Michael O’Neill’s week began in Double-A. It ended as one of the only positive notes from an otherwise forgettable opening weekend for the Express.
O’Neill had one of the only hits of the game and scored the only run for Round Rock as the Express were dismantled for the fourth game in a row, falling to the Memphis Redbirds 4-1 on Sunday afternoon.
“Baseball is not easy by any stretch of the imagination,” O’Neill said. “You can’t let it get into your mind that you’re at a higher level than you were last year. Go out, play hard and have fun and the numbers and stats will take care of themselves.”
Round Rock Starter Austin Bibens-Dirkx went 4.1 innings, giving up four runs on seven hits with two walks and two strikeouts. Connor Sadzeck, Steve Delabar and José Leclerc went the rest of the way and gave up a combined three hits and no runs with seven strikeouts.
O’Neill, a University of Michigan alumnus, split last season between the Advanced-A Down East Wood Ducks and the Double-A Frisco Roughriders. Between the two leagues, he combined to hit .266 with 15 home runs and 41 RBIs.
“Everybody kept telling me I was getting old and the second I get to Triple-A, I’m young,” O’Neill said. “I think its good to have some young guys on the cusp of the big leagues, whether they get there or not, they’re getting experience against guys that are older and more experienced.”
Round Rock struggled against the defending PCL champion Redbirds in the first three games of the season, losing 8-4 in the season opener on Thursday, 17-4 in the second game on Friday and 11-6 on Saturday night.
“It’s tough coming out of the gate being 0-4,” Express manager Jason Wood said. “It’s something you don’t expect and you don’t want. I truly believe we’re a better team than what we’re showing right now.”
Like they did on Opening Day, the Express took the lead early when Hanser Alberto doubled to left field in the second inning to drive in O’Neill and give Round Rock an early one-run lead.
“Position player wise, he’s really the only one I’m positive with right now,” Wood said. “Hopefully we can get (outfielder Willie) Calhoun back on track and stop pressing and stop worrying about where he wants to be as opposed to where he’s at.”
Memphis scored on back-to-back singles in the third inning. Tyler O’Neill hit his fourth home run in as many games with a two-run shot in the fifth inning to give the Redbirds a 4-1 lead and end the day for Bibens-Dirkx.
In the last four innings of the game, Round Rock managed just one baserunner.
“With this being a young ball club, I think these guys might be trying to put the team on their shoulders and trying to do too much,” Wood said. “That’s where I have to come in and tell them to not worry about what the scoreboard says.”
Round Rock and Memphis conclude their five-game season-opening series Monday night at 7:05 p.m. at Dell Diamond.
The Express then hit the road for seven games beginning with a three-game series against the Oklahoma City Dodgers. They return home for a four-game set against Oklahoma City on Apr. 17 at 7:05 p.m.
“This is probably one of the best teams in the league,” Wood said. “Pitching-wise the St. Louis Cardinals produce quality arms year in and year out. The road’s not going to get any easier, but I don’t think it’s going to get a whole lot tougher.”