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Nashville Sounds Notebook: A much-needed break

The Nashville Sounds have struggled over the past six weeks, as changes to their roster have hurt the team’s overall production. With the All-Star break arriving in the Pacific Coast League, we check-in with the Oakland Athletics Triple-A affiliate.

Renato Nunez / Photo by Chris Lockard
Renato Nunez has been hot the past six weeks. / Photo by Chris Lockard

Overview

The rebuilding process in Oakland has taken its toll on the roster of the Triple-A Nashville Sounds, and the Sounds’ overall record has suffered because of it. Down many of its top position players and much of its rotation over the past month, the Sounds have slipped from three over .500 on June 1 to 42-48, a distant 14.5 games behind first-place Memphis. The Redbirds have the largest lead of any first-place team in the Pacific Coast League at the PCL All-Star break.

With the playoffs perhaps out of reach, the Sounds’ immediate goal is getting back to .500. They will need to find a way to score runs, as the team has dropped from near the top of the PCL in team OPS to the lower third over the past six weeks. The Sounds have a 753 OPS and have scored the fourth-fewest runs (407 or 4.5 per game). The Sounds are fourth in homeruns (105), but have the fourth-lowest OBP (.331), mirroring the offensive troubles of the big league club. The loss of Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Jaycob Brugman and Bruce Maxwell over much of the past month has dragged down the Sounds’ overall plate production.

On the mound, Nashville has struggled to piece together a consistent starting rotation with the A’s calling on Sounds’ starters to fill-in at the big league level with regularity. Nashville is currently missing Daniel Gossett, Paul Blackburn and Chris Smith from the regular rotation. The Sounds have still pitched well, for the most part. The team’s 4.02 ERA is second-lowest in the league. Nashville pitchers have allowed the fewest homeruns in the league (63) and they have walked the fourth-fewest number of batters (273 in 785 innings). The Sounds are fifth in the league in strike-outs (689) and fourth in WHIP (1.32).

The Sounds begin a much-needed All-Star break on Monday and return to action on Thursday in Omaha, where they play a four-game set.

Comings and Goings

There could be an entire article devoted to the comings and goings of Matt Olson, who joined the A’s on June 4, returned to Nashville on June 6, came back to Oakland on June 10, returned to Nashville on June 14, arrived in Oakland again on June 22 and returned to the Sounds once again on July 3rd.

Olson wasn’t the only Sounds player to shuttle between Triple-A and the big leagues over the past month. Franklin Barreto joined the A’s for his major-league debut on June 24 and returned to Nashville on July 8. On June 9, Mark Canha was optioned back to Nashville from Oakland for the second time this season. Jaycob Brugman took Canha’s place on the A’s roster and has remained in Oakland since then.

On June 11, the A’s optioned RHP Frankie Montas from their big league roster. Montas was a reliever with the A’s, but he has moved into a starter’s role since joining Nashville. On June 14, Bruce Maxwell was activated off of the DL from a strained oblique. He would spend just eight days on the Sounds’ roster before earning a promotion back to the big leagues. Beau Taylor took Maxwell’s spot in the Nashville catching rotation. Also on June 14, the A’s called up starter Daniel Gossett to make his major-league debut. The next day, the A’s called up third baseman Matt Chapman for his big league debut. Jermaine Curtis joined the Nashville roster from Midland to take Chapman’s place.

On June 17, the A’s promoted longtime minor league veteran Michael Brady for his big league debut. He has been in the A’s bullpen ever since. Brady took Zach Neal’s spot in the A’s bullpen. Neal returned to Nashville and re-joined the Sounds’ starting rotation, but was recently re-added to the A’s bullpen (more on that later). To help the depleted Nashville bullpen, the A’s signed minor league free agent Patrick Schuster, who had pitched for the organization last season. The A’s sent reliever Tyler Sturdevant to Double-A on June 18 and released outfielder Ryan LaMarre on June 21.

On June 19, right-hander Lou Trivino joined the Nashville bullpen from Midland. He would be joined by Midland teammate Yairo Munoz on June 24. Munoz was promoted to Nashville after Barreto joined the A’s roster. On June 26, right-hander Kyle Finnegan joined the Nashville bullpen from Midland. Finnegan took the spot in the Nashville bullpen vacated by Aaron Kurcz, who was sent to Midland on June 27.

On July 1, the A’s sent RHP Josh Smith to Nashville and recalled starter Paul Blackburn to make his major league debut. The next day, the A’s sent Jesse Hahn back to Nashville to take Blackburn’s spot in the rotation and called up Neal to fill Smith’s spot in the bullpen. On July 5, the A’s added Nashville catcher Ryan Lavarnway to the roster while Josh Phegley was on the paternity leave list. Then on July 8th, the A’s designated Lavarnway for assignment and promoted Smith to make a spot start.

With so many pitchers coming and going, the Sounds received reinforcements in the form of spot starters and long relievers from several other levels in the A’s system. Joel Seddon joined the team for a spot start on May 30 and returned to Midland on June 3. Dalton Sawyer joined the Sounds for two spots starts, the first coming June 10 and the second coming on July 5. Sawyer joined Nashville from Beloit the first time through and from Stockton the second time. He has now returned to the Ports’ rotation. Ben Bracewell bounced between Midland and Nashville in late June/early July, going from the RockHounds to the Sounds on June 23, returning to Midland on June 26 and then going back to Nashville on June 30. Reliever Joseph Camacho spent a day on Nashville’s roster (June 11) and returned to Low-A Beloit without appearing in a Triple-A game. Right-hander Dustin Hurlbutt joined the Nashville rotation for a spot start on June 18 before returning to High-A Stockton.

The Sounds also dealt with a few injuries. Daniel Mengden was optioned to Nashville on June 4 but never pitched for the Sounds after the option, instead landing on the DL with a strained rib. On June 6, Chris Parmelee landed on the DL and was released on June 13.

The Sounds also had a couple of rehab assignment over the past six weeks, with the A’s sending Sean Doolittle and Marcus Semien to Nashville before they returned to the A’s active roster.

Who’s Hot

Renato Nunez was one of three Sounds named to the Pacific Coast League All-Star team, but with Smith and Blackburn on the Oakland roster, Nunez will be the Sounds’ only representative in the Triple-A All-Star game. Nunez figures to get plenty of attention during the All-Star festivities. The PCL homerun leader will participate in the Home Run Derby. He comes into the All-Star break swinging a hot bat. In June, Nunez posted a 916 OPS and he has a .286 average and a 981 OPS thus far in July. Nunez has been particularly good against left-handed pitching this season, something he struggled with last year. He has a 1207 OPS versus southpaws on the year.

It took Beau Taylor more than six years, but he finally reached Triple-A and he is taking advantage of his opportunity thus far. In 12 games with the Sounds, Taylor is hitting .325/.413/.475 with six walks and a homer. Since June 1, Jaff Decker is batting .296 with a .345 OBP and eight stolen bases. While playing all over the field, Melvin Mercedes has a .370 OBP since the start of June. On the year, he has walked more than he has struck-out.

On the mound, RHP Jake Sanchez is also taking advantage of his first extended look in Triple-A. Since June 1, Sanchez has a 1.76 ERA and a 13:3 K:BB in 15.1 innings. Simon Castro is also pitching well out of the Nashville bullpen. The veteran right-hander has a 2.29 ERA and a 31:11 K;BB in 19.2 innings. For the season, he has 63 strike-outs in 38 innings pitched.

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