Springfield’s team bus rumbled south on a 14-hour trek from the Ozarks to the Texas Gulf Coast and Cards’ southpaw Cooper Hjerpe passed time by texting with friend and former Oregon State teammate Jacob Melton, the Houston Astros’ second-round pick in 2022 and now centerfielder for the Corpus Christi Hooks.

Melton gave Hjerpe intel about Whataburger Field, located at the Port of Corpus Christi, where hitter-friendly humidity is sometimes negated by gusty ocean breezes blowing in. A tropical storm forecast to make landfall during the six-game series further complicated matters.

But in his second Texas League start, Hjerpe didn’t need any help from nature.

When Melton stepped into the lefthanded batters’ box in the first inning on Thursday, Hjerpe acknowledged his pal with a friendly nod – then went right at him. Hjerpe jumped ahead 0-2, then Melton fouled off a pair before going down swinging to end the inning.

“I kind of knew how to throw to him, based on the scouting reports I’ve seen in college – I wouldn’t say it was an easy at-bat because he’s a really good hitter, but I knew what to do compared to the other guys,” Hjerpe said.

“It was pretty cool to face Melton in that kind of environment, on different teams, in different colors, and stuff like that – at the same time, there’s always respect and that brotherhood that goes on after (college), so it was pretty cool to play against him for once.”

Melton found himself in good company as Hjerpe dominated the rest of the Hooks lineup, too.

Cooper spun five innings of no-hit ball and struck out six, the only blemish was a two-out walk in the third inning. Andrew Marrero pitched a perfect two innings in relief to complete a combined seven-inning no-hitter and 5-0 Cards’ win – the first no-hitter in Springfield history.

“Changing the eye levels with the fastball – being able to establish that inside part of the plate and the fastball up was the biggest part, and then obviously the offspeed plays off of that,” Hjerpe said.

“Going into that outing, I knew I that I threw a lot of changeups (in his first Double-A start), maybe a little too predictable at some points – so me and (catcher Jimmy Crooks) talked about incorporating the slider and cutter to have something go glove-side instead of both the changeup and fastball that run the same way, to get them off of that plane.”

Hjerpe’s gem earned Texas League Pitcher of the Week honors and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

The Cardinals had lost eight straight games prior to Hjerpe’s start and were in danger of squandering the first-half Texas League North division race after a franchise record 14-3 start to the season.

But after Hjerpe’s heroics in Game 1 of Thursday’s doubleheader, the Cards swept the night cap to stay in the hunt. Springfield got the help they needed when Wichita beat Arkansas on Sunday prior the Cards-Hooks series finale that afternoon. Springfield overcame a short outing by Tink Hence and trounced Corpus Christi 9-2 to secure a playoff spot in September.

“It’s fun, you play to win,” manager Jose Leger said. “Minor leagues is about developing players and getting them to the next level, but when you develop by winning, it’s always fun.”

 

 

Andy Carroll

Andy Carroll

Andy Carroll is a freelance sports writer living in the Ozarks with his wife and four great kids. He loves St. Louis, toasted ravioli and minor league baseball. You can follow him on Twitter @carroll_sgf and Instagram @andycarroll505