31 Aug

bravo

Nice closing act by the Mississippi Braves on Tuesday night. They beat Birmingham 9-1 in their last game at Trustmark Park for 2011; the M-Braves finish the season with a five-game series at Carolina. Here’s a few fun facts from the home finale: The Barons started three sons of former major leaguers: Kenny Williams Jr., Jake Oester (Ron) and Jose Martinez (Carlos). … The Barons’ manager is former Jackson Generals infielder Bobby Magallanes. … The Barons, first-half champs in the Southern League South, made five errors, believed to be a record for a visiting team at the TeePee. … Every M-Braves starter had at least one hit in a 13-hit attack. … The M-Braves started their six-run sixth inning with six straight hits. … Antoan Richardson, small but oh so swift, is excitement personified. To wit: In the sixth, with runners at second and third, he dropped a soft single into right field. He kept going toward second, expecting right fielder Martinez to throw home. Martinez instead rushed a throw toward second which skipped past the second baseman and then past the third baseman backing up the play. Richardson dashed around the bases, sliding in ahead of a throw to the plate, for a classic “Little League home run.” … Jose Lugo overcame a wobbly first inning to work seven strong and get the win. … Brett Butts and Kenshin Kawakami, both of whom had been struggling, worked a scoreless inning each. … Despite an announced turnout of just 1,733 on Tuesday, the M-Braves finished with a season average of 2,737. That’s up from 2010 (2,620). Since the club drew 3,847 in 2005, the inaugural season, the average had dipped each year until this one. … The M-Braves finished 33-37 at the TeePee. … When M-Braves fans look back on 2011, what they might want to remember is that this was the team that had, for a brief spell, a rotation of Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino, Brett Oberholtzer, J.J. Hoover and Paul Clemens. The first two already have made the big leagues and the latter three are likely to get there.

30 Aug

No. 56

Juan Abreu made his big league debut with Houston on Monday night, becoming the 56th Mississippi Braves alumnus to advance to The Show in the seven years the Double-A club has been in Pearl. Abreu, part of the Michael Bourn trade, pitched 2/3 of an inning in a 7-4 win over Pittsburgh. The right-handed Dominican allowed a hit, a walk and a run but punched out two Pirates while hitting 98 mph on the radar gun. Astros manager Brad Mills called him a “fun weapon” to have in the bullpen. Abreu was the M-Braves’ closer for part of 2010, recording 11 saves and a 3.02 ERA in 39 games. He fanned 47 in 44 2/3 innings. Abreu becomes the eighth M-Braves alum to make it to the majors in 2011, following Tim Collins (Royals), Matt Young, Cory Gearrin, Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Scott Diamond (Twins) and Arodys Vizcaino.

30 Aug

best-laid plans

Cincinnati trailed by two, with a runner on first base, one out in the bottom of the eighth. Reds pinch-hitter Fred Lewis yanked a pitch down the right-field line. But instead of a possible run-scoring double into the corner, the ball landed foul by a few inches. Lewis then struck out looking. The Reds lost to Philadelphia 3-2 on Monday night. It’s been that kind of year for Lewis, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product from Wiggins, and the Reds. Frustrating. Lewis is hitting just .232, despite a 10-for-30 ledger as a pinch hitter. The Reds, National League Central champs in 2010, are a .500 club that isn’t going to make the playoffs. After a good year with Toronto in 2010, Lewis signed with Cincy as a free agent. The Reds already were four-deep in the outfield, but Lewis, a lefty hitter with plus speed, probably figured it’d be nice to play a utility role for a contending team. Then he got hurt in spring training, delaying his debut. And the Reds have sputtered all year. The highlight of Lewis’ season might have come in June when he received a World Series ring from the San Francisco Giants. Lewis didn’t play a single game for the Giants in 2010; he went through spring training, got hurt before Opening Day and was traded to the Blue Jays in mid-April. But the Giants, Lewis’ original organization, voted to give him a ring. One supposes there is some small consolation in that.

P.S. The Mississippi Braves play their last home game tonight at 7:05 at Trustmark Park. Can’t see ’em again at the TeePee until April 2012.

29 Aug

rays of hope

The Desmond Jennings Highlight Show rolls on. The former Itawamba Community College star hit two homers on Sunday — he told the Tampa Bay Tribune he can’t remember doing that before at any level of the game — and went 4-for-5 to raise his average to .354. Oh, and Tampa Bay, which refuses to quit in the American League playoff race, beat Toronto 12-0. Jennings, in 34 games this season, has eight homers, three triples, 19 RBIs, 22 runs, 14 stolen bases and a .646 slugging percentage. With Jennings at the top of the order, the Rays have won 17 of 25 and are just 6 1/2 games behind New York in the AL wild card standings. According to MLB Network, Tampa Bay leads the league in ERA (3.00) and batting average against (.221) during August. The Rays are second in the AL in ERA on the year, a tribute to the good work done there by former Jackson Generals pitching coach Jim Hickey. Hickey had to rebuild the Rays’ bullpen this season.

28 Aug

the stroke

Tyler Moore found a home run stroke last year, and from all indications, it’s still working for him. The former Mississippi State standout has 30 homers at Double-A Harrisburg in the Washington system. A right-handed hitting first baseman, Moore is batting .271 with 87 RBIs and was named to the Eastern League’s end-of-year All-Star team last week. Moore was rated the Nationals’ No. 24 prospect by Baseball America entering 2011 after belting 31 homers (to go with a .269 average and 111 RBIs) at high Class A Potomac last season. Moore, 24, still has some work to do on strike zone discipline — he has 132 strikeouts and just 24 walks this season — but he should advance again in 2012. Washington drafted him three times — out of Northwest Rankin High, Meridian Community College and MSU — so somebody in the organization likes him. The Nats recently called up another first base prospect, Chris Marrero, which, coupled with the fact Moore is not on the 40-man roster, makes it unlikely Moore will get a September look. But his day may come soon enough.

P.S. Corey Wimberly’s bid to become the first Alcorn State product to make the majors since Al Jones in the mid-’80s has bogged down. The diminutive outfielder/second baseman is batting just .238 in Triple-A with Pittsburgh and is currently on the disabled list. Meanwhile, ex-Delta State star Edwin Maysonet is hitting .293 for Milwaukee’s Triple-A club. The versatile infielder, who has some big league time already, could fill a role for the Brewers as they drive toward the playoffs.

27 Aug

crash landing

Kenshin Kawakami’s career — at least in the U.S. — appears to be nearing an end. The Mississippi Braves right-hander and erstwhile big leaguer was rocked again on Friday night and now has an 8.31 ERA in 14 Double-A appearances this season. In 39 innings, mixed between starts and relief appearances, he has yielded 52 hits and 15 walks. In each of his last two outings, he has allowed four earned runs in an inning of work. Atlanta still owed the former Japanese leagues star almost $7 million for this season and didn’t want to just release him. But he’s shown no signs of being able to pitch in majors again. There was some interest from Japanese teams in the spring but reportedly Kawakami didn’t want to return home. Perhaps it’s time now.

P.S. Tommy Hanson’s rotator cuff injury is bad news for the Braves. But it could open up September starting opportunities for ex-M-Braves Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado. Fellow former M-Braves Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor have certainly risen to the occasion in recent outings. Atlanta has an embarrassment of riches in young arms. … Former Mississippi State star Ed Easley got the game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth for Mobile on Friday night as the BayBears clinched the second-half title in the Southern League South.

24 Aug

don’t look now

The Colorado Rockies, famous for their recent late-season surges, may be making another. And Seth Smith, the ex-Ole Miss standout from Jackson, is supplying some of the power. The Rockies won their fourth straight game on Tuesday night, with the aid of a 478-foot home run by Smith. According to the Denver Post, that’s the longest of Smith’s career and just missed making the top 10 all-time at Coors Field. Smith hit a 458-foot bomb in a win on Sunday. He’s at 15 homers and 54 RBIs for the year — his career-highs are 17 and 55 — and has seven homers in August. His average is up to .287. While National League West front-runners Arizona and San Francisco have been scuffling, Colorado has won six of 10 and climbed within 8 1/2 games of first place.

P.S. Props to former Mississippi Braves closer Craig Kimbrel for matching the rookie record with his 40th save on Tuesday night. It’s going to be very interesting to see whether Kimbrel or fellow former M-Braves star Freddie Freeman takes the NL rookie of the year honor.