Rick added. "We all get here early and work on our swings. We'll be OK."
Pitching-wise, Daytona continues to rank at the bottom of the league with a combined 4.72 ERA. All of this is in spite of right-hander Sean Gallagher, who has has been dominant in his first four starts of the year.
The 2005 Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year recently gave up a season-high three runs in five innings against Jupiter on Monday, but still picked up his second win in as many outings. He is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 24 innings this season.
Class-A Midwest League
Last Result: L, 4-1 to Dayton
Next Game: at Dayton (Wed. April 26, 6 p.m. CDT)
Peoria had a four-game winning streak snapped on Tuesday night. INF Kyle Reynolds made his first start at short after working out at third base throughout Extended Spring Training. He was called up to Peoria on Friday and has five hits in 12 at-bats through his first three games with the Chiefs.
First baseman Ryan Norwood has four consecutive two-hit games to raise his season average to .342 in 18 games. He has gotten the bulk of his starts in the cleanup spot with occasional starts in the fifth spot. Second baseman Robinson Chirinos has hit safely in six straight games and has doubled in four consecutive contests to raise his average to .286.
As a whole, the Chiefs are batting .243, which places ninth in the 14-team league.
On the mound, starter Jesus Yepez lost his first game of the year on Tuesday, allowing four runs (three earned) on seven hits in five innings. The left-hander has a 2.86 ERA in four starts. Starter Mitch Atkins has a 1.20 ERA through three starts with an average of five innings per. He has struck out 16 and walked six, and has not lost in seven consecutive starts dating back to August 15 of last year at Low A Boise.
From the bullpen, left-hander Ed Campusano has four saves and a 1.93 ERA in 9 1/3 innings. He has surrendered two runs and four hits for a .125 average against in seven appearances. Right-hander Matt Avery, the Cubs' ninth-round draft pick from Virginia last year, has allowed 10 hits and walked six in seven appearances but has surrendered only two runs for a 1.46 ERA.
The team's 3.99 combined ERA ranks 11th in the league.
Steve Holley is the publisher of Inside The Ivy. In addition to his work for Scout.com, he also covers Nicholls State University athletics for the Tri-Parish Times in southeast Louisiana. E-mail Steve at email@example.com.