It’s been a long, slow climb for Brian Dozier. With a 1-for-4 effort for Washington on Friday night, the Southern Miss alum reached the Mendoza Line, which is only something to celebrate when you’ve been stuck below it since opening day. Dozier, batting an even .200, is 7-for-26 over his last seven games, not a sizzling pace but perhaps an indication that he is finally heating up. Coming off two big years in Minnesota (.268 with 76 home runs in 2016-17), Dozier scuffled in 2018. He hit .227 for the Twins before being traded to the playoff-bound Los Angeles Dodgers at the July deadline. Reportedly troubled by a knee injury, he hit .182 with five homers in 47 games for LA. That led to speculation that his career was suddenly off the rails at 32. “You have one hiccup over the last six or seven years, and it ended up transforming everything,” Dozier told mlb.com after signing as a free agent with the Nationals this off-season. “Putting thoughts into people’s minds that this is who you are instead of what you’ve done your entire career.” The last thing he needed was a slow start, but that’s what happened. He was hitless in March and was at .152 on April 16. He does have five homers but only seven RBIs. The injury-riddled and struggling Nationals need more from Dozier. Maybe he’s ready to put the Mendoza Line in his rearview mirror. P.S. In keeping with a USM theme: Current Golden Eagles slugger Matt Wallner, continuing his recent tear, hit his 15th homer of the season in a big C-USA win at Rice on Friday. Wallner now has 50 career bombs, matching Jeff Cook for second on the team’s all-time list. Marc Maddox hit 53. The single-season record is 23, last accomplished by Cook and Clint King in 2003.
Friday is the main event in college baseball’s regular season. Typically, Friday means the conference series opener. It means the aces are out. It’s a night when the lights are brightest and the tension most palbable. It’s when momentum is seized for the best-of-3 series. Or is it? Mississippi State and Ole Miss open their annual SEC battle tonight in Oxford with their best starters on the mound. State left-hander Ethan Small has been dominant: 6-1, 1.85 ERA, 122 strikeouts and 18 walks in 73 innings. UM’s Will Ethridge doesn’t have that kind of stuff but has been solid: 5-4, 2.80. Meanwhile, Southern Miss, trying to keep a grip on first place in C-USA, visits Rice and will throw its most reliable starter, Walker Powell (5-2, 2-79). State (15-9 SEC) has won six of its eight conference series. Only once have the Bulldogs lost the opening game and won the series. Ole Miss (also 15-9 in league) has won five SEC series, three of those after winning Game 1. Like State, UM only once has lost a league series after winning the opener. (Notably, the Rebels lost the opening game at LSU last weekend but came back to win the series in a wild rubber game.) USM (18-6 C-USA) has won five of eight series, winning none after losing the opener. What’s it all mean? Friday is a pretty big deal.
The Arizona Diamondbacks, who exploited Atlanta’s bullpen for a comeback win on Thursday night, have been one of the top five pleasant surprises of this season, according to mlb.com. One of the pleasantly surprising individual performances for the D’backs has come from Jarrod Dyson. The 34-year-old McComb native, playing more regularly than anticipated, is batting .291 (.400 on-base percentage) with three homers, eight RBIs, 16 runs and seven steals in 28 games for a 16-12 club. Leading off and playing center field on Thursday, he was on base twice, stole two bags and threw a runner – Ozzie Albies – out at third base, his fourth assist of the season. Injuries limited Dyson to 67 games for Arizona in 2018, when he batted .189. He also had an injury in spring training this year. Projected to be primarily a spare outfielder and pinch runner this season, he has gotten 18 starts. This is Dyson’s 10th big league season – the first seven were with Kansas City – and he is batting .253 with 227 stolen bases in 756 career games. He also has a World Series ring. Not bad for a 50th-round draft pick out of Southwest Mississippi Community College. P.S. Ex-Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz, who coughed up seven runs in a 1 2/3 innings in his last start on Monday, went on the injured list for San Francisco with a lat strain. The big left-hander is 1-4 with a 5.93 ERA in his first season with the Giants.
There has been a power surge of late among several Mississippians, notably Bobby Bradley, Austin Riley and Hunter Renfroe. Bradley, the former Harrison Central High star, has begun to mash at Triple-A Columbus in Cleveland’s system. The 22-year-old first baseman has four homers in his last four games, three in his last two. A .366 spurt over his last 10 games has boosted his average to .315 with seven homers and 20 RBIs in his first full season at the Triple-A level. “It’s really a great experience, you learn so much from the veteran guys,” Bradley said in an milb.com story. Riley, the DeSoto Central product, hit two more bombs for Triple-A Gwinnett (Atlanta) on Wednesday. That’s 10 in his last 13 games, during which he has batted an absurd .469. He is at .315 with 12 homers and 32 RBIs. “Obviously, I’m seeing the ball well,” he told milb.com. “I’ve worked really hard on getting my swing where it is now.” Renfroe, the ex-Copiah Academy and Mississippi State standout, hit a go-ahead home run for the San Diego Padres on Wednesday. He also hit a tie-breaking bomb on Monday and a walk-off grand slam on Sunday. “He’s clutch. And he has been for a long time,” Padres manager Andy Green told mlb.com. Renfroe now has nine homers on the year, second to Mitch Moreland’s 10 among Mississippians in the majors. P.S. Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart is 2-for-8 (.125 for year) since coming off the injured list for the Los Angeles Angels, who also designated MSU product Chris Stratton for assignment on Tuesday. Stratton, who’ll likely land in Triple-A, has an 8.59 ERA in seven appearances. … Tony Sipp, the veteran reliever out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, went on the 10-day IL for Washington with a strained oblique.
From the Off the Beaten Path file: It was 25 years ago today, Mother’s Day ’94, that the Colorado Silver Bullets became the first women’s team to play against a men’s professional team. The starting pitcher for the men’s team, the Northern League All-Stars, was Meridian native and former major leaguer Oil Can Boyd. The first batter he faced ripped a single off the glove of the second baseman. “My stuff’s so sore, I can’t get a woman out,” Boyd, per a Los Angeles Times story, said in the dugout after retiring the side. The All-Stars, a collection of independent leaguers and ex-big leaguers, were generally dismissive of the Silver Bullets, according to the Times story, and showed them no mercy, winning the game 19-0 at Fort Mill, S.C. Leon Durham, 37 at the time, hit two homers. The Silver Bullets, managed by Phil Niekro, toured the country for four seasons, playing – and beating — men’s indy league, semi-pro and amateur teams. They played twice against amateur teams at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson, going 1-1.
Delta State’s history book is filled with tales of great individual performances, and the Statesmen will make room for another after capturing the Gulf South Conference Tournament championship on Tuesday. Hunter Riggins, a sophomore from Hernando, threw a two-hit shutout against third-ranked West Florida and retired the last 17 batters in a 6-0 win that gave the Statesmen their 15th GSC title. Riggins, named the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player, tossed seven shutout innings against Valdosta State in the tournament opener at Oxford, Ala. Riggins is 10-3 with a 2.13 ERA in 14 starts. Used out of the bullpen as a freshman, Riggins posted a 3.09 ERA and six saves, then quickly emerged as a staff ace this season, winning his first six starts. David Herrington and Darek Sargent, who combined for 23 hits and 10 RBIs in the six tourney games, also made the all-tournament team. C.J. Estave, who drove in eight runs, certainly rated consideration. The Statesmen, 39-12 under Mike Kinnison, now move on to NCAA Division II regional play and begin the chase for a second national championship.
On the eve of the MACJC postseason, there are lots of numbers to digest. Five state junior colleges are ranked in the new NJCAA Division II Top 20, and all of them reached the postseason. No. 4 Itawamba Community College won the regular season title and the right to host the Region 23 Tournament, where top-ranked LSU-Eunice also has an automatic berth. The next eight teams in the MACJC standings face off in best-of-3 series this week to determine four more region tourney participants. Fifth-ranked Jones College (aka Jones County JC), which took second in the league, hosts Hinds; No. 9 Northwest hosts Northeast; No. 6 Pearl River hosts East Central; and No. 16 Meridian hosts Gulf Coast. … LSU-E, which leads the nation in staff ERA (2.56) and bats .340 as a team, could be a bear in the double-elimination region tourney. … Itawamba ranks fifth in the nation in ERA (3.43), third in fielding (.966) and is riding an 11-game winning streak. … The last team to beat ICC was Northwest, in Fulton back on April 16. … Keep an eye on PRCC, which ranks third in the nation in home runs, led by Dexter Jordan’s 15. … Northeast’s Drew Smith led the state in batting at .440 and also hit 13 homers. … Jones is the best hitting team in the state at .330. … Meridian enters on a five-game win streak. … Hinds, ranked ninth at 21-5 in early April, went 4-13 down the stretch and finished ninth in the league.
Corey Dickerson, on the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 10-day injured list since April 4, remains in limbo with a shoulder problem. A rehab assignment that was to begin on April 26 was called off because the former Meridian Community College star was experiencing discomfort in his right (throwing) shoulder. The latest injury update indicates he has not resumed throwing or hitting. Dickerson, who turns 30 on May 22, played in just four games (2-for-13, one homer) before going on the IL. Dickerson was an All-Star for Tampa Bay in 2017 and won a Gold Glove in left field for the Pirates last season, when he batted .300 with 13 homers and 55 RBIs. (He also won All Mississippi Baseball’s Cool Papa Bell Award as the best Mississippian in the majors in 2018.)
Jackson State will enter the SWAC Tournament next week as a 2-seed but sporting the credentials of a tourney favorite. The Tigers, who finished second to Alabama State in the Eastern Division, have won 17 of their last 20 games (two of those losses were to the Hornets). JSU also leads the league in hitting and ERA and is tied for second in fielding percentage. Clearly, it’s a well-rounded club, one capable of winning a third tournament title under coach Omar Johnson, who has never had a losing season in 13 years at the helm. The Tigers (29-21) play at Kansas on Tuesday and Wednesday in their final tuneups for the SWAC event, which starts May 15 in New Orleans. JSU opens with West 3-seed Texas Southern. Alcorn State, the No. 3 team in the East, plays Grambling in its opener. Mississippi Valley State, which finished last in the East, is ineligible for the postseason. The Tigers’ array of hitting heroes includes Jaylyn Williams (.411, 51 RBIs), Equon Smith (.374, 39 steals, 54 runs), Raul Hernandez (.363, eight homers, 51 RBIs) and Chris Prentiss (.372, 10 triples). Nikelle Galatas tops the pitching staff at 7-3, 4.30. Garth Cahill and Kevin Perez have five wins apiece. The wide net Johnson casts in recruiting is reflected in that group. Williams (Greenville) and Prentiss (Vicksburg) are Mississippi natives, Smith and Perez are from Florida, Galatas from California, Hernandez from Puerto Rico and Cahill from South Africa. The roster also lists players from Canada, the Virgin Islands, Nevada, Michigan and New York.
Take a deep breath, Mississippi. On a Sunday that included Ole Miss’ all-time crazy win at LSU, Southern Miss’ huge walk-off win against Florida Atlantic, Delta State’s homer-fueled, elimination-game win in the Gulf South Tournament and the Mississippi Braves’ squeeze-bunt walk-off vs. Jacksonville, the scene-stealing moment from a state-connected player may well have been delivered by big leaguer Hunter Renfroe in San Diego. The former Mississippi State star hit a two-out, pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers and ace closer Kenley Jansen 8-5. “This is my second walk-off home run, and there’s nothing like it in this world,” Renfroe, the pride of Crystal Springs, said in an mlb.com game story. It was the first pinch-hit walk-off slam in Padres history and salvaged the third game of the series for San Diego, which suffered tough losses in the first two. “These moments shape your season,” Padres manager Andy Green told mlb.com. The slam was Renfroe’s seventh homer of the season. Fighting a slump of late, he is batting .227 with 16 RBIs. He joins Tim Anderson – American League player of the month for April – and Jarrod Dyson as Mississippians with walk-off homers in MLB already in 2019. P.S. Cody Reed, the Northwest Mississippi Community College alum from Horn Lake, worked 2 1/3 scoreless innings Saturday in his 2019 debut for Cincinnati but was returned to the minors on Sunday. Reed has been up and down with the Reds since 2016. He has a 3.21 ERA at Triple-A Louisville.