The rash of injuries that has struck the Atlanta Braves’ pitching staff has opened big league roster spots for three former Mississippi Braves hurlers. On the active roster for the first time are Ryan Buchter, Gus Schlosser and Ian Thomas. Buchter, a left-handed reliever, was 3-1 with four saves and a 1.31 ERA for the 2012 M-Braves. Schlosser, a right-handed starter, went 7-6 with a 2.39 for last year’s M-Braves, and lefty Thomas, also a starter in Pearl in 2013, was 7-8, 2.76. The list of former M-Braves to advance to The Show has topped 80, and one of those three figures to be next. Atlanta opens today in Milwaukee.
Climbing into the Wayback Machine here to celebrate some MLB debut anniversaries. The year 1984 was a banner year for Mississippians to break in. Four made The Show that season: Chris Brown, Stewart Cliburn and Mike Smith — all Jackson natives — and Natchez’s Fred Toliver. Brown had the best sustained career of that group, playing six seasons, hitting .268 and even making an All-Star Game appearance. But let’s go back further. Way back in 1924 — 90 years ago — Hughie Critz, a former Mississippi A&M player from Starkville, made his major league debut with Cincinnati. A second baseman, Critz would enjoy a fine career, batting .268 over parts of 12 big league seasons. Eighty years ago saw the debut of Ole Miss alumnus Charlie Moss, a catcher from Meridian who came up with the Philadelphia A’s. Former Mississippi Southern star Hugh Laurin Pepper broke in in 1954 as a pitcher with Pittsburgh. In 1974, Belzoni native Herb Washington, the Oakland A’s designated pinch runner, made his famous debut. He stole 29 bases that season — without once swinging a bat — but was released early in 1975, never to return. Twenty years ago, Pontotoc’s Steve Pegues, a former first-round draft pick, arrived in the majors for his brief stay (100 games as an outfielder over two years). And in 2004, Hattiesburg’s Joey Gathright and Natchez’s Nook Logan, both outfielders with exceptional wheels, got their calls. Both enjoyed some success, but neither remains in the big leagues.
The state’s Big 3 Division I schools find themselves in very different positions heading into series finales today. Ole Miss seeks to avoid a sweep at Alabama; Mississippi State will play a rubber game against Arkansas at Dudy Noble Field; and Southern Miss goes for the sweep at Florida Atlantic. Worth noting, too, is a doubleheader in Lorman, where Jackson State will try to rebound from a 4-3 loss to struggling Alcorn State in Saturday’s SWAC series opener. Ole Miss, coming off a thumping by USM at Trustmark Park in Pearl last Tuesday, saw ace Chris Ellis (0.67 ERA) get KO’d early by Alabama in a 7-6 loss on Friday, then fell 6-5 in 10 innings on Saturday. The Rebels, ranked ninth, are now 21-7, 4-4 SEC. State, ranked 13th, moved to 5-3 in the league and 19-10 overall by beating Arkansas 5-1 in Game 2 on Saturday after dropping Game 1 of the twinbill 4-0. USM clinched its third straight Conference USA series win with a 5-2 over Florida Atlantic on Saturday. The Golden Eagles won the opener 2-0 on Friday. USM has won four straight games overall to reach 15-12 and 6-2 C-USA. P.S. Jackson native and Ole Miss alum Seth Smith hit his first homer of the spring in San Diego’s last exhibition game on Saturday. The left-handed hitting Smith, batting .325 with seven RBIs in his first camp with the Padres, should see plenty of playing time early on, though he may sit in tonight’s opener against Los Angeles Dodger lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu. The Padres put Carlos Quentin on the disabled list — where he joins Cameron Maybin — and sent Kyle Blanks to Triple-A, reducing the crowd in their outfield. Smith is one of five on the opening day roster.
Found wanting in Minnesota, Alex Presley has found a roster spot in Houston. The Astros have claimed the former Ole Miss standout off waivers and reportedly will put him on their opening day roster as a backup outfielder. Presley, a .264 career hitter, had a poor spring with the Twins and was beaten out by Aaron Hicks for the starting center field job. Presley, a left-handed hitter with some pop and some speed, is the “type of player you hope becomes available in a waiver claim,” Astros GM Jeff Luhnow told mlb.com. In other moves: Meridian Community College alumnus Corey Dickerson apparently will make the Colorado 25-man roster with the Rockies deciding to carry six outfielders. … Pascagoula’s Joey Butler, claimed by St. Louis off waivers from Texas in the off-season, was sent down by the Cardinals. … Chris Coghlan, the ex-Ole Miss star, will join Delta State alum Eli Whiteside at Triple-A Iowa; both were in the Chicago Cubs’ camp as non-roster players. … Former Pillow Academy star Louis Coleman, a key member of Kansas City’s vaunted bullpen, may start the season on the disabled list with a finger injury. … Bobby Abreu was released by Philadelphia. With Freddy Garcia having been cut by Atlanta and Lance Berkman retiring in the off-season, there are no former Jackson Generals left in the major leagues. The Astros’ old Double-A club had produced a steady stream of big leaguers starting in 1991 when Tony Eusebio was the first to go up.
Neither Mississippi College nor Millsaps seemed particularly impressed that Belhaven University broke into the NAIA top 10 this week. No. 8 Belhaven, which has announced its intention to move to NCAA Division III, lost to both the current D-III schools, falling to 26-9. On Tuesday night at Frierson Field in Clinton, MC — which is in the process of returning to NCAA Division II, by the way — beat BU on a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the ninth after squandering a 7-4 lead in the seventh. Blake Mcilwain, now 3-1, earned the win for 9-11 MC with two scoreless innings. On Wednesday afternoon at Millsaps’ Twenty Field, the Majors erupted for eight runs in the third inning and whipped the Blazers 12-5. Keith Shumaker had a three-run homer and Stephen Gates a three-run double in that pivotal third for the Majors (13-11). Millsaps is now 3-0 in the Maloney Trophy Series, with BU 1-2 and MC 1-3. Millsaps and Belhaven hook up Monday at Smith-Wills Stadium. … Delta State, nationally ranked in D-II, is heating up, having stretched its win streak to eight after beating Ouachita Baptist twice in Cleveland this week. Ben Pickard, a sophomore from Biloxi, went 7-for-7 with five RBIs and five runs in the two games against Ouachita. DSU is 18-6 overall and takes a 14-3 Gulf South Conference record into a weekend series at West Georgia.
Two big doubleheaders today in the MACJC: Hinds Community College at No. 1-ranked Jones County Junior College and Northeast Mississippi CC at Mississippi Delta CC. Hinds and Jones (24-2 overall) are tied atop the South Division standings at 5-1. Delta, 16-8 and freshly ranked 10th in NJCAA Division II, is a surprising 7-1 in the North, leading 5th-ranked East Mississippi (5-1) and Northeast (4-2). The Trojans, coming off sweeps last week of Northwest and Itawamba, have been led by Jacob Shempert (.339, four homers, 17 RBIs) and Danny Springer (.315, five homers, 17 RBIs). P.S. Hinds’ Randy Bell, a freshman out of Centreville Academy, earned MACJC pitcher of the week honors after posting a win and a save in three appearances, striking out 13 with one walk in nine innings of work.
Tyler Moore will start the 2014 season at Triple-A Syracuse, having been sent down Tuesday by the Washington Nationals. Moore, who played at Northwest Rankin High, Meridian Community College and Mississippi State, is a .241 career hitter with 14 home runs and 50 RBIs over parts of two seasons with the Nationals. The right-handed hitting Moore can play first base or the outfield and has power that Washington, the favorite in the National League East, surely will find use for later in this season. … Former Mississippi Braves standout Jeff Francoeur has signed a minor league deal with San Diego. Francoeur had a good spring with Cleveland but was cut last week. If you’re keeping score, Francoeur has now gone from the Braves to the Mets to the Rangers to the Royals to the Giants to the Indians to the Padres. He’s a good guy and a lot of people are hoping he’ll get some more big league time.
The college season is still relatively young, but the individual stats are starting to mean something. Stars are forming. Ferriss Trophy candidates are coming into focus. Here’s a few worth noting: Auston Bousfield is hitting .379 for Ole Miss, and not far behind is Will Allen at .357 with four home runs and 32 RBIs. The Rebels’ top pitcher to date: Chris Ellis, 4-0 with a 0.67 ERA. Brett Pirtle leads Mississippi State with a .310 average, and Preston Brown tops a long list of strong pitchers at 3-0, 1.12. For Southern Miss, Matt Durst is batting .312 with three homers and 16 RBIs, and Bradley Roney has a 0.87 ERA and six saves. Tilur Smith leads Jackson State hitters with a .377 mark, and Jamal Wilson is 3-0 with a 3.06. Charles Moses tops Alcorn State at .370, and Arrington Smith leads Mississippi Valley State — which finally won a game over the weekend — with a .297. Dex Herrington is hitting .368 with four homers and 17 RBIs for Delta State, now 14-3 in the Gulf South Conference after sweeping Alabama-Huntsville in a matchup of nationally ranked NCAA Division II clubs. Co-aces Michael Manley (0.77) and Ricky Winters (1.45) are both 5-0 for the Statesmen. Paul Pickerrell leads Belhaven hitters with a .348 average, and on the bump Ben Allison is 6-0 with a 1.07 ERA. Not to be overlooked is Tyler Akins, a .345 hitter with 32 RBIs who has 10 saves and a 1.29 ERA. At William Carey, Sean Hodges is hitting .319, and Scott Fabre has five homers. Gavin Culpepper (3-2, 2.60) has been the Crusaders’ steadiest arm. For Millsaps, Logan Patterson is hitting .375, Andrew Rafferty .359 and Isaac Glenn .356, and as a pitcher, two-way standout Keith Shumaker is 3-0 with a 1.05. Marty Stringfellow leads Mississippi College hitters with a .447 average (in just 11 games), while Spencer Wilson is at .333. Brooks Fortenberry is 2-1 with a 2.80 ERA for the Choctaws, who swept LeTourneau, nationally ranked in D-III, over the weekend.
Paul Maholm, the former Mississippi State Bulldogs star, made his official Los Angeles Dodgers debut on Sunday in Australia. One of three pitchers the Dodgers used in a rocky bottom of the ninth inning against Arizona, Maholm struck out the only batter he faced. L.A. held on to win 7-5 despite yielding four runs in the ninth. Veteran left-hander Maholm, cut loose by Atlanta after a 10-11, 4.41 ERA season in 2013, struggled in competition for the Dodgers’ No. 5 starter job during the first few weeks of spring training. He figures to rejoin that battle when the team returns to the States. P.S. Getting to the majors is hard, they say, but staying is even harder. Despite hitting .354 so far this spring, Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson has not nailed down a job with the Colorado Rockies. The left-handed hitting Dickerson, 24, who had a solid rookie year in 2013, is competing for one of two available outfield jobs. Commenting on questions about his defense, Dickerson told mlb.com: “I think I’ve got a pretty good track record and I can play any position in the outfield — I have the speed and the tools to do it.” Already sent to the minors this spring were Picayune’s T.J. House by Cleveland; Ole Miss product Phillip Irwin by Pittsburgh; and Hattiesburg’s Robert Carson by the L.A. Angels (who took him off their 40-man roster). … Released on Saturday: former Mississippi Braves star Jeff Francoeur, who hit .286 with 10 RBIs for the Indians this spring.
If you have an itch for pitching, this weekend’s Vanderbilt-Mississippi State series is for you. Here are the matchups: Tonight, MSU’s Preston Brown (0.75 ERA) vs. Vandy’s Tyler Beede (0.84); Saturday, Ross Mitchell (1.50) vs. Jared Miller (0.57) in a battle of lefties; and Sunday, Trevor Fitts (3.55) vs. Tyler Ferguson (1.63). Oh, and both teams have excellent closers, too (Jonathan Holder and Brian Miller). The Commodores, who always seem to have great pitching, come to Dudy Noble Field in Starkville with a 19-3 record (2-1 SEC) and ranked as high as No. 3. The Bulldogs, also ranked, are 15-8 and 2-1. Runs will be at a premium, which usually makes for high drama.