The Texas Rangers look to Mitch Moreland for power. With Prince Fielder done for the year, perhaps now more than ever. Ex-Mississippi State standout Moreland delivered two solo home runs on Thursday night, powering the Rangers to a 3-2 win against Kansas City. “I know that’s what I’m looked upon as … hit the ball in the gap or drive it out of the ballpark,” Moreland told mlb.com, while humbly deflecting praise toward winning pitcher Cole Hamels. Texas, which once had a big lead in the American League West, is up 3 games on second-place Houston. Moreland enjoyed his best season in 2015 (.278, 23 homers, 85 RBIs) but has had his struggles this year. He is hitting just .237 with 16 homers and 42 RBIs. But there are indications he has found a groove. In his last 38 at-bats, the lefty-hitting Amory native is batting .289 with five homers. Both of his homers on Thursday were to the opposite field at Globe Life Park, an approach that Rangers manager Jeff Banister made note of. “When he’s locked in like that it’s a huge plus for our offense,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. … Washington manager Dusty Baker went back to Jonathan Papelbon (see previous post) in a save situation on Thursday. The former State star lasted three batters. The struggling Papelbon, handed a three-run lead against San Francisco, got an out but then yielded a hit and a walk. Two other relievers closed out the Nationals’ 4-2 win. Papelbon was charged with a run that moved his ERA to 4.41.
Two straight rough outings have recharged the concerns about Jonathan Papelbon in Washington. The Nationals were reported to be looking for a closer even before the two meltdowns, a four-run outing against San Diego on Sunday followed by Tuesday night’s blown save against Cleveland. Former Mississippi State star Papelbon allowed two hits, two walks and two runs without recording an out – there was an error involved – as the Indians rallied from two runs down to walk off with a 7-6 victory. Papelbon, 35, who had seven straight scoreless outings in July before these last two, is 19 of 22 in save chances for the first-place Nats, but his ERA is now 4.18 and his WHIP 1.30. He went on the disabled list in June for the first time in his career. His fastball velocity is way down, though Papelbon himself is not. “My confidence in this game has never fluctuated, and it never will,” he told mlb.com after Tuesday’s outing. Washington manager Dusty Baker was non-committal on whether he was going to make a change from within at closer. Meanwhile, the Nats, who lost out on Aroldis Chapman, are rumored to be interested in Andrew Miller, Wade Davis and David Robertson. … Any hope that Aaron Barrett might rejoin the Nationals’ bullpen down the stretch has evaporated. The ex-Ole Miss star suffered a fractured elbow while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and has undergone more surgery. Barrett posted a 2.66 ERA in 50 games in 2014 and a 4.60 in 40 games last season before he was shut down. He had the Tommy John procedure last September and ankle surgery in December.
4 – Wins in four consecutive starts for Kendall Graveman, the former Mississippi State star now pitching for Oakland. Graveman went nine innings on Saturday to beat Tampa Bay – thanks to a pair of ninth-inning homers – and is now 7-6 with a 4.15 ERA. At one point, he was 1-6, 5.48.
12 – Hits in his last 10 games for Anthony Alford, the former Petal High star now in A-ball with Toronto. Alford, in an injury-plagued campaign, is now batting .210 with four homers and 23 RBIs for Dunedin.
7 – Wins in their last nine games for the Double-A Mississippi Braves, who beat Tennessee 3-0 on Saturday behind the pitching of Lucas Sims and Jason Hursh. The M-Braves are 16-13 and in first place in the Southern League South.
31 – Steals for Billy Hamilton, the ex-Taylorsville High star playing for Cincinnati. Hamilton, batting leadoff on Saturday, went 1-for-4 with a bag and a run in the Reds’ 6-1 win against Arizona. Hamilton has a six-game hit streak that has boosted his average to .251 with 46 runs in 82 games.
3 – Runs scored by Ole Miss product Seth Smith in Seattle’s 14-5 win against Toronto on Saturday. Smith, batting .273, has 43 runs in 83 games for the Mariners. He also has 11 home runs.
7 – Consecutive scoreless appearances for Jonathan Papelbon, the former Mississippi State standout who pitches for Washington. Papelbon yielded a hit and a walk in the ninth against San Diego on Saturday but got the win thanks to a walk-off triple by Stephen Drew. Papelbon is 2-2 with 19 saves and a 2.56 ERA for the first-place Nationals.
3 – Number of former Mississippi Braves who started for the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday (Yunel Escobar, Andrelton Simmons and Todd Cunningham). Two ex-M-Braves started for Atlanta (Freddie Freeman and Jeff Francoeur).
Jonathan Papelbon, reported to be unavailable to close Washington’s 4-1 win against the Chicago Cubs on Monday, won’t be available for at least 15 more days. The Mississippi State product was placed on the disabled list today — for the first time in his 12 years in the big leagues – with an intercostal strain. Papelbon, 35, is 16-for-18 in save chances with a 3.28 ERA for the Nationals, who lead the National League East. In his last outing on Sunday, he yielded a go-ahead home run in the ninth against Philadelphia but got the win when the Nats scored twice in the bottom of the inning.
Jonathan Papelbon is 15 of 17 in save chances and his team, the Washington Nationals, is in first place. There have been no dugout confrontations. But there have been some adventures on the field, such as the one Sunday at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. On to protect a two-run lead in the ninth, former Mississippi State star Papelbon gave up a single, a walk, a run-scoring double and an intentional pass to load the bases. He then got a pop out, a strikeout (of ex-Ole Miss standout Zack Cozart) and a fly out (to the warning track in center field) to escape the jam and close out a 10-9 victory. “I think my motto has always been, ‘Bend but don’t break,'” Papelbon told mlb.com. Well, maybe, but there are concerns about Papelbon in Washington beyond his explosive temperament. Now 35, he doesn’t get the punchouts he used to (only 18 in 22 2/3 innings). His ERA is up to 3.18 and his WHIP to 1.37 (career average 1.03). It’s a situation that bears watching. You don’t want your closer leading too many adventures.
After missing two games with pain in his right knee, ex-Ole Miss star Zack Cozart is back in the Cincinnati lineup today, batting leadoff against San Francisco. Former Taylorsville High standout Billy Hamilton, who reinjured his left thumb on Tuesday, will not start for the Reds. Cozart, who is batting .347 with two homers and nine RBIs, left Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh with an issue in his surgically repaired knee. Hamilton, who has recently boosted his average to .215, first hurt his thumb last month. … After Jonathan Papelbon blew a save on Tuesday, Washington manager Dusty Baker said the Mississippi State alum is in no danger of losing his job as closer. Papelbon is 9-for-11 in save chances. After allowing three runs in the ninth inning against Kansas City on Tuesday, his ERA jumped to 4.50. … Don’t be surprised if Itawamba Community College product Desmond Jennings is not in Tampa Bay’s lineup tonight. He is in an 0-for-24 skid that has dropped his average to .173. Jennings, who played only 28 games in 2015 because of injuries, actually got off to a good start this spring.
The biggest disappointment in the big leagues so far would have to be Minnesota, which is 0-7. Ex-Southern Miss star and Twins second baseman Brian Dozier was quoted during spring training as saying, “The last couple years, we thought we would be good, but this year we expect it.” Like his team, 2015 All-Star Dozier isn’t meeting expectations: .192 with a solo homer. … Among the surprises in MLB is Cincinnati, off to a 5-2 start. Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart is batting .412, and Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, while hitting just .176, has contributed a homer, a steal, three walks and four runs. … The only thing Jonathan Papelbon has throttled this season for Washington has been opposing batters. The former Mississippi State star has saved all four of the Nationals’ wins, allowing just one run. … Tampa Bay wanted power from ex-Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson, and the ex-Colorado slugger has delivered with three homers through six games. He has only two other hits, however. … McComb native Jarrod Dyson is 1-for-4 with two walks in two rehab games at Triple-A Omaha; no definite return date has been set for the Kansas City Royals speedster. … Former Mississippi Braves star Mallex Smith’s line from his MLB debut for Atlanta on Monday: 1 hit, 1 run, 1 caught stealing, 5 stitches in his forehead. But, he may start again tonight. … Though the M-Braves are 1-4, don’t blame Ozzie Albies or Chris Ellis for the poor record. Albies, the flashy shortstop prospect, is batting .364. Ellis, the highly touted Ole Miss alum, won his only start, throwing six shutout innings. … Petal High product and Toronto prospect Anthony Alford, injured (leg) in Class A Dunedin’s opener last week, is on the club’s 7-day disabled list. Alford’s Dunedin teammate D.J. Davis, a Stone County alum, is off to a 3-for-21 start. … Not only does the Magnolia State have three nationally ranked NCAA Division I teams, but D-II Delta State is 26-11, NAIA William Carey is 29-13 and jucos Jones County and Meridian are 31-3 and 26-6, respectively. … On the schedule today are two interesting intrastate matchups: Mississippi Valley State visits Delta State at Ferriss Field in Cleveland and Mississippi College and Millsaps hook up at Twenty Field in Jackson in a Maloney Trophy Series game.