Virtually every game played in the American League these days is meaningful, with implications in the division races, the wild card race and/or the best record races. Key situations are magnified, clutch performers identified. Mississippians stepping up on Wednesday included two of the usual suspects: Mitch Moreland and Brian Dozier. Moreland, the ex-Mississippi State standout from Amory, hit a go-ahead pinch home run in the seventh inning for Boston, propelling the AL East leader to a 7-1 win at Toronto. He added a two-run single in the eighth inning, and now has 18 homers and 63 RBIs on the year. He is hitting .346 over his last 27 games and .257 on the year. “He’s in a good place,” Red Sox manager John Farrell told The Associated Press. Dozier, the former Southern Miss star from Fulton, went 4-for-5 with two RBIs and a run in Minnesota’s 11-1 romp past the Chicago White Sox. The Twins moved within a game of AL wild card leader New York (and 7 back of Cleveland in the Central). Dozier, batting .263, has 74 RBIs and 75 runs; that’s 149 runs accounted for in 124 games. He also has 26 homers and 14 steals. He’s in a pretty good place, too. Meanwhile, State alum Kendall Graveman, starting for an Oakland team reduced to a spoiler role, got rocked by the Los Angeles Angels, who are third in the wild card scramble. Graveman yielded three homers and five runs all told over five innings in a 10-8 loss. He got a no-decision but saw his ERA rise to 4.54. P.S. In a Pacific Coast League game that mattered (certainly to him), Hunter Renfroe blasted his third homer in nine games for El Paso. The ex-State star has 12 RBIs and a .526 average since San Diego sent him down to Triple-A.
Four Mississippians appear on the early rosters of Arizona Fall League teams. Ex-DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley (Atlanta) is on the Peoria roster, along with current Mississippi Braves teammate Touki Toussaint and former M-Braves Ronald Acuna and Max Fried. Gulfport native Bobby Bradley, a highly ranked Cleveland prospect, will play for Glendale; Ole Miss product and Picayune native Braxton Lee (Miami) is on Salt River’s roster; and Madison Central alum Spencer Turnbull (Detroit) will pitch for Mesa. Turnbull pitched in the AFL last year. … Former Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson, St. Louis’ first-round pick in 2016, was named pitcher of the year in the Double-A Texas League after going 9-4 with a 2.53 ERA for Springfield; he is now at Triple-A Memphis. Former M-Braves skipper Phillip Wellman, now at San Antonio, was the TL’s manager of the year. M-Braves pitcher Kolby Allard and outfielder Johnny Davis of Biloxi made the Southern League’s postseason All-Star team, Davis as the “best hustler.” Second-year pros Chuckie Robinson from Southern Miss and Wyatt Short out of Ole Miss earned All-Star honors in the Class A Midwest League. Robinson, a catcher, is batting .280 with 15 home runs and 75 RBIs for Quad Cities in the Houston system. Short, a left-handed closer, is 4-3 with 15 saves and 3.25 ERA for South Bend, a Chicago Cubs affiliate. … Itawamba Community College product Tyreque Reed, a 2017 draftee by Texas, is 2-for-6 in two games after being out for three weeks in the rookie Arizona League. The Rangers’ minor league player of the month for July, Reed is batting .349 with five homers. … Ex-State standout Hunter Renfroe had three hits and two RBIs for Triple-A El Paso on Tuesday and is now 17-for-31 (.548) in eight games since San Diego sent him down. … State alum Brent Rooker, a 2017 draftee by Minnesota, saw his three-game homer streak end on Tuesday at Class A Fort Myers. Rooker has 11 homers and is batting .281 in 38 games in the Florida State League. … The move from catcher to pitcher has not paid immediate dividends for Blake Anderson, the former West Lauderdale High standout who was a supplemental first-round pick by Miami in 2014. The oft-injured Anderson has yielded six runs on eight hits and six walks in nine innings of work in the rookie Gulf Coast League.
The work was a little sloppy along the way, but the finished product looked pretty darn good. Former Ole Miss standout Drew Pomeranz, who has emerged as a surprising stopper for Boston, notched his 14th win – tied for the American League lead – as the Red Sox beat Toronto 6-5 on Monday night. The first-place Red Sox had dropped four in a row; they are now 7-2 this season in Pomeranz’s starts following a loss. Pomeranz, whose Players Weekend nickname was “Big Smooth,” was anything but on Monday. He allowed seven hits, five walks and three runs, two in the first inning. But he pitched out of trouble several times, stranding eight runners all told. The visiting Red Sox trailed 3-2 after six but rallied for four runs in the seventh, and the game was turned over to their bullpen. It’s amazing to think that Pomeranz wasn’t even a lock to make the Boston rotation heading into spring training. But injuries and struggles by others have enabled him to move up the pecking order. Chris Sale is the unquestioned ace, but Pomeranz, who has a 3.23 ERA and 149 strikeouts in 142 innings, has become a valuable No. 2. P.S. T.J. House, the Picayune High product, has been designated for assignment by the Blue Jays after two appearances and will likely wind up back in their minor league system. … Former Mississippi State standout Adam Frazier, who has quietly had a very good year (.280, 45 RBIs, 46 runs in 104 games) has landed on the 10-day disabled list for Pittsburgh.
Cleveland put on a pitching clinic against Kansas City over the weekend, shutting out the Royals three straight games. Starters Ryan Merritt, Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco each worked at least six innings, and an array of relievers cleaned up. The Indians opened up 9-game lead on third-place KC in the American League Central and are 6.5 up on Minnesota. The Tribe leads all of MLB with 15 shutouts and leads the AL with a 3.60 ERA. Behind the scenes, directing this show of arms, is Mickey Callaway, the ex-Ole Miss pitcher now in his fifth year as manager Terry Francona’s pitching coach. The Indians have ranked among the league ERA leaders in each of those seasons. Last year, with a staff thinned by injuries, Cleveland made it past Boston and Toronto in the playoffs and all the way to Game 7 of the World Series before falling to the Chicago Cubs. Callaway, widely considered managerial material, rates a chunk of credit in all of this. Next on the agenda for him and his staff is the New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium, a power-hitting team in a hitter’s park.
OK, so Dansby Swanson is hitting again. The Atlanta shortstop went 2-for-3 on Saturday and, as The Associated Press dutifully reports, is batting .400 over his last 40 at-bats. But is this just an anomaly? Remember, the ex-Mississippi Braves star hit .302 in 129 MLB at-bats at the end of 2016. He was handed the starting shortstop job to start this season and struggled mightily, so much so that he was sent to the minors in late July. He was only recalled because Johan Camargo, who was playing very well, got hurt. For the year, Swanson is batting .227 with six homers and 42 RBIs. We have seen 13 M-Braves shortstops pass through Trustmark Park these last 13 years on their way to the big leagues, from Luis Hernandez (2005) to Ozzie Albies (2016). The best of the bunch, without question, is Andrelton Simmons, who was traded to the Los Angeles Angels in the fall of 2015. Think the Braves’ brass has any seller’s remorse at this point? They should. Simmons is, of course, a Gold Glove-caliber defensive player who has become an offensive force. He blasted a game-winning homer for the Angels on Saturday, his 14th of the year. He is batting .289 (.342 on-base percentage) with 31 doubles, 60 RBIs and 66 runs for a playoff contender. The players Atlanta got from the Angels in the Simmons trade? Erick Aybar, a veteran shortstop, and prospect pitchers Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis. Swanson hadn’t been acquired from Arizona when the Braves made that deal; Albies, who has since moved to second base, was seen as the shortstop of the future. Aybar was a total flop in his short time in Atlanta, and Ole Miss alum Ellis was shipped out in another trade. Newcomb, the prize of the deal, is 2-7 with a 4.36 ERA for the Braves this season. Swanson, a former No. 1 overall pick, may yet prove to be a solid big league shortstop. But it doesn’t appear that he’ll ever surpass Simmons.
Every major league game that is played today will be televised. If you have the means, you can plop down in your living room and watch the Milwaukee Brewers play the Los Angeles Dodgers on a 77-inch high-def flat screen, crank up the volume on the sound system, slam down a couple beers and feel just like you’re in Dodger Stadium. The germination point for this sensory festival came on Aug. 26, 1939, when W2XBS, an “experimental” NBC station in New York, put two cameras in Ebbets Field and broadcast a Cincinnati Reds-Brooklyn Dodgers Saturday doubleheader. The record shows that Red Barber, the Columbus native and Hall of Fame broadcaster, called the games. Harry Craft, an Ellisville native and Mississippi College alum, played center field for the Reds in both games. No TV star this day, he went 0-for-8 as the teams split the twinbill. It was estimated that only about 400 households in New York had a television set at the time. As engaging as Barber was on the air, it’s rather unlikely that anyone watching, beer or no beer, felt like they were at Ebbets Field. But it was the start of something big – something bigger, in fact, than they could ever have imagined.
Corey Dickerson didn’t go for a catchy nickname on the back of his jersey for Players Weekend. The Meridian Community College product was just plain “Dickerson” when he went out Friday night and reminded everyone why he was called an “All-Star” last month. He went 4-for-4 with two doubles, two runs and an RBI to spark Tampa Bay to a 7-3 win against St. Louis. Dickerson, who started in the All-Star Game for the American League, has been slumping for several weeks but is showing signs of a revival. The lefty-hitting outfielder is 9-for-18 with two homers, three RBIs and five runs over the last week. He is at .291 with 24 homers – matching his career-high set in 2014 and 2016 – for a Rays team that remains in the thick of the AL playoff battle. … Mitch “2-Bags” Moreland worked two jobs for Boston, playing eight innings at first base and then making his second MLB pitching appearance in the ninth in the Red Sox’s 16-3 loss to Baltimore. The Amory native and ex-Mississippi State star was 0-for-3 at the plate but put up a zero from the rubber, yielding two hits and getting a strikeout. The Fenway Park radar gun clocked one of Moreland’s pitchers at 94 mph, though he questioned the gun’s validity postgame. Moreland, a lefty, pitched in high school and at MSU. … Kendall “Digger” Graveman, another State alum, pitched seven strong innings for Oakland in a 3-1 victory over Texas. Graveman, who missed a big chunk of the season with an injury, improved to 4-4 with a 4.24 ERA and is now 3-0 at Oakland Coliseum in 2017.
Time to play three stars again, a minor league version.
Austin Riley: The former DeSoto Central High standout is crushing it for the Double-A Mississippi Braves. He had two hits on Thursday at Chattanooga, extending his hitting streak to 10 games and raising his average to .305 in 37 games. He is batting .457 during his streak. The 20-year-old third base prospect has six homers and 20 RBIs for the M-Braves and 18 homers on the season. He has 50 career home runs in three pro seasons. Riley still needs to polish up his defense, but his star is definitely rising.
Brent Rooker: The Mississippi State product, drafted 35th overall by Minnesota in June, went 2-for-4 with his ninth home run in 35 games for Class A Fort Myers. Rooker is now batting .274 at the high-A level after hitting .282 with seven bombs in 22 games in rookie ball. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound outfielder should make Double-A next year.
Hunter Renfroe: The MSU and Copiah Academy alum went 3-for-4 and is now 7-for-12 in three games at Triple-A El Paso since his demotion by San Diego. Renfroe, who had 20 homers for the Padres, hasn’t gone yard for the Chihuahuas yet but has three doubles, a triple and five runs. Surely the woeful Padres will bring him back in September.
Ready or not, MLB’s Players Weekend arrives today, complete with alternate uniforms, funky accessories and, for some players, nicknames on their backs. Many traditionalists will be cringing. Here’s a sampling of what Mississippians will be wearing: Billy Hamilton is “Bone,” Zack Cozart is “Coach,” Drew Pomeranz is “Big Smooth,” Tim Anderson is “B. Moss” (in honor of a childhood friend killed earlier this year), Mitch Moreland is “2-Bags,” Kendall Graveman is “Digger,” Brian Dozier is “Doz,” and Tyler Moore is “T-Mo.” Jarrod Dyson was slated to wear “Zoombiya” (from his twitter handle) but is on the disabled list, as is Bobby “Peanut” Wahl. Seth Smith, whose unofficial nickname is “Dad” (after the character on American Dad), is sticking with “Smith.” Good call. P.S. Amidst all the shouting and brawling and ejecting at Comerica Park on Thursday, JaCoby Jones, the former Mr. Baseball from Richton High, had a good day for Detroit: 2-for-4, two RBIs and a stolen base. … Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland homered twice for Boston in its loss to Cleveland and now has 17 on the season, three in the last two days. … Ex-Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson went deep for Tampa Bay in a win against Toronto. Dickerson has 24 homers. … J.T. Ginn, a pitcher/infielder at Brandon High, made the 20-man roster for USA Baseball’s Under-18 World Cup team. The team will compete in the tournament in Thunder Bay, Canada, from Sept. 1-10. Hattiesburg’s Joe Gray was among the 40 finalists invited to the national trials. Ginn, 6 feet 2, 200 pounds, a Mississippi State commit, was 5-1 with a 1.78 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 39 1/3 innings for Brandon in 2017. He also hit .483 with 16 homers.
His team has the worst record in the American League, and he’s not having such a good year, either. So that first career walk-off hit on Wednesday night and the subsequent Gatorade shower had to feel pretty good to Tim Anderson. “I’m going to enjoy it and wear it until tomorrow,” the ex-East Central Community College star told csnchicago.com. Anderson’s ninth-inning single scored Avisail Garcia and the Chicago White Sox beat playoff-contender Minnesota 4-3 at Guaranteed Rate Field. Though his bat has perked up a bit this month, Anderson was in a 1-for-20 slump when he stepped to the plate in the ninth on Wednesday. He is hitting .239 on the year after batting .283 as a rookie in 2016. He has produced 14 homers, 42 RBIs and 49 runs but hasn’t been the base-stealing threat (six bags) he was projected to be as a first-round pick in 2013. At shortstop, Anderson has 25 errors and a .944 fielding percentage, well below league average. But for one night, at least, he soaked in some glory – and some Gatorade. P.S. Cincinnati’s Mississippi-flavored lineup did not produce an appetizing result on Wednesday. The Reds started Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton in center field, Ole Miss product Zack Cozart at short and UM alum Stuart Turner at catcher. Alas, they went 2-for-10 in a 9-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs.