Tournament baseball is a different animal. White-knuckle moments are built in. But even then, you can’t anticipate the kind of high drama that Mississippi’s Big 3 experienced on Wednesday (and into the wee hours of today). Ole Miss, which can use some more wins, lost a late lead and fell in the SEC Tournament to Arkansas. Southern Miss, desperately needing more wins to make the NCAAs, pulled off a comeback for the ages in the C-USA Tournament against Rice. And Mississippi State, looking to pump up its NCAA Tournament resume, squandered an early lead, then rallied – twice – to beat LSU in the longest game in SEC tourney history. Ole Miss led 3-2 in the sixth inning at Hoover, Ala., fell behind 4-3, put the tying and go-ahead runs on base in the eighth but couldn’t get the clutch hit against Arkansas closer Matt Cronin. The Hogs won 5-3. At MGM Park in Biloxi, USM trailed 4-0 early, got a run in the seventh, three in the ninth to force extras and then won it 6-4 in the 10th on Matt Wallner’s walk-off home run. (You can almost feel Wallner’s MLB draft stock rising.) Back in Hoover for the SEC nightcap, State let an early 4-0 lead slip away, fell behind in the 16th inning, tied it and then won 6-5 in the 17th on a walk-off hit by Gunner Halter. The 6-hour, 43-minute emotional rollercoaster ended just after 3 this morning. Each of the Big 3 plays again today. There will be drama. That you can count on.
Bradley Roney, the former Southern Miss standout who reached Triple-A in 2016 in Atlanta’s system, pitched in an official game on Tuesday for the first time in almost two years. Roney, 26, worked two scoreless innings for Class A Florida. “It feels so goooooood to be back,” he tweeted after he was activated from the injured list on Monday. Roney, a 2014 draftee by the Braves, last pitched in July 2017 for the Double-A Mississippi Braves. He made 15 appearances that year, posting a 3.75 ERA, four wins and two saves out of the bullpen. If all goes well, he’ll likely get back to Pearl sometime this summer. … Ole Miss product and onetime big leaguer Aaron Barrett, who missed the 2016 and ’17 seasons with major arm injuries (see previous posts), has been effective in his ongoing comeback effort in Washington’s system. The 31-year-old righty has a 3.57 ERA and nine saves in 15 games at Double-A Harrisburg. He has 90 major league appearances on his resume, the last in 2015. … USM alum Cody Carroll, on the IL since the start of the season with a back issue, has begun throwing, according to reports. Carroll made his MLB debut with Baltimore in 2018, his fourth pro season. He was assigned to Triple-A Norfolk in spring training before he was shut down. … Former George County High standout Justin Steele, who is on the Chicago Cubs’ 40-man roster, has struggled since returning from a stint on the IL at Double-A Tennessee. A 23-year-old lefty, Steele has a 9.33 ERA in six outings this season. Steele had Tommy John surgery in 2017 and was limited to 11 games last year, plus some work in the Arizona Fall League.
At 6 feet 5, 280 pounds, Lance Lynn looks like a guy who could do some heavy lifting. On Tuesday night in Arlington, Texas, the former Ole Miss star did just that, throwing 120 pitches over seven innings to carry Texas to a 5-3 victory against Seattle. Making his 200th career big league start, the 32-year-old Lynn allowed just five hits, one walk and two runs while fanning 11. He took a shutout into the seventh, and Rangers manager Chris Woodward let him work out of a jam to finish that inning. Lynn is now 6-3, 4.67 ERA, and has won four of his last five starts, going seven innings – a rarity in today’s game — in four of those appearances. “If (Woodward had) told me I was going back out for the eighth, I would have done it,” Lynn told mlb.com. “That’s just who I am … .” Gotta like that attitude. P.S. Three Mississippians went yard on Tuesday. Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland hit his 13th for Boston, ex-Southern Miss standout Brian Dozier hit No. 7 for Washington and Richton’s JaCoby Jones got his fourth for Detroit.
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.
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.
It would be hard to find anyone in the minors swinging a hotter bat than Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High alum who is on a 13-for-24 roll with five home runs, nine RBIs and nine runs in this stretch. For the year at Triple-A Gwinnett in Atlanta’s system, Riley (see previous post) is batting .293 with seven homers, including a 492-foot blast he hit Wednesday. … At Double-A Mississippi, Drew Waters extended his hit streak to five games with a 2-for-4 effort and is at .327 with two homers, nine RBIs and 17 runs. Cristian Pache also went 2-for-4 to boost his average to .330 with two bombs and 17 RBIs. … Ole Miss product Chris Ellis may be experiencing a letdown back in Triple-A with St. Louis. After posting a scoreless inning in his MLB debut for Kansas City last month, the Rule 5 draftee was dropped from the Royals’ active roster and returned to the Cardinals. He has allowed nine earned runs in four relief appearances at Memphis. … Mississippi State product Hunter Stovall, traded by Colorado to Philadelphia last week, went 1-for-4 with a triple in his debut Wednesday at Class A Lakeland. He was batting .281 for Asheville in the same league. … Ex-UM and Pearl River Community College standout Braxton Lee, who briefly made the big leagues with Miami in 2018, is hitting .296 in Double-A with the New York Mets. … MSU product Brent Rooker has been out of the lineup for several days at Triple-A Rochester (Minnesota), where the highly rated prospect is hitting .214 with four homers. … Former Columbia High star Ti’Quan Forbes has heated up for Double-A Birmingham (Chicago White Sox), hitting .303 over his last 10 games to get to .243 for the year. … Petal’s Demarcus Evans and Houlka’s Tyreque Reed, two rising young stars in the Texas system, are holding their own at high-A Down East. Evans has a 1.64 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 11 innings, while Reed is batting .314 with three homers in his last 10 games. … Former Petal High standout Anthony Alford is skidding in the wrong direction at Triple-A Buffalo in Toronto’s organization. The onetime big leaguer is in a 2-for-32 slump that has dropped his average to .138. Also on that Buffalo club are UM alum Jacob Waguespack (2-2, 4.62 ERA as a starter) and ex-Southern Miss star Conor Fisk (6.00 ERA in 12 innings). … Stuart Turner, an Ole Miss product who spent the 2017 season in the big leagues with Cincinnati, was released this spring and then recently re-signed by the Reds. He is 2-for-16 in four games for Triple-A Louisville.
The proverbial injury bug continues to plague Zack Cozart. The former Ole Miss star has landed on the 10-day Injured List for the Los Angeles Angels with a stiff neck, which he hurt diving into a base on Monday. He also missed time in spring training with a calf injury. Considering the miserable start (.109, four RBIs in 23 games) he is off to, maybe some downtime will help. Cozart missed a big chunk of 2018, his first season with the Angels, because of a shoulder injury. He was an All-Star in Cincinnati in 2017, when he was relatively injury-free, but ended both the 2016 and 2015 seasons on the old DL with knee injuries. … Cozart joins a small crowd of Mississippians on the IL: Corey Dickerson, Mike Mayers, Bobby Wahl and Kendall Graveman. Dickerson, the ex-Brookhaven Academy and Meridian Community College standout, has been out since April 4 with a shoulder injury; he is expected to begin a rehab assignment for Pittsburgh soon. Ole Miss alum Mayers, now with St. Louis, has a lat strain that may keep him down until July. Wahl, another ex-Rebels star with Milwaukee, tore an ACL in the spring and is likely out for the season, while Mississippi State product Graveman, signed as a free agent by the Chicago Cubs, had Tommy John surgery last July and could return late this season.
He came up in the ninth inning Wednesday needing a home run for the cycle. Delvin Zinn had to settle for a double, his fifth hit of the game in what was the best performance in his four years of pro ball. “One-hundred percent I was (thinking home run), but I guess if you miss with a double, that’s alright,” the ex-Itawamba Community College star from Pontotoc told milb.com. Zinn is batting .375 through 13 games in his second season with South Bend, the Chicago Cubs’ Class A club. The 21-year-old middle infielder was drafted in the 23rd round in 2016 by the Cubs. He had hit .411 and drawn raves for his defense during his one season at ICC, but he’s moved slowly in pro ball. He spent two years at the rookie level, helping the Cubs win an Arizona League title in 2017. He batted .286 in 59 games for South Bend last year. The five-hit game might be a springboard for him. … Five was also a number of note for Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz. The big lefty got his first win for San Francisco, throwing six shutout innings at Toronto. He now has big league wins for five different clubs. The fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft by Cleveland, Pomeranz has been a relatively effective pitcher (45-50, 3.91 ERA) who just never stays in one place for very long.