Tag Archive | "Changeup"

Wacha, The One Hit Wonder

It’s been quite the year around Michael Wacha thus far. Long before his nearly historic outing last night, the rookie righty has put together an enticing showing in his first rodeo, one that is just getting started. The reward for the pick that Pujols brought to St. Louis, is quickly establishing himself in the fashion that was so eagerly awaited since nearly his first day with the team this spring.

Washington Nationals  vs St. Louis Cardinals

The most impressive things on the surface level for Wacha are the hard fastball, which and the fast rise that it has afforded from college to the Majors in under a year. Yet, as last night’s performance has showcased, it is the poise that is his greatest ally. Balancing upper 90’s fastballs with strategic placement both in the zone and offsetting them with a changeup that he deploys with the knowledge of a hurler 10 years his senior is one thing, but handling the breaks was the most impressive part of his outing last night.

After missing his chance at becoming the third Cardinal rookie to throw a no-hitter in as many of the memorable outings as the franchise has hosted, his demeanor told the story of where he was. Despite missing finishing his fantastic effort by inches, as Ryan Zimmerman’s heart-breaking single bounced through the infield, he did not make a big deal of the situation. He held his head steady as he was removed from the game after that 112th and final pitch, and took a convincing approach to the “failed” outing, which in actually won a crucial series for the club.

While the concern with young hurlers is if they can stand up to pressure of the moment, a closer look at Wacha’s year shows another encouraging factor in his readiness for the postseason. While batters have hit .281 on his pitches 51-75, he does his best work after passing that point, with opposing batters having to .167/.210/.190 split from pitches 76-112. It’s that fortitude that makes him a promising option for the type of arduous games ahead.

The levity of the no-hitter wasn’t his focus, as much was delivering a solid start in a tight game, as well as keeping it in focus. The magic number for clinching the National League Central, and thus avoiding the trap of the Wild Card Game, was in need of yet another strong outing, which he delivered unequivocally. As he relayed to MLB.com’s Jennifer Langosch, he accomplished what he set out for:

That focus is what can make him as much of an asset as the fastball, the eye-popping compliment pitches and the imposing 6’6 frame packaging it all. In a clear cut sense of this, the disappointment from teammates such as David Freese and Pete Kozma, both of celebrated postseason form, was far more evident than his own. And while without a doubt, he will have a time where he runs the scenario back through his mind, his poise in a personal defeat, yet team victory says a lot about what he can bring to the team in the upcoming week when every game hinges on such major moments.

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Triple Play: Matt Garza, Ichiro, Jose Fernandez

In this week’s Triple Play, we look at some brilliant pitching performances, a future Hall of Famer nearing a major milestone, a recently traded pitcher acting like a fool and more (including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch). Off we go:

IchiroSuzuki

Who’s Hot?

Starting pitchers in both leagues

Have you noticed just how many ridiculously brilliant pitching performances there have been since the All-Star break? Jose Fernandez (more on him below). Francisco Liriano. Clayton Kershaw. David Price. Max Scherzer. Justin Masterson. Yu Darvish. I couldn’t narrow it down to a single “hottest” pitcher over the past week or two, so I’ll spotlight a handful of the best games, in no particular order:

  1. Price. In four starts since the All-Star break, Price has spun 32 1/3 innings in which he allowed 19 hits and seven earned runs, with 22 strikeouts and one (!!) walk. Opponents watched Price throw 73% of his pitches for strikes and they hit a measly .167 off him.
  2. Liriano. Has there been a better return-to-dominance story than Liriano this season? Once half of a devastating 1-2 punch (with Johan Santana) in Minnesota, Liriano has finally rediscovered his swagger after several years of injuries and struggles. In his past three starts, he has shut down the Nationals, Cardinals and Rockies while pitching at least seven innings each time (all won by the Pirates), and allowing a total of eight hits. While he needs to cut down on the walks (10 in those three starts), he has shown a knack for getting critical strikeouts and his changeup has been deadly.
  3. Kershaw. The Dodgers’ 25-year-old southpaw has been even better than he was in 2012, when he finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting. Since the break, he has started three times and allowed a total of three runs, while striking out 22 and walking none in 23 innings. Like with Miguel Cabrera’s hitting, I’m running out of superlatives to describe Kershaw’s pitching.
  4. Scherzer. Baseball writers (including me) and analysts who predicted a falloff from Scherzer are still waiting. He has been just as dominant in his three starts since the break as he was before. In those three, he tossed 21 2/3 innings of 0.83 ERA ball, with 18 punchouts and only three walks. Opponents are slugging an absurd .211 off Scherzer in those three games (all Tiger wins). Although Brian Kenny would be aghast Scherzer’s 16-1 record, fantasy owners certainly aren’t.
  5. Darvish. After getting knocked around by the Astros in his final start before the break, it is safe to say Darvish is back on track. To wit, he has allowed just one run in his past three starts versus the Yankees, Indians and Diamondbacks, while fanning almost 40% of the batters he faced in those three games. His seven-inning, 14-strikeout, no-walk steamrolling of Arizona was nothing short of brilliant.
  6. Masterson. Perhaps the most surprising name on this list, Masterson has transformed into the ace of an unexpectedly tough Indians rotation. He leads the AL with three shutouts, the most recent of which, was a 1-0 masterpiece in which he outpitched Darvish at home on July 27. Since the All-Star break, Masterson has limited his walks (four in three starts) while maintaining the strikeouts (23).

If you are a fan of dominant pitching (as I am), these two weeks since the All-Star break have been a joy to watch. It’s no wonder that teams rarely trade pitchers anymore unless they overpay drastically.

Who’s Not?

Matt Garza, Texas Rangers

Normally, this spot is reserved for a player who is struggling or not playing well. Saturday night, though, Garza displayed behavior so boorish, so idiotic, that he merits this spot for the week. Here’s the scenario: 1) Garza is a poor fielder; 2) normal third baseman Adrian Beltre was serving as the DH, and 3) second baseman Eric Sogard is a good bunter. This led to the A’s bunting four times, including Sogard’s perfectly executed suicide squeeze in the 7th inning that plated Oakland’s fourth run of the game. Solid strategy, right? Take advantage of another team’s weakness, especially when that team is a division rival trying to catch you. Garza barked at Sogard while walking off the field after the inning, but played it off after the game, saying he was asking if there were any good places to eat in Oakland. He added,”They showed me how they were going to play and how they were going to attack me, and that’s fine. Next time, I’ll be ready. That’s it.” It seemed to be done and over.

After the game, though, Garza went over the edge and started tweeting at Sogard and his wife, Kaycee:

GarzaRant

Where do you even start with this? Aside from being a sore loser and displaying repeated ignorance of basic grammar, you’re still left with the complete and utter disrespect of a player’s wife and of women in general. Man’s game? Some people can’t shut there [sic] women up? Seriously? I can understand being hyper-competitive and angry about a game, but how taking it to this level is pure misogynistic stupidity. And the half-hearted apology – “sorry I let my competitive edge out” – is laughable at best.

By the way, here’s what Kaycee Sogard tweeted that got the cement-headed Garza so riled up: “Get em on, get em over, get em in!” Some pretty controversial stuff there. To their credit, Sogard and his wife said they consider the whole matter a joke, which is a perfect response. Garza certainly made a laughingstock of himself Saturday night. He did issue a statement of apology yesterday, but it lacked sincerity and sounded like something his agent’s summer intern wrote for him. But, hey, I guess we should give him credit for not going with the “my Twitter was hacked” excuse. In any case, Garza wins the award for Neanderthal of the Week, and I dearly hope the A’s use the exact same tactics on him if they face off again this season.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: .305/.361/.461, 11 HR, 54 RBI, 3 SB, 50 runs, 122 OPS+

Player B: .323/.367/.412, 2 HR, 21 RBI, 3 SB, 28 runs, 112 OPS+

Player A is Jhonny Peralta. Player B is Jose Iglesias, who will likely be replacing Peralta as Detroit’s everyday shortstop this week. If all the Biogenesis reports are true, then Peralta is staring at a 50-game suspension that will take him out of the lineup until late September. Under those circumstances, the Tigers traded outfield prospect Avisail Garcia and others as part of a three-team deal that also saw Jake Peavy go from the White Sox to the Red Sox. Most importantly for Detroit, though, is a quality replacement for Peralta. Iglesias may not have the power Peralta offers, but he is a FAR superior defender and has not been nearly as overmatched at the plate as some feared before the season. With Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez, the Tigers have enough offense to get by without Peralta’s bat. Thanks to the acquisition of Iglesias, their defense should actually improve, which will be to the benefit of their pitchers.

Player A: .440/.452/.700, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 5 runs

Player B: .255/.319/.558, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 4 runs

Player A is the Mariners’ Kendrys Morales since the All-Star break. Player B is Nate Schierholtz of the Cubs during that same time frame. Both players would have been perfect fits for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Morales could have taken over at first base, with Garrett Jones sliding back to right field. Schierholtz would have been a perfect platoon partner in right. Morales’ season totals of 17 homers, 63 RBI and 50 runs scored would rank 2nd for the Pirates, while Schierholtz’s ability to hammer right-handed pitching would have been an ideal fit for a team in need of that particular skill. Instead, though, Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington failed to make any deals by the July 31 deadline. Any chance to acquire either player is likely gone. Although the Pirates took four of five in last week’s huge series against the Cardinals (and seized back first place in the process), fans are right to wonder if Huntington’s failure will come back to haunt the team before the end of the season.

Random Thoughts

  • Wainwright Walk Watch: Once Adam Wainwright started the 2013 season by pitching 37 innings before allowing his first walk of the season, we started a weekly tracker to keep track of how few free passes the Cardinals’ ace hands out this season. He has led the majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio all season, and it hasn’t been close. His most recent start, last Wednesday against the Pirates, saw Wainwright do something he hadn’t done all season: walk the first batter of the game. That would be his only walk allowed, as he went seven innings, surrendering four runs and whiffing six. For the season, Wainwright has walked just 19 hitters, versus 151 strikeouts (still an 8-to-1 K/BB ratio).
  • Oakland’s Bartolo Colon and Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee are the next closest starters in terms of fewest walks allowed, with 19 and 22, respectively.
  • Ichiro Hit Tracker: the former Mariner and current Yankee outfielder is closing in on 4,000 hits in his brilliant career (including the 1,278 he tallied in Japan). Going into Monday’s games, he sits at 3,986. Only Ty Cobb and Pete Rose have reached the 4,000 summit.
  • At age 39, Ichiro doesn’t get on base as often as he once did, nor does he dazzle us with his speed or cannon arm, but at no point should it be lost on us that we have been witness to one of the greatest hitters of this generation. After a slow first two months to the season, he has hit a respectable .296/.333/.403, while ranking second on the team in stolen bases, third in runs scored and fourth in OPS+ and total bases.
  • Every once in a while, Ichiro can still turn back the clock to the pinnacle of his greatness in Seattle. On July 31, in a rare trip Yankees-Dodgers matchup in Los Angeles, he uncorked a laser from right field to nail Hanley Ramirez at home and keep it a one-run game (which New York would go on to lose 3-2). The day before that, he went 4-for-4 with an RBI in a 6-5 win over Tampa Bay.
  • At his current pace, Ichiro should notch hit #4,000 between Aug. 12-18. The Yanks host the Angels between the 12th-15th, then travel to Boston for a three-game set on Aug. 16. With the Yankees’ luck this year, it will happen in their archrival’s home field.
  • Wouldn’t it be nice to see as much coverage devoted to Ichiro reaching this milestone as has been wasted on Alex Rodriguez? I’m sure the Yankees would welcome it.
  • Jose Fernandez is Really Good, Vol. III: the Marlins’ phenom, who just turned 21 last week, became the first 20-year-old to have an ERA+ (which adjusts for park factors) of at least 150 since Dwight Gooden did it in 1985.
  • Incidentally, Gooden’s ERA+ in 1985 was an other-worldly, mind-blowing 229.
  • Jose Fernandez is Really Good, Vol. IV: Last week, Fernandez became the first hurler to fan at least 13 batters in consecutive starts since Randy Johnson in 2004, and the first rookie since Kerry Wood in 1998.
  • Jose Fernandez is Really Good, Vol. V: The last rookie to notch at least 10 strikeouts four times in his freshman season was Cole Hamels in 2006. Since his electric appearance in the All-Star Game, Fernandez has fanned 35 hitters in 23 innings, while allowing just 13 hits and three walks.
  • A few weeks ago, I predicted in this column that the Rookie of the Year Award was Yasiel Puig’s to lose. Fernandez is making me re-think that prediction, even with a possible innings shutdown looming in the next month.
  • The Dodgers have won 14 straight road games, the longest such streak since the 1984 Detroit Tigers. The NL record for consecutive road wins is 17, set by the 1916 New York Giants. Breaking that streak will be tough, though: Los Angeles next takes on the Cardinals in St. Louis.
  • If Hanley Ramirez and Puig are out with injuries, the task becomes even tougher.
  • News: Ron Washington became the all-time winningest manager in Rangers history Sunday. Views: The fact that Washington did that in just his 7th season on the job tells how just how bad the Rangers have been in their history until he took over.
  • All those who thought the Royals would have a better record than the Yankees on August 5, raise your hand.
  • Finally, it was 20 years ago yesterday that Robin Ventura decided to charge Nolan Ryan after taking a heater in the back. The still image of Ventura in a headlock as Ryan prepared to punch him in the face is legendary, but many people forget that Ventura managed to wiggle out of the headlock and appeared to be in the process of tackling Ryan as the swarm of players enveloped them. Still, the overriding lesson, to this day, is that you just don’t mess with Nolan Ryan.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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Changes continue to confound Jaime Garcia

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jaime Garcia is one of the most dominating pitchers on the team when everything around him is satisfactory. When it’s not, a team such as the Philadelphia Phillies can tag him for eight runs in three innings, as they did Friday in Philadelphia.

JaimeGarcia

Garcia has struggled on the road throughout his career. He has a 15-12 record with a 4.40 earned-run average in road games, but he is 20-11 with a 2.45 ERA in his career at Busch Stadium where he is more familiar with the surroundings and can comfortably prepare for a game the same way every time.

But one more change might have factored into Friday’s poor performance. Regular catcher Yadier Molina had a day off for the first time all season. Tony Cruz got the start instead.

So without his regular home routine and normal catcher, Garcia gave up eight runs on nine hits and two walks. Sure, third baseman Ty Wigginton made a throwing error in the first inning to make four of their eight runs unearned, but four of the Phillies hits went for extra bases, so Garcia got hit around regardless.

Unfortunately, Garcia has too many of those nights, and that keeps him from being one of the better pitchers on not only the Cardinals, but in Major League Baseball.

He has the stuff. He throws his fastball in the low 90s with movement, he has a knee-buckling curveball and owns a changeup that is as good as any top-tier left-handed starter in the game. And when he has those pitches working correctly, he has the potential to throw a no-hitter.

But he also has nights when he can’t command those pitches and simply gets crushed.

That has been the main problem Garcia has fought throughout his five-year career. He looks like a pitcher who can dominate, and at times he does, but mind games tend to get in the way of him being a consistent pitcher who can fill a spot near the top of the rotation.

The problem is Garcia now has five years of big-league experience, and he hasn’t been able to get over those issues.

The Cardinals are aware of these issues. They’ve even manipulated the rotation in recent years to try to minimize the times Garcia has to pitch on the road.

And while it’s great his team is trying to help him out, Garcia has to get past those concentration issues at some point or he is going to become the next Oliver Perez, a left-handed starter who came up with the San Diego Padres in 2002.

Perez, who is now a reliever for the Seattle Mariners, had electric stuff when he debuted and even posted a 2.98 ERA with 12 wins for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2004, but his inconsistency kept him from being Johan Santana or any number of other great left-handed starters.

For the most part, Garcia has had a good start to his 2013 season. He pitched well in spring training after recovering from a shoulder injury and started this season well in his first start on the road. He held the Arizona Diamondbacks to one run in 5.2 innings April 2 in Phoenix and then made two solid starts at home before the Phillies shelled him Friday.

Maybe Molina’s absence had more to do with the poor outing than anything, or perhaps he simply had an off night. All pitchers do. But Garcia is going to have to get beyond those relatively minor differences in each start if he is going to not only help the Cardinals in 2013, but also live up to his long-term potential.

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Pitching Showcase

Spring Training 2013 was not supposed to be an exciting one for the St. Louis Cardinals.  A team that had made very few offseason moves was primarily set for the upcoming season.  Then, an injury to a veteran starter opened up a door.

 

Cardinals prospect Michael Wacha

Cardinals prospect Michael Wacha

The injury to Chris Carpenter might have opened up a door but the depth within the organization has kicked it wide open.  The arms in camp are plentiful and it will result in someone finding themselves in Memphis waiting for their time to arrive.

Thursday was the showcase of that talent at a very real level.  The day started with all of the focus on the starting rotation and young hurlers Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller bidding to be the fifth starter for the club.  They both reached their pitch counts and there was more baseball to be played, so manager Mike Matheny opened the doors to the trophy case and gave the world a glimpse of the future in St. Louis.

The first arm behind Kelly and Miller was that of flame thrower Trevor Rosenthal.  Rosenthal recently was removed from the three horse race for the final rotation spot but has found himself strongly entrenched in the major league bullpen.  Matheny has been noted as saying that he can see using Rosenthal to help get closer Jason Motte some down time with full confidence.  The young man has wowed the crowds in Florida this Spring with pitches over 100 miles per hour and great control.  His breaking ball is sharp, his changeup is keeping guys off balance, and the heat is definitely there.

Once Rosenthal was done, however, there were two more innings left to play.  The surprise of the Spring has been the emergence of young Michael Wacha as another power arm that is close to ready for prime time.  Wacha would enter the game to pitch the final two innings and secure the win.  The young man proved his continued worth and helped showcase the future of the Cardinals with two solid innings of relief.

The showcase of talent led to some clarity after the game, however.  The Cardinals continued to trim their roster on Thursday with the official announcement coming Friday morning.  Wacha, as expected, was sent to minor league camp and placed on the Triple-A roster.  Joining him in Memphis will be reliever Eduardo Sanchez.

That adds yet another wrinkle to the competition in camp.

The question has remained the same: what happens to the starter that does not make the rotation?  Generally speaking, my opinion has stood that if Kelly is the starter, Miller will be in Memphis to start the year.  On the opposite side of the coin, if Miller was chosen to start, Kelly would most likely find himself in the St. Louis bullpen.  The challenge to all of this is the emergence of a solid Spring showing for Fernando Salas.  His four appearances this spring, which produced four innings, have been solid and have him laying claim to a bullpen spot this year.

As we enter the last few weeks of Spring Training, there are now three arms – Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, Fernando Salas – for two spots.  One will be the fifth starter.  One will be in the bullpen.  One will be in Memphis.  The 2013 roster is shaping up with some interesting decisions.

The future beyond 2013 looks very, very bright.

 

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Wacha Wacha Wow

The St. Louis Cardinals have shown offensive prowess over the last week, racking up the run support and showing midseason form at the plate.  The offense was impressive, but may have been overshadowed by the presence of pitching prospect Michael Wacha.

MichaelWacha

Wacha took the mound behind starter Lance Lynn on Wednesday against the Mets.  The young prospect was making his second appearance in a Spring Training that has had many Cardinal officials raving about his work.  On the heels of Wednesday’s performance, I doubt the hype will be dying down anytime soon.

Mets announcers seem to be uttering the same phrase repeatedly in that highlight, “Oh Boy” seemed to be the order of the day.

The Cardinal farmhand took over for Lance Lynn to start the third inning and went right to work striking out Mets’ shortstop Ruben Tejada.  Superstar David Wright would follow with a base hit, the only blemish on Wacha’s day, before Ike Davis and Marlon Byrd would send fly balls into left field for an easy inning.

If the third inning was easy, the fourth was borderline dominant.  Lucas Duda and Justin Turner would both strike out, the former looking and the latter swinging, before John Buck would ground out weakly to second baseman Daniel Descalso.

The fifth inning would be more of the same with different names at the plate.   Matthew den Dekker, who’s name is familiar thanks to his home run robbing catch earlier in the week (seen below), would watch strike three while Mike Baxter would take his chances swinging even though he would come up empty.  Ruben Tejada, seeing the Cards right hander for a second time, would also ground out to Descalso, though the Cardinals infielder had moved across the diamond to third base.

Wacha seemed dominant, at least on paper, but watching the young man pitch made it obvious that he was pitching smart.  His fastball was in the lower 90′s, but it was also in the lower part of the strike zone.  His changeup was pinpointed and seemed to keep guys off balance while his “third best pitch” as the Mets’ announcers pointed out, his breaking ball was sharp and kicked up dirt.  He truly stepped on the mound to pitch, not throw, and it was clear by the outcome that he was successful.

Most impressive might have been his efficiency.  Wright’s base hit was the only ball struck hard, and even that one was not crushed.

Fans have been hearing for some time now that this is a great farm system.  Spring training gives them their first chance to see this first hand.

Michael Wacha is the future of the organization.

The future looks really, really good.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball
Follow him on Twitter here.

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April showers bring May disaster

The only good thing about the Cardinals’ 1-4 trip is they returned home still in first place in the National League Central Division, albeit only a half game ahead of Cincinnati.

The 1-4 trip followed a 1-4 homestand, giving the Cardinals eight losses in their last 10 games. In three of their four losses on the trip to San Francisco and Los Angeles, they scored five runs, which would have been enough to win earlier in the season. But the bullpen let them down Sunday in a 6-5 loss at Los Angeles.

Left-hander Marc Rzepczynski struck out the only really dangerous hitter in the injury-riddled Dodgers lineup when he fanned right fielder Andre Ethier with two on in the seventh inning. That was the second out. Rzepczynski had only to get St. Louisan Scott Van Slyke, a minor league call-up who was pinch hitting.

After falling behind 3-0, Rzpczynski laid in a changeup. Van Slyke had the green light from manager Don Mattingly and the son of former star outfielder Andy Van Slyke, popped his first big-league home run, a three-run shot, to left.

“My plan was to go with sinkers away early and see if he could hit a ground ball,” Rzepczynski said. “Then I threw a 3-0 changeup, thinking he’d be a little bit out in front of it, I just left it up a little bit up, and it was right in his wheelhouse.”

The Cardinals ran themselves out of two innings although television replays indicated catcher Yadier Molina was safe in the sixth inning after trying to advance on a bloop hit by first baseman Matt Adams.

Adams’ performance in his first major-league game was notable. He had two singles in four at-bats as he replaced injured first baseman Lance Berkman.

“He’s a pretty mature hitter for his age and experience,” manager Mike Matheny said of the 23-year-old Adams. “He has a short, powerful swing and the ability to stay within himself and not try to do too much. He has the ability to go to both fields. Power is a rare commodity and he’s got some. Defensively, he does a nice job, too.”

 

NOTES
–1B Lance Berkman was placed on the disabled list Sunday. He will find out Monday the severity of his right knee injury suffered Saturday night. “If I’ve re-torn my ACL or something like that, I’d certainly get it fixed but you don’t know how psychologically you’re going to come back from something like that,” Berkman said. “I’m not talking from the standpoint of being scared of hurting it again. I’m talking about doing everything it takes to come back and play again at an elite level. I think that’s a legitimate question I’m going to have to answer if, in fact, it turns out to be something more serious than we hope that it is.”

–Rookie 1B Matt Adams was purchased from Class AAA Memphis to replace 1B Lance Berkman. Adams, a 23rd-round draft pick from Slippery Rock University in 2009, was hitting .340 with nine homers at Memphis and he singled on the first pitch thrown to him in the majors and added a second single on Sunday while playing flawlessly in the field, even starting a double play.

–RHP Kyle Lohse was denied his sixth victory by a bullpen letdown. Lohse, over 5 1/3 innings, pitched around many of the Dodgers’ 11 hits off him.

–3B David Freese, already locked in an awful slump, hit rock bottom on Sunday, fanning four times on four at-bats, mostly on high fastballs. Freese is 3 for his last 34 with all three hits coming in the same game.

–2B Skip Schumaker continued his impressive hitting as a part-time player, suggesting that perhaps he should play more. Schumaker tripled in two runs in the fifth and also drew a walk.

BY THE NUMBERS: 8 — Consecutive losses by the Cardinals to the Los Angeles Dodgers over two seasons.

QUOTE TO NOTE:  From the Chicago Tribune, “If this team has shown anything, it’s that it’s resilient enough to hang in there. We realize no matter who it is, we’re going to be right there. I still feel that way.” — 1B Lance Berkman, after he went down with a right knee injury, further cluttering the Cardinals’ disabled list.

MEDICAL WATCH:

–1B Lance Berkman (right knee injury) was placed on the disabled list May 20. He will find out this week the severity of the injury suffered May 19.

–RHP Kyle McClellan (strained right ulnar collateral ligament) left the May 17 game and returned to St. Louis to be examined by team doctors. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list on May 18 and will be sidelined at least 10 weeks.

–RF Carlos Beltran (sore right knee, plantar fasciitis in right foot) did not start May 14-17, though he pinch-hit three times. He returned to the lineup May 18.

–CF Jon Jay (sprained right shoulder) went on the 15-day disabled list May 15.

–RHP Scott Linebrink (right shoulder capsulitis) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 30. He felt tightness during an April 30 bullpen session, and he didn’t appear close to a return.

–RHP Chris Carpenter (weak right shoulder) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 26. He isn’t likely to begin a real throwing program until sometime in May and probably won’t pitch until at least June.

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Shelby Miller righting the ship

St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Shelby Miller has bounced back from two sub par outings and has now fanned 15 batters in his last 10 innings after tossing five shutout frames Tuesday.

 

Miller did not appear to be a strong consideration to make the Cards’ rotation out of spring training but it wasn’t completely ruled out until he was shipped to minor league camp in March. He’s the No. 2 starting pitching prospect in Keith Law’s Top 100 and the No. 1 arm remaining in the minors (Tampa’s Matt Moore already is in the Rays’ rotation).

Miller’s ETA could depend largely on the club’s workload plan for the right-hander, as he’s not likely to be allowed to approach 200 innings after throwing 139 2/3 last season at age 19.

Here’s what ESPN’s Keith Law had to say about Miller just prior to the start of the season:

“He will sit in the low- to mid-90s and touch 97 mph as a starter with a sharp breaking ball in the upper-70s/low-80s with good depth that misses right-handed hitters’ bats. He continued to make progress this year with his changeup, a pitch he rarely needed or used as an amateur, and the pitch has good tailing action that has helped him gets some swinging strikes against lefties. He is very receptive to coaches’ suggestions and has proved a quick study so far. He often lands on the third-base side of the rubber and comes slightly across his body, creating deception but also potentially putting stress on his shoulder. If the Cardinals can keep him more on line, and he sees more improvement in the changeup and command of the fastball, he’s a potential No. 1 starter for the Cardinals in two or three years.

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Seedlings To The Stars: Montgomery And Cleto

Old friend of I-70, Wally Fish (of Kings Of Kauffman fame), has a site known as Seedlings To The Stars. They are currently in the process of counting down their top 100 prospects and we thought our readers might like to drop by there for some insight. Below are I-70 players that are currently profiled. Drop by the site and read up on the future of your favorite franchise.

Mike Montgomery courtesy of Minda Haas

Top 100 Prospects, #85: Maikel Cleto, Cardinals
Nathan Stoltz of Seedlings To The Stars says:

Of the 662 pitchers who threw a pitch in the major leagues during 2011, none had a higher average fastball velocity than Cleto’s 98.4 mph. He fired 96-101 mph bullets in relief, and the pitch has good run and sink even at its higher velocities. As a starter, Cleto’s more in the 93-99 mph range, but still boasts a very intimidating heater.

He backs the fastball up with a solid hard curveball in the 82-86 mph range, giving him two good pitches. Ordinarily, a starter needs a more well-rounded arsenal than that, but with this sort of heat, Cleto doesn’t need a changeup as much as most guys. That said, he does throw one, which comes in (rather amusingly) in the low-90′s.

As a 22-year-old, the righthander had no trouble pitching in the High-A Florida State League, and he also handled Double-A with aplomb–no small feat considering that his home park there was the most hitter-friendly park in Double-A. He continued to strike batters out at a solid clip in both Triple-A and the majors; were it not for a disastrous first inning of MLB pitching (which can be excused, certainly), his line would indicate that he didn’t have too much trouble even at the highest level.

Holding his own after all the promotions was a great accomplishment, and Cleto’s premium arm strength gives him tons of upside.

Read Cleto’s full profile by clicking here.

Top 100 Prospects, #84: Mike Montgomery, Royals
Nathan Stoltz of Seedlings To The Stars says:

Montgomery boasts plus stuff, with a good low-90′s fastball and a curve and changeup that flash plus at times. At 6’4″ and with a lanky, projectable frame, he could grow into more velocity, and he could end up with three plus offerings–after all, he just turned 22 in July.

Statistically, Montgomery doesn’t have a whole lot left to prove in the minors after being a mid-rotation workhorse for Triple-A Omaha last season. After he missed significant time in 2010, getting through 150+ innings this season was a big step for the lefthander, and better still, he improved as the year went on. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was just 65/46 through the end of June, but was nearly twice as good thereafter, at 64/23.

Montgomery has always put up good groundball numbers and projects to excel in that area at the MLB level as well.

Read Montgomery’s full profile by clicking here.

If prospects are what you are looking for and you want the most in-depth analysis available, all of us here at I-70 would suggest you drop by Seedlings To The Stars often. I know it is sitting at the top of my bookmarks currently.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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An Idea For Kyle Davies

Is it fair to say the Kyle Davies experiment is over?

No, probably not – Davies, who seems to be well liked within the organization, could quite likely stay in the Royals’ rotation all season unless he is injured. This, despite a fascinating story over at Royals Authority which pointed out that Davies has the worst career ERA of any starting pitcher who has thrown over 700 innings since 1901.

The article gives lots of other statistics proving Davies’ badness, all leading up to the money quote: “It is quite possible that every time Kyle Davies takes the mound we are witnessing the worst starting pitcher in the history of the game.”

And yet every five days, Kyle Davies is sent back out there. The reason is because Davies occasionally shows flashes of brilliance (one could say the sun even shines on a dog’s rump once in a while, or a broken watch is right twice a day, etc.) and the organization hopes one day it will all click and the flashes of brilliance will become the rule instead of the exception.

But by now, Davies has proved this is not going to happen.

At least, not as a starter.

Here’s a wacky idea: the Kansas City Royals should send Davies down to Omaha and convert him to closer.

To do so, Davies would need to clear waivers, and it’s likely he would (and even if a team claims him, are the Royals really losing much?) Then, as a Storm Chaser, Davies could focus on a new role and put his best pitching talents to use.

Davies has a fastball in the 93-95 mile per hour range, which isn’t bad for a starter or a closer. But the fastball works most effectively when his changeup is working. Davies also throws a curveball and a slider, but he should forget about these pitches and focus on the fastball and the changeup.

Davies did not miss a start last season, which proves the 27-year-old can hold up to the demands of being a starter. Pitching as a closer should not be a challenge stamina-wise. And it seems Davies has the grit to be a closer, too.

The biggest roadblock for Davies is that the Royals have one of the best young closers in the game at the big-league level. The move from starter to closer for Davies would mean the only chance he has to make it back to the major-league roster is as a setup man to Joakim Soria or if Joakim Soria is injured, traded or converted to a starter (which seems less and less likely as his career progresses).

But Davies is likely going to be out of baseball completely in a few years. Being the backup to Joakim Soria wouldn’t be a bad gig.

On the major league level, moving Davies to Omaha would mean an opening in the rotation. The obvious choice would be Aaron Crow, the rookie who has dominated out of the bullpen in 2011. The Royals could dedicate that spot in the rotation to Crow and other prospect-level pitchers, including Everett Teaford, Mike Montgomery and Danny Duffy.

Wouldn’t it be exciting to go to Kauffman Stadium every fifth day and watch the future of the organization take the mound in the first inning?

Matt Kelsey is a Royals writer and associate editor for I-70 Baseball. He can be reached at mattkelsey14@yahoo.com.

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Cardinals Farm Report

Matt Carpenter
Third Baseman
Springfield Cardinals
24-years-old
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
Height: 6’3″
Weight: 200 lbs
Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 13th round of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft.
Just like every Saturday here on i70baseball, the Cardinals Farm Report spotlights one of the prized Cardinal minor leaguers. This week, it is Matt Carpenter, who very well could be the best Cardinal hitter in the Minors.Just a year and a couple months ago, Matt Carpenter was drafted in the 13th round by the St. Louis Cardinals. Now he’s making everybody do a double-take. In his first professional season, the other “Carp” hit .309/.418/.471 with 93 runs, 31 doubles, 13 home runs, 69 RBI, 11 stolen bases, and 90 walks. He started the year in Palm Beach but quickly go the call-up to Springfield. Again, this is his first year in the Minors.

The interesting thing about this kid is that, even with so little Minor league experience, he seems ready. In fact, I believe he’s by far the most MLB-ready prospect lower than AAA in the Cardinals organization. His defense has room to improve, but when you’re talking about his bat, there isn’t much you can say other than “wow”.

The big knock on him heading into the season was his power, but that has obviously improved as well. His 13 home runs and .471 SLG indicated there is some pop in that bat. He won’t be a 25 home run guy in the Majors, but I think 10-15 is reasonable. He’ll be a top of the order player that should always have a high OBP due to his great plate discipline and judgement.

The think that intrigues me the most about Carpenter, is what happens next year. First of all, will he be ready for his Major League debut in 2011? Freese is an injury waiting to happen and we are not very deep at third base in St. Louis. Freese is the only true third baseman of the bunch, and if he hits the disabled list yet again, does Matt get the call up?

I say give it a shot. I have never been a fan of rushing players to the big leagues, and I understand that this would be rushing him to the big leagues. However, he shows incredible polish. Especially at the plate. He’s an extremely mature player who very well could end up being a .300 hitter for STL in the future.

The other big thing that I wonder about is what happens when Zack Cox makes his way to AAA and eventually the Majors? I would hate to see either one of them traded, so I do not condone that whatsoever. The move that should be made is Zack Cox to second base. The Cardinals are obviously struggling in the middle infield department and Cox could be the savior. He has second base experience, so don’t think I’m just pulling this out of thin air. And if that is what the organization is planning on doing, he needs to start next season at second base. Not third. He needs to play one position and stick with it. He’s one of our top prospects and we cannot afford to mess around with him defensively.

In the long run, I honestly think we’re looking at a future Major League third baseman. A successful one. Mainly because his approach at the plate. It’s so refined, so impressive. By far the best in the organization, and one of the best I’ve ever studied. His approach reminds me so much of Scott Hatteburg’s, and that is saying an awful lot.

Keep an eye on this one, people. He’s flying under the radar as a prospect, but I can assure you that will not last long.

MiLB WEEKLY ROUNDUP
AAA-Memphis Redbirds
PLAYOFF record to date: 3-2 — This past week: 0-2, PCL Championship didn’t get off to a great start for the ‘Birds — Coming up: Memphis will continue the PCL Championship series with Tacoma.
AA-Springfield Cardinals
PLAYOFF record: 2-3 — This past week: 1-2, the Cardinals’ season came to an end with a loss to NW Arkansas
POSITION PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Matt Carpenter, 3B, Springfield
.500 AVG (6-for-12), .583 OBP, .932 SLG, 5 runs, 1 double, 1 home run, 4 RBI
Wasn’t I just talking about this guy? Seriously, he’s unbelievable at the dish. Very, very impressive. In the regular season, Carp hit .308/.418/.471 with 93 runs, 31 doubles, 13 home runs, and 69 RBI in 495 at bats.
PITCHER OF THE WEEK
Brian Broderick, SP, Springfield
W, 6 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs, 5 strikeouts
Is it just me, or does it seem like Broderick receives this award two or three times a month? In 26 appearances in the 2010 regular season, Broderick was 14-7 with a 3.66 ERA and 92 SO in 150 innings.

Justin Hulsey covers the Cardinals for i70baseball and his blogs, Cardinals Front Office and Rising Redbirds, that are also dedicated to Cardinals baseball and their minor league system.You may follow him on Twitter @JayHulsey by clicking here.

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