Memphis Redbirds Notebook: 2013 Week 1

Lefty John Gast has thrown 12 scoreless innings

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This week in Memphis (2-4, 1 GB Nashville)

To begin the Memphis Redbirds' 16th season, the schedule called for eight games at home from Friday to Thursday, split between separate four-game series against the Oklahoma City Redhawks (HOU) and the New Orleans Zephyrs (MIA).

Oklahoma City Series (1-3)

The scheduled opening night on Thursday, April 4 was postponed due to rain. The teams made up the game with a double-header Friday night. In those two seven-inning contests, the Redbirds outscored Oklahoma City 16-8, but lost one game and won the other. After the opening game loss, the Astros' Triple-A affiliate won the next three.

Game 1: OKC v MEM, MEM wins 9-0

Game one of the doubleheader was a great start to the season for Memphis both from the mound and from the plate. Starting pitcher John Gast struck out seven in five innings without allowing a run to score, and he always seemed to cover his own mistakes. Gast picked two runners off, continuing his base-runner awareness, after he picked off 12 runners between Memphis and Springfield last year.

To give Gast some breathing room, Memphis posted up eight runs in the fifth inning. That outburst was highlighted by two doubles, one from Cardinals third baseman David Freese and the other from Chad Huffman, who split time between designated hitter and outfield. Freese's ground-rule double drove in two runs, and he eventually scored from third on a bases-loaded walk. With the bases loaded and two outs, Huffman cleared the bases with his double, extending the score to 9-0 Redbirds. An unusual statistic from the first game is that every Redbird scored once in a balanced team effort.

Note: For a look at all 16 opening day starters in Memphis team history, check out The Cardinal Nation blog.

Game 2: OKC v MEM, OKC wins 8-7

During the second game of the doubleheader, a late four runs for the Redbirds in the seventh inning did not prove to be enough to overcome the deficit. Oklahoma City had piled on their eight runs by the fourth inning.

Fill-in starting pitcher Nick Greenwood was attributed with the loss after allowing five runs, two earned, in 2 2/3 innings. In the third, Greenwood allowed four tallies. The inning started with a single and double with no outs, getting the left hander in trouble early. After a groundball scored a runner, a throwing error by shortstop Vance Albitz let another runner score. With two outs and one runner on, Brandon Laird stroked a home run deep over the center field wall. After OKC scored three more runs in the fourth, the score was 8-2 RedHawks.

Memphis plated one in the bottom of the fourth before an impressive final-inning rally in the seventh. After a quick out, two doubles in a row (Adron Chambers and Kolten Wong) closed the gap to 8-4 with a runner in scoring position. Wong scored from second on a single, then catcher J.R. Towles singled and brought home the two left on base, but a fly ball ended the game. The two-out rally resulted in three runs, but the Redbirds fell one short.

Game 3: OKC v MEM, OKC wins 3-1

Saturday night's game was Stan the Man Night, honoring the late Stan Musial. After the game, there was a presentation including video of President Barack Obama's 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom speech about Musial.

Every Saturday home date this year will feature a fireworks show afterwards, but Memphis' offense was not as explosive during this game.

Oklahoma City started off quickly, scoring two runs in the first off starting pitcher Seth Maness. The RedHawks brought home two runners with two outs, registering four singles to score their two runs. Even though he let in three runs total, Maness had a solid outing. Settling down after the first inning, the right-hander retired 12 of the next 14 batters, striking out three in that stretch and six on the day.

Eric Fornataro came in for the eighth and ninth innings and did not allow a baserunner, striking out two.

The lack of offensive spark was surprising, considering the teams had scored 24 runs total in the doubleheader the night before. The Redbirds scattered just five hits, including two from Greg Garcia.

Game 4: OKC v MEM, OKC wins 14-10 (11 innings)

The matinee game on Sunday was an 11-inning shootout. A lot of hype was generated for starter Michael Wacha, the Cardinals' first round pick in last year's draft. The tall right-hander allowed two earned runs in four innings, giving up a solo home run in the fourth. Three separate times the RedHawks went yard, including a three-run shot in the 11th that was the nail in Redbirds' coffin.

Memphis was able to stay with the RedHawks, in large part because of the contributions by Freese and Wong. In the bottom of the third, Brock Peterson doubled with one out to drive in Wong and put Freese on third. In the fifth, Freese plated Wong with a single, and eventually scored via a single. To take a one-run lead in the eighth, Wong drove in two on a single.

Memphis had the lead at 9-8 going into the ninth, but Victor Marte couldn't close out the game. The right-hander allowed a run to score on a fielder's choice to blow his first save of the year. In the 11th, the RedHawks scored five against lefty Barret Browning, including a three-run home run and two RBI singles.

New Orleans Series (1-1 plus a suspended game)

New Orleans came into Memphis at 2-2, coming off a shut-out loss to Nashville. Before Wednesday night's suspended game, the series was tied at 1-1. The Marlins Triple-A affiliate has been unsteady in the field, leading the Pacific Coast League in errors.

Game 5: NEW v MEM, MEM wins 18-2

Monday night brought a great effort by the Redbirds to close out the game, as they scored ten runs in the final two innings. Scout.com's number 3 overall prospect Oscar Taveras made his Memphis debut as a pinch-hitter, but was overshadowed by Jamie Romak's three home run night. Romak hit home runs in the second, fifth, and seventh innings, becoming the fifth Redbird to accomplish that feat. Rob Johnson and Chad Huffman also homered for a team total of five on the evening, which has not happened for Memphis since 2010.

Game 6: NEW v MEM, NEW wins 5-3

Another extra-inning thriller for the Redbirds resulted in another extra-inning loss. Memphis scored three in the eighth inning to briefly hold a 3-2 lead. Peterson struck a double to centerfield to score Huffman. After a walk and a single by Rob Johnson, the bases were loaded with one out. Freese's replacement Jermaine Curtis drove in two with a single, but Johnson was thrown out at home.

Going into the ninth with a 3-2 lead, Victor Marte blew another save opportunity. A lead-off double ultimately scored on a sacrifice fly to send the game into extra innings. In the 11th inning, Fornataro replaced Marte and got two outs, but the Zephyrs rallied with a single, help from a wild pitch, and a two-RBI single to win 5-3. Ryan Jackson made his 2013 Memphis debut, playing at shortstop.

Game 7: NEW v MEM, NEW ahead 6-2 (12 innings)

The third extra-inning contest of the year resulted in a suspended game. The windy conditions affected the flight of the ball, making some long fly balls even longer. The forecasted rain picked up and was coming down hard by the eighth. Players had to adjust to a soaked, slower infield and outfield grass. After the Zephrys scored four in the top of the 12th, the game was stopped due to the rain.

The Redbirds held a 2-0 lead going into the ninth, but Marte blew his third save of the year. Earlier, John Gast turned in another solid scoreless effort, going six innings and striking out five. Gast's off-speed pitches kept hitters off balance and resulted in a lot of groundballs.

Eduardo Sanchez relieved Marte and pitched two hitless extra innings, registering as fast as 94 mph on the radar gun. Greenwood had another rough outing, allowing three hits and four earned runs and only getting one batter out. After Greenwood walked a player intentionally to load the bases, Nick Green struck a triple to center field to score all three.

Memphis scored two runs in regulation, in the third and seventh innings. Taveras drove in the first runner on an RBI single, then catcher J.R. Towles stroked a solo shot that carried over the bluff in left field.

It was all New Orleans in extra innings, and the game was suspended after the Marlins affiliate scored four in the 12th and the rain became too much. The game will be resumed at 11:05 A.M. Thursday morning, prior to the regularly-scheduled contest between the Redbirds and Zephyrs.

Heating Up

Jamie Romak – Prior to his three home run burst in Monday's game, Romak had four hits in his 13 at-bats. On Tuesday, he doubled and scored. For the year, Romak has eight hits and seven runs scored, three homers and three doubles.

Kolten Wong – Has registered a hit in all seven games this year, including three hits on both Monday and Tuesday. The second-year minor leaguer leads the team with eleven hits. The second baseman did not start April 10, but was put in on a double switch at second.

John Gast – Performed the best of starters in first two starts, striking out 12 batters in 11 innings of work without allowing a run. His pick-off move has been great, erasing four baserunners already this year.

Getting Cold

Victor Marte – Has blown three save opportunities in three appearances. The 32-year-old right-hander has been consistent in the past, as he led the minors in 2011 with 31 saves. This season, Marte has allowed nine hits and five earned runs in his 4 1/3 innings pitched.

Maikel Cleto – In three appearances, Cleto has registered a 12.27 ERA, allowing five earned runs in 3 2/3 innings.

Position Shuffling

This week has been busy for Redbirds manager Pop Warner. Injuries, the rehab assignment of David Freese and the integration of Jackson and Taveras have made the lineups difficult to write out this week.

The outfield situation has worked nicely as Chambers moved from centerfield to right field when Tavares made his first start April 10. Romak vacated right field, and has played at first and at third (was pulled from third for Peterson on a double switch on April 10 in the sixth to allow Wong to enter).

The infield has been much murkier. Peterson has been a constant at first after Freese's departure April 8. Wong has only played second base and is hitting well, registering a hit in every game this year. Peterson started at second on April 10, but replaced Romak at third for Wong to play second in the sixth. Curtis played second base in college at UCLA, so he is another moveable piece.

Garcia was starting at shortstop until he injured his hand going for a foul ball on April 7, but will be available to start on April 11 against New Orleans. Jackson's return from St. Louis allowed him to fill the void at short, but he may be moved to a utility role upon Garcia's return.

Romak is the odd man out, and has played first, third and right field. His hot streak this week in the batter's box has made it a difficult decision to sit him. Either Huffman or Romak will be likely assigned designated hitter duties as the Redbirds play in Oklahoma City from April 12-15.

Trending Statistics

Memphis' offense is looking like a well-oiled machine. The Redbirds have scored a Pacific Coast League-leading 50 runs. Twice already the club has scored in double digits.

For the pitching staff, the numbers are not as good. Memphis is in the bottom five of the PCL in team ERA, with bullpen ERA the worse of the two.

Injuries

4/04 - Pitcher - Jay Voss – 7-Day Disabled List
4/07 - Greg Garcia was held out of line-up due to an injured hand. He could have returned 4/10, but will more than likely will play on 4/11.

Transactions

4/09 – Shortstop Vance Albitz moved to Springfield
4/08 – Infielder Ryan Jackson from St. Louis to Memphis
4/03 – Third baseman David Freese to Memphis for rehab assignment (left 04/08)

What to watch for next week

After finishing the New Orleans series Thursday, Memphis travels to Oklahoma City for four games and New Orleans for four games. The back-to-back road rematches should be interesting. Considered one of the best young hitters in the minor leagues, Oscar Taveras received his first start on Wednesday against New Orleans and should be ready to play every day.



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