Memphis Redbirds (4-2 this week, 11-7 Overall)
The Memphis Redbirds went 4-2 this week, a ½ game back of the Omaha Storm Chasers for the American Northern Division lead. Excellent pitching dominated the week as the opponents never scored more than five in a game; lefty John Gast broke a Redbirds record by pitching 24 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. Texas A&M product Michael Wacha allowed one run in his two seven-inning starts and moved to 3-0 for the year. Third baseman Jermaine Curtis leads Memphis with 16 RBI, including a walk-off single to win the game on Sunday afternoon. His production and the contributions of first year Redbirds Oscar Taveras and Kolten Wong have been a major support for the high-powered offense.
April 18 at New Orleans, 1-0 Win
The Cardinal Nation number four prospect Michael Wacha made his third start on Thursday, and it was his best to date this season. Baseball America wrote that the right hander has the Cardinal organizations' "best changeup." Wacha lived up to the hype during the Thursday night game, forcing batters into a lot of fly balls. Fortunately, the humid air in New Orleans didn't allow a lot of deep balls, except for two doubles.
After a good first frame, the first hit against the Cardinals' first pick of the 2012 draft was a double to start the second. The runner advanced to third on a fly ball, but was thrown out at the plate on a fielders' choice by the sure-handed third baseman Curtis. In the bottom of the third, a single and a walk put a runner in scoring position with one out. Wacha maintained composure and the batter lined the fifth pitch right at Wong, who stepped on the bag to double up the runner at second. 12 of the next 14 batters would be retired, and the Zephyrs only reached base with a two-double in the fourth and a walk in the sixth.
Luckily Wacha had a stellar outing, because on this particular night the run support was lacking. The Redbirds had only five hits, with the only scoring play a two-out home run by catcher Rob Johnson. All of the Redbirds' hits came in separate innings by different players.
April 19 at New Orleans, 0-4 Loss
The stagnant offense continued in New Orleans. After starting the series with three wins, the Redbirds were shut out in the final game of the series. Taveras did not play as the outfield featured eight-year veteran Chad Huffman in left, the speedy Adron Chambers in center, and utility man Jamie Romak in right. The starting infield included Greg Garcia at short and Ryan Jackson at third (Curtis came on in the seventh as part of a double switch).
Aside from the second and sixth innings, the Redbirds never reached second base. In the second, Romak hit his seventh double on a low line drive to left field. Jackson walked next to put two runners on with one out. Garcia worked the next at-bat for nine pitches, and fouled away five until he put a ball into play. The result was a line drive to the left fielder, who doubled Romak up at second. In the sixth, Wong bunted for an infield single, and then stole second with two outs. That was the closest the Redbirds would come to scoring as the next batter, J.R. Towles, flew out.
Starter Tyler Lyons struggled at Zephyrs Field, and was caught with the bases loaded in the second inning. After a single and a double, Lyons hit the fourth batter of the inning to load the bases with one out. The next batter jumped on Lyons early, swinging at the first pitch and grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to prevent a run from scoring. Lyons struck out the side in the third and got the Zephyrs to ground into a double play again in the fourth after allowing a single.
After getting out of the jam, Lyons retired 9 of 10, but broke down in the last third of the sixth inning. A lead-off single was followed by two outs. The next batter drew a walk in five pitches and put the runner in scoring position. A gap ground ball made it through the left half into the outfield to score the lead-off man and keep two runners on. The next batter hammered the first pitch he saw over the left field wall. That drove in three runs and put the Zephyrs ahead 4-0. Maikel Cleto came in relief the next inning and didn't allow a hit in two innings to keep the lead at four.
April 20 vs. Iowa, 8-5 Win
Left hander Nick Additon has struggled early in starts this season, yielding three earned runs in the first inning of his April 15th start, and he got in trouble early this game. The lead-off batter struck a ground-rule double over Romak's head in right field. Two batters and two outs later, Additon caught a break as the aggressive runner on second tried to steal third, but was thrown out by the experienced catcher Johnson. After settling down and retiring nine straight batters, Additon faced trouble in the fifth despite a 4-0 lead.
Speedy Cubs outfielder Brian Bogusevic led off the inning with a hard-struck single that made it through Peterson's glove to Romak in right field. Another single to right field moved Bogusevic to second, and a single to left scored the 29-year-old and put the other runner on third. A wild pitch from Additon got past Johnson and scored one runner and advanced the other runner, but the damage was done after two of the next three flied out.
Greg Garcia replaced Curtis at third in the sixth with Barret Browning coming in to pitch. The southpaw reliever, who spent a month in St. Louis last year, came on and struck out three in two innings and had a solid outing. In the eighth with an 8-2 advantage, manager Pop Warner brought out lefthander Sam Freeman. The member of the 40-man St. Louis roster got shelled in this appearance, allowing three earned runs on four straight hits. Two singles and a double put the score at 8-4 with a runner on second and nobody out. Bogusevic singled to left. With runners at the corners, Warner had a conference at the mound, but elected to keep Freeman in. The move would pay off with a double play, then a fly out to limit the score to 8-5. Victor Marte came on in the ninth to close, and earned the save after allowing two singles, but getting the next three out on fly-balls.
Memphis scored seven of its eight runs in the fourth and fifth frames. In the fourth with two on and nobody out, Romak tripled to bring Taveras and Peterson home. Jackson singled and scored Romak. In the fifth, Wong stretched his hit into a triple, and Taveras scored him with a single. Peterson flew out and Romak walked to put a runner in scoring position with one out. Curtis then struck a home run to the bluff, bringing home Taveras and Romak, putting the Redbirds ahead for good.
April 21 vs. Iowa 1-0 Win
Before this game, Gast had not allowed a run since a solo home run on September 3, 2012. He did not allow a run on Sunday either and broke the Redbirds' record for most consecutive frames by a starting pitcher without a run scored (20 2/3 innings by Britt Reames in 2000). The left-hander struck out six of the first nine he faced, and only allowed runners to reach second twice, in the second and sixth, but no farther. Unfortunately for Gast, no Redbird got to third before the ninth inning.
It took late inning drama for the Redbirds to win this game. In the bottom of the ninth, Romak singled to lead off and advanced to second on Jackson's bunt. Justin Christian was intentionally walked, but Johnson struck out. Johnson had replaced J.R. Towles after the latter was injured in the bottom of the third. With two outs and a runner on second, the Redbirds needed a game winning RBI. It was Jermaine Curtis who stepped up. His walk-off single up the middle broke the tie and gave Memphis the win.
April 22 vs. Iowa, 2-5 Loss
PCL newcomer Seth Maness made the start in the Monday night game and has allowed a .333 batting average to opponents this year. Maness was rattled early, as his opening pitch was doubled to left field. A characteristic of Maness is that he is quick to deliver, stepping up to the mound with little break between pitches. With one out and a runner on second, Ian Stewart (batting .083 for the Cubs) drove the ball to the opposite field that hit against the bullpen on one hop for an RBI double. The next batter grounded out to move Stewart to third. With two outs, the speedy Bogusevic hit the ball hard to Jackson at shortstop, ran fast enough to just beat the throw, and was called safe because Peterson didn't have his foot down. Stewart scored, but that was all the damage, as the Cubs went up 2-0 in the first.
In the fifth, the lead batter singled up the middle, advanced to second on a walk, and then moved to third after a fly ball. Stewart would loft a fly ball deep to left to sacrifice the runner home to put the Cubs up 3-0. Warner stuck with Maness through the sixth. Bogusevic doubled to start the inning, and the next batter drove a home run to the deepest part of the park in cente,r putting the Cubs ahead by five.
Following two Cubs runs in the sixth, Memphis scored two runs in the frame by a bases loaded walk and an RBI single, but that was all the offense the club could generate, losing 5-2.
April 23 vs. Iowa, 4-1 Win
Wacha started the Tuesday afternoon game with called-up catcher Travis Tartamella and an announced crowd of 7,418 to support the newcomers. In Wacha's first three starts, opponents had a batting average of .193, and that continued through Tuesday. Through the first six frames, he retired 18 of 20, struck out five, walked two (Tartamella picked off one) and yielded a single. The 6-foot-6 right hander faced some trouble in the seventh with two outs. Bogusevic doubled and Warner came to the mound. A single by the next batter scored him from second with the only run Wacha allowed.
Eric Fornataro relieved in the eighth, striking out one and turning a single into a force out. Marte closed the game effectively on three groundouts for his fourth save of the year.
Memphis scored two in the second and two more in the eighth for insurance. In the second, Curtis doubled Garcia home with one out. In Tartamella's first Redbirds at-bat, he singled to right field to score Curtis with two outs. Wacha tried to help himself from the plate and got a single, but Chambers popped up to end the inning. In the eighth, Jackson doubled to right with nobody out. Two batters later and two outs later, Jackson scored on Garcia's double to right. Still with two outs, Curtis singled to right to bring Garcia home and had two RBI on the day.
Jermaine Curtis – Last year's Texas League Mid-Season All Star struck a clutch two-out single to center field in the bottom of the ninth to bring home the winning run on Sunday afternoon. He is 8-for-15 with runners in scoring position, and had a three RBI home run the night before his walk-off single. The right hander from UCLA has a team-leading 16 RBI, including six this week.
Kolten Wong - In his first season in the PCL, Wong has 23 hits in 17 games for a .315 batting average and has excelled against left handed pitchers, going 11-for-24. The 23-year-old second baseman has been solid on defense and does not have an error in 80 chances this year.
Jamie Romak – 11-year minor league veteran Romak is third in the PCL in on-base percentage with a .485. Out of his 19 hits this year, 12 have been extra-base hits (four HR, triple, seveb doubles). The utility player has done time at right field and first base primarily, but has played a game apiece at left field and designated hitter.
As Brian Walton wrote in his article Sunday, Romak, Peterson and Huffman are some of the veterans helping drive the offense this year. Among the three, they have 35 of Memphis' 104 RBI this year, and nine of the club's 16 home runs.
John Gast – The 24-year-old left hander has pitched 24 2/3 scoreless innings this season, setting a Redbirds franchise record. His reluctance to let runners on base is indicated by a low .220 average for hitters and only six walks this year. Gast earned PCL Pitcher of the Week honors on April 22.
Bullpen – Memphis has a team ERA of 3.99 (fifth in the PCL) and yielded the fewest home runs thus far (10). Relievers have a 1.47 ERA over the last seven games, lowering the ERA from 6.80 overall a week ago down to 5.57. As a group, the bullpen pitched 15 1/3 innings this week and only yielded three runs (all from one inning in Saturday's win against Iowa).
Victor Marte – The closer has been consistent after a rocky start and recorded three of his four saves and only allowed two hits in three appearances this week.
Adron Chambers- The seventh year player out of Pensacola, Florida, is currently batting .105 and has not rediscovered the reliable bat at the plate he had last year. He hit .319 in 96 games in Memphis in 2012, third-best batting average for a Redbird. The center fielder hasn't notched a hit since April 14, and has gone 0 for last 19.
Position Shuffling Update
The defense has been another bright spot for the Redbirds, as they have the fewest errors in the PCL (nine in 19 games). No matter the lineup, only two players (Garcia and Jackson) have committed at least two errors, both at shortstop.
Lead-off hitter Chambers played two of four games in right field this week, allowing more time for Taveras in center and for Christian to play in the outfield. Curtis played some of every game this week at third base, while Garcia and Jackson rotate as starting shortstop.
Catcher Travis Tartamella was moved up to the Redbirds from Springfield 4/22
Catcher J.R. Towles was placed on the disabled list 4/22
The Redbirds leave AutoZone Park for 12 games, playing at Nashville, then Albuquerque, then Omaha. In road games this year, Memphis is 6-2, having won three of four games in New Orleans and Oklahoma City.
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