Something is clicking for Conor Fisk. The right-hander out of Southern Miss has worked 13 games this season without allowing an earned run. He pitched three innings for Triple-A Buffalo on Wednesday, yielding three hits and no walks in the Bisons’ 7-3 victory against Columbus. A 24th-round pick by Toronto in 2014, Fisk isn’t listed among the Blue Jays’ top 30 prospects on mlb.com, nor is he on the 40-man roster, but surely he has gained some attention this season. He made seven appearances at Double-A New Hampshire, allowing just a single unearned run, before getting a promotion to Buffalo, where he has six straight scoreless outings covering 14 1/3 innings. He has a 0.70 WHIP (which is really good). Fisk, 26, has bounced between starting and relieving during his five years in the minors. He was primarily a starter at Class A Dunedin in 2017 and went 8-11 with a 3.84 ERA. The Blue Jays moved him to the bullpen this year in the Double-A Eastern League. He had two saves in two chances for New Hampshire; he hasn’t been used in a save situation at Buffalo. … Also on the Bisons’ roster is former Petal High star – and onetime USM quarterback – Anthony Alford, who is batting just .169 with no homers in 23 games. The highly rated — and injury-prone — prospect has had cups of coffee in the big leagues the last two years.
These aren’t household names – ballpark names? – that are coming to Oxford for the regional. Tennessee Tech, Missouri State, St. Louis. But they are hardly chumps. Tech has 48 wins and is ranked 25th by Baseball America. Missouri State is No. 23 and won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. St. Louis won the regular season and tourney titles in the Atlantic 10. Fourth-ranked (and national 4-seed) Ole Miss isn’t likely to coast through to the Super Regional round. The Rebels likely will face a stern test in Friday’s opener against St. Louis’ Miller Hogan, the A-10 pitcher of the year and a 10-game winner with strikeout stuff. Tech, a heavy-hitting club, brings the OVC player of the year: Kevin Strohschein (.406, 18 homers, 65 RBIs). Missouri State shortstop Jeremy Eierman is a highly regarded draft prospect. The SEC champion Rebels, 46-15 and a top 10 team most of the season, roll out an impressive crop of stars: Ryan Rolison, Ryan Olenek, Nick Fortes, Parker Caracci and those other guys in the bullpen. Yet the deciding factor for the Rebels might just be the crowds at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field. “It’s going to be a rowdy, rowdy, rowdy group,” SLU coach Darin Hendrickson, who has been to Oxford before, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. P.S. Southern Miss, nationally ranked and a double champion in C-USA, got kind of a tough draw from the NCAA, being sent to the Fayetteville Regional at Baum Stadium, where the national 5-seed Arkansas Razorbacks are 30-3. The Hogs are 9-15 elsewhere. Baum Stadium is a homer-friendly park, and USM can play that game. Led by Matt Wallner, the Golden Eagles rank 15th nationally in homers. Of course, first-round foe Dallas Baptist ranks ninth and Arkansas third. Watch for bombs at the Baum. … There is an interesting subplot to watch in Mississippi State’s regional opener in Tallahassee, Fla.: Bulldogs ace Konnor Pilkington and Oklahoma’s Jake Irvin, the likely starters, were roomies last summer when they played for Team USA. “That’ll be a fun matchup for sure,” Irvin told newsok.com. OU outfielder Steele Walker, a top pro prospect, was also on that squad. Florida State, the host and the national 7-seed, will be a tough out at Howser Stadium. But MSU, the 2-seed in the regional, has played well the role of giant killer this season, going 9-1 against top 5 seeds Florida, Arkansas and Ole Miss.
Former Southern Miss ace Scott Copeland reportedly has been called to the big leagues by the injury-ravaged New York Mets. Copeland, 30, last appeared in an MLB game in 2015 with Toronto. Signed to a minor league contract out of an independent league in mid-April, Copeland is 4-0 with a 3.81 ERA between Triple-A and Double-A in the Mets’ system. He was a 21st-round draft pick by Baltimore in 2010 after going 11-1 for a C-USA championship team as a senior in Hattiesburg. Copeland, who has 182 minor league appearances on his resume, pitched in five games for the Blue Jays in 2015, going 1-1, 6.46. When he appears in a game for the Mets, he’ll become the 23rd Mississippian (native or college alum) to play in the big leagues this season.
Jarrod Dyson and Billy Hamilton, two guys possessed of the kind of speed that can change a game, have been on the same big-league field this week. So far, only Dyson – a.k.a. Zoombiya — has had a major impact. The McComb native and ex-Southwest Mississippi Community College star went 1-for-3 with a walk and scored twice as Arizona beat Cincinnati 5-2 on Tuesday night at Chase Field in Phoenix. Taylorsville’s Hamilton, nicknamed Bone, had a couple of hits but didn’t score or drive in a run. Dyson, hitting leadoff for the Diamondbacks, ran through a stop sign at third base to score his first run in the third inning; he beat the relay throw without a slide. “I was already at full throttle and it’s hard to stop me like that,” he told mlb.com. In the fifth, he singled, went to second on a wild pitch and scored the D’backs’ final run on an infield throwing error. Dyson went 0-for-3 with two walks and a steal in Arizona’s 12-5 win in Monday’s series opener. Hamilton was a quiet 1-for-4 in that game. Dyson is batting .185 with two homers, eight RBIs, 16 runs and nine steals in 42 games for an Arizona team that is contending in the National League West. Hamilton, typically the Reds’ 9-hole hitter, is at .213 with two homers, 14 RBIs, 24 runs and nine steals in 54 games for club that is scuffling at 19-37. Their teams meet again today in the series finale. Don’t blink – you could miss something.
As they blow by the Memorial Day checkpoint, Brian Snitker holds the lead, with Clint Hurdle running second and Mickey Callaway third. Buck Showalter and Ned Yost appear to have fallen off the lead lap. Of the seven Mississippi-connected managers at the wheel of a big league club, only Atlanta’s Snitker, Pittsburgh’s Hurdle and the New York Mets’ Callaway reached Memorial Day with a winning record. Showalter’s Baltimore team, after losing on Monday, is 20 games under .500. Yost’s Kansas City team is 18 under. Toronto, under John Gibbons, is hanging tough at 25-29, and Ron Gardenhire has steered Detroit to a 24-29 mark, exceeding expectations in his first year there. To be fair, expectations weren’t high for any of these seven clubs. The first-place Braves, under former Mississippi Braves skipper Snitker, are a relatively young bunch running ahead of schedule. It’s a solid team – currently ranked No. 5 in mlb.com’s latest power poll — but they’ll be challenged in the National League East to hold off Washington, Philadelphia and perhaps even the Mets, who are in the charge of ex-Ole Miss star Callaway, brand new to the job. Despite a spate of adversity (check their disabled list), the Mets are 26-25 and just 4 games back of Atlanta. Former Jackson Mets manager Hurdle has done a fine job with the Pirates, who are contending in the NL Central even after trading away stars Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole. Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson, acquired in a preseason trade, has been one of the Bucs’ best hitters. Gardenhire, a former Jackson Mets shortstop and veteran MLB manager, has the outmanned Tigers just 3½ games off the pace in the American League Central. Former JaxMets catcher Gibbons’ Blue Jays, while just 4 games under .500, are 12 games back of Boston in the AL East. It’s already been a long season for Mississippi State product Showalter and JaxMets alum Yost, both of whom could use an extended pit stop to make repairs. P.S. Ex-MSU star Hunter Renfroe, out over a month with an elbow issue, returned to San Diego’s lineup on Monday and went 1-for-4 with an RBI.
Kris Medlen had what might be called plus-enthusiasm, not an official tool in the baseball parlance but a good one to have. You could see it in the way he pitched back when he first passed through Trustmark Park with the Mississippi Braves, and you could hear it in the way he talked about the game. The vibrant right-hander’s career came to a somber end on Saturday when he announced his retirement, at age 32, in the midst of his 13th pro season. He made one appearance with Arizona this year and was 0-5 with a 5.03 ERA at Triple-A Reno when he decided to call it quits. Two Tommy John surgeries — one in 2010, the second in 2014 — took a heavy toll on Medlen’s arm and his career, which at times was brilliant, drawing Greg Maddux comparisons. Medlen helped the M-Braves to their only Southern League pennant in 2008. He went 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA for Atlanta in 2012 and won 15 games for the Braves the next season. After missing the entire 2014 season, he signed with Kansas City and won a World Series ring with the Royals in 2015. Released by KC in 2016, Medlen got another shot with the Braves in 2017. He made a couple of appearances for the M-Braves that summer but didn’t get back to Atlanta. Arizona signed him this spring. His career MLB record is 41-26 with an ERA of 3.33 over parts of eight seasons. Nothing to hang your head about — and surely Medlen isn’t doing that.
It’s not something that will be on his mind today in Hoover, Ala., but Ryan Rolison heads a list of six Mississippi-connected players in mlb.com’s latest Top 200 draft prospects chart. The Ole Miss left-hander, expected to start the SEC Tournament title game against LSU, checks in at No. 17. Brandon High’s J.T. Ginn, ranked as a pitcher, is No. 34, Mississippi State lefty Konnor Pilkington No. 61, Hattiesburg High outfielder Joe Gray No. 62, Southern Miss right-hander Nick Sandlin No. 164 and MSU outfielder Jake Mangum No. 180. Rolison’s stock actually has slipped a bit since the season began. Rated the top overall draft prospect by Perfect Game in preseason, he is 8-4 with a 3.87 ERA and has wobbled down the stretch. South Carolina put up 11 runs in 3 1/3 innings against Rolison on May 4 and, after shutting out Auburn for six innings in the SEC Tournament on Wednesday, he was chased in the seventh of a 9-3 loss. You can bet scouts will be paying close attention today in what will be a highly charged atmosphere at the Hoover Met. LSU is gunning for its 13th SEC title, Ole Miss its third. … Ginn, also a shortstop with pop and a State signee, went 5-1 with an 0.36 ERA for Brandon. Ole Miss signee Gray is a five-tool type who led Hattiesburg to the Class 5A state title. Mangum was drafted as a sophomore last year – 30th round by the New York Yankees – and opted to return to State, where has had another good year. … It’ll be interesting to see if former Ole Miss closer Dallas Woolfolk gets a call next month. After a stellar 2017 that put him on the draft charts, the big right-hander went off the rails this spring and was rarely used down the stretch before leaving the team in early May, citing his “personal health.” He had a 2.51 ERA and six saves in 16 appearances.
Tim Anderson, the former East Central Community College star, found himself in the leadoff spot for the Chicago White Sox on Saturday. Apparently, he likes it there. Anderson hit two home runs, drove in a career-high four runs and scored three times to fuel an 8-4 win at Detroit’s Comerica Park. The reedy (6 feet 1, 185 pounds) shortstop is batting .246 with 10 homers, 18 RBIs and 11 steals. He leads all Mississippians in the majors in homers and steals. His second bomb, a three-run shot, on Saturday came off Louis Coleman, the pride of Schlater, and put the White Sox up 7-3 in the sixth. “I’m having a hot streak right now,” Anderson, who also homered on Friday, told The Associated Press. Anderson hit fifth on Friday, seventh on Thursday and eighth on Wednesday after not playing on Tuesday. Apparently, the White Sox, having a brutal season, are searching for a lineup that clicks. Maybe they found something. Anderson, a 2013 first-rounder out of ECCC now in his third MLB campaign, has shown flashes of stardom. He hit .257 last year with 17 homers, 56 RBIs and 15 steals after batting .283 as a rookie. P.S. Coleman wasn’t the only Magnolia State product to yield a homer on Saturday. Chris Stratton, the Tupelo native and Mississippi State alum, gave up two bombs but got the win as San Francisco beat the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Stratton, now 6-3 with a 4.97 ERA, allowed three runs in five innings. Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez took him deep. Ex-Ole Miss standout Drew Pomeranz allowed a homer to Atlanta’s Dansby Swanson and lasted just 3 1/3 innings for Boston, which rallied to beat the Braves 8-6 at Fenway Park. There is speculation that Pomeranz may be moved to the bullpen.
If you enjoy baseball history – and doesn’t everybody? – you owe it to yourself to occasionally take a cyber-stroll through nationalpastime.com’s This Day in Baseball History. You’ll get hooked – and you’ll run across things like this item from the May 26 entry about Daryle Ward, the former Jackson Generals slugger (circa 1997), and his exploits in a 2004 game: “In the Pirates’ 11-8 win over St. Louis at Busch Stadium, Daryle Ward hits for the cycle with a two-run double in the first, a run-scoring triple in the fourth, a three-run homer in the fifth, and a single in the ninth. The Pirates first baseman and his dad Gary become the first father-son combination in major league history to hit for the cycle, with the elder Ward accomplishing the feat 24 years ago with Minnesota.” That’s ballpark-worthy chatter material right there. Daryle Ward, 6 feet 2, 240 pounds in his prime, played 11 years in the majors and hit 90 homers, 231 doubles and a grand total of five triples, two in 2004.
Every team needs an ace, and Southern Miss has one. One of the best, in fact. Nick Sandlin — C-USA pitcher of the year, Ferriss Trophy winner – has been terrific. The converted closer moved to 9-0 and trimmed his ERA to 1.13 with a four-hit, 12-strikeout performance against UAB in the C-USA Tournament opener on Thursday in Biloxi. But the Golden Eagles (41-15) will need more than one golden arm to make a run in the NCAA postseason (which could well start in an Oxford Regional). Do they have that kind of depth? They just might. The other pitchers don’t get the pub afforded Sandlin, but this is a team with a staff ERA of 3.58. Both Stevie Powers and Walker Powell, the other weekend starters, have won big games. Powers, a left-hander who last pitched on May 5 because of some arm issues, notched the win on Friday, yielding two runs in seven innings in a 5-3 victory against Texas-San Antonio. He joked about following Sandlin in the USM rotation. “It’s been a tough job all year for me,” he said in a school release. He’s been up to it, going 5-1 with a 3.28 ERA. Powell, typically the No. 3, is 7-3, 3.62, and will start today in the semifinal round of the tournament. In the bullpen, Cody Carroll (2.23), Keller Bradford (3.24), Mason Strickland (3.25) and Trent Driver (4.30) have been effective, and large-looming, hard-throwing Matt Wallner has six saves despite a 7.36 ERA in his 11 appearances. Sandlin certainly leads the way for this staff, but coach Scott Berry has more cards to play than just his ace.