Fans in Goodyear, Ariz., were treated to a noteworthy Mississippi matchup in the Cactus League on Saturday. Cody Reed, the former Northwest Mississippi Community College star from Horn Lake, opposed Chris Stratton, the ex-Mississippi State standout from Tupelo, as Cincinnati took on San Francisco. Both pitchers are trying to nail down a job on the big league roster. Reed, a left-hander, had the better day in a 5-4 Reds win, going four innings and allowing two runs – on solo homers in his final inning – with three strikeouts and no walks. “Throwing strikes – that was big for me,” Reed said in a video posted on mlb.com. “I got a lot of swing-and-misses today. … I feel good.” He has a 5.11 ERA this spring and a 6.75 in 22 big league games with the Reds over the last two seasons. Right-hander Stratton threw four shutout innings for the Giants before giving up four runs in the fifth. He allowed six hits with four punchouts and no walks as his spring ERA rose to 3.86. Stratton has appeared in 20 MLB games the last two years and has a 3.67 ERA. Reed-Stratton is a matchup we might be seeing again during the 2018 season, when as many as six Magnolia State products may be starting games in The Show. The others: Lance Lynn, Drew Pomeranz, Kendall Graveman and Brandon Woodruff.
Surely you’ve seen it: Billy Hamilton made another highlight-reel catch on Monday, robbing Shohei Ohtani of extra bases in a Cactus League game. Hamilton’s defense is Gold Glove-caliber – on that we can all agree. It’s that other phase of the game – offense – where the Taylorsville native has been lacking. He would seem to be the type of player – that is, small and really fast — who could benefit from bunting for a hit. Yes, he’s a base-stealing fool. But he has a career on-base percentage in MLB of .298, which is not good, especially for a leadoff batter, which is what Cincinnati wants him to be. According to research published by espn.com, Hamilton, now entering his fifth season with the Reds, is bunting less than ever and not doing it very well. He had four bunt hits in 2017 on 19 attempts. That’s down from career-highs of 15 and 44 in 2014. The 160-pound Hamilton had as many homers as bunt hits last season. And he struck out 133 times in 582 at-bats. When he gets on base, he scores quite often – 44 percent of the time in 2017, according to FanGraphs. Seems he just hasn’t been taking full advantage of his strongest tool – speed – and that’s very puzzling. Hamilton reportedly is working on his bunting this spring in Arizona, though we’ve heard that before. He has been out of sync at the plate generally, going hitless in his first 14 at-bats over seven games. He popped up, struck out and walked (then was caught stealing) on Monday.
Cody Reed had gotten rave reviews from Cincinnati manager Bryan Price during workouts in Arizona, but his first appearance in a spring training game was a dud. The ex-Northwest Mississippi Community College star from Horn Lake was touched for five hits and four runs in two innings against Colorado on Saturday. Nolan Arenado took Reed deep. The 6-foot-5 left-hander is competing for a spot in the Reds’ bullpen, though he says he would prefer to start. He has a 3.63 ERA in the minors working primarily as a starter. A second-round pick by Kansas City in 2013, Reed moved to the Reds in a 2015 trade and went 6-2 with a 2.17 ERA for Pensacola in the Double-A Southern League. He made the big leagues as a highly rated prospect in 2016 but hasn’t fulfilled his promise in The Show, posting a 1-8 record and 6.75 ERA. He’s better than that. P.S. Mississippi State product Jonathan Holder notched a save on Saturday with a scoreless inning for the New York Yankees against Pittsburgh, and ex-State star Chris Stratton worked two scoreless (though not exactly clean) innings in a start for San Francisco against the Los Angeles Dodgers. … Ole Miss alum Alex Presley, in his Baltimore debut, went 1-for-3 with a walk against Philadelphia. … Former Pillow Academy standout Louis Coleman has signed a minor league deal with Detroit. The veteran right-hander last pitched in the majors in 2016 and spent last year in Triple-A with Cincinnati and Arizona. … The honor of being the first Mississippi product to homer in spring training went to Tim Anderson, the ex-East Central Community College star who went deep for the Chicago White Sox on Friday against the Dodgers. … Itawamba CC alum Tim Dillard, on assignment from minor league camp, pitched a scoreless inning for Milwaukee on Friday. The veteran right-hander has been in pro ball since 2002.
Ex-Ole Miss star Zack Cozart, one of several Mississippians on the free agent market, has a serious suitor in San Diego, according to reports. The Padres are looking for a shortstop, and Cozart is the best one out there looking for a team. Cozart batted .297 with 24 homers and 63 RBIs and made his first All-Star Game with Cincinnati in 2017. … There hasn’t been much news of late on other free agent Mississippians, a list that includes Lance Lynn, Mitch Moreland, Seth Smith, Jarrod Dyson, Tyler Moore and Alex Presley. … David Goforth, the former UM standout from Meridian, has signed a minor league deal with Washington. The onetime big leaguer spent most of last season with Milwaukee’s Triple-A club. He has pitched well in winter ball in the Mexican Pacific League, posting a 2.45 ERA and three saves in 29 games for Culiacan. … Taylorsville High product Billy Hamilton reportedly is drawing interest from several clubs wanting to trade with Cincinnati for the center fielder. Interested teams include San Francisco, Texas and Baltimore. Hamilton, a defensive whiz, hit .247 (.299 on-base average) with 59 steals this past season.
Crystal Springs native Hunter Renfroe hit his 26th home run of the season for San Diego on Sunday, the last day of the MLB regular season. That’s an impressive total to be sure. But it’s not the record for homers in a rookie season by a Mississippi native. That belongs to Luke Easter, who hit 28 for Cleveland in 1950 – at the age of 35. Easter, a Jonestown native, was the first black Mississippian to play in the majors, breaking in late in 1949. Greenville native George Scott hit 27 “taters” as a rookie for Boston in 1966. Vicksburg’s Ellis Burks, Mississippi’s all-time home run leader with 352, hit 20 for the Red Sox in 1987, his first year. Worth noting: Renfroe hit four homers in 11 games at the end of the 2016 season but was still classified as a rookie this year. Calhoun native Dave Parker, who launched 339 career bombs, hit just four as a rookie in 54 games for Pittsburgh in 1973. McComb native Corey Dickerson hit 24 homers in 2014, his first full season with Colorado, but he no longer had rookie status. Gulfport’s Bill Melton cracked 23 in 1969 as a first-year regular for the Chicago White Sox, but he had exceeded rookie standards in 1968. … Billy Hamilton, the former Taylorsville High star, finished the season with 59 stolen bases, one shy of MLB leader Dee Gordon. Hamilton’s last attempt at a 60th bag on Sunday was foiled when the lead runner in a double steal was thrown out in Cincinnati’s win over the Chicago Cubs. Hamilton, with 243 career steals, is the all-time leader among Mississippi natives. … Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart went 0-for-3 to finish at .297 in what was probably his final game with the Reds. Cozart is among a sizable group of Mississippi-connected players headed for free agency, including Lance Lynn, Seth Smith, Mitch Moreland, Jarrod Dyson and Tyler Moore.
Billy Hamilton’s left thumb, which was broken on Sept. 6, probably still hurts. But the former Taylorsville High star can still swing the bat. And he can still run. Hamilton’s blazing speed was on display Sunday against Boston at Great American Ballpark, first when he tripled to drive in a run and later when he escaped a rundown between first and second base and wound up scoring. On that play, Hamilton dashed to third on a bad throw and scooted home when the Red Sox neglected to cover the plate. “In my whole career, that’s one of the best ones …,” Hamilton told The Associated Press. (Boston would win the game, however, 5-4 thanks to some heads-up baserunning by Mookie Betts.) Hamilton has played twice since coming off the disabled list last Wednesday. He is 3-for-8 with a pair of runs. He still leads the National League with 58 steals, two ahead of Miami’s Dee Gordon. Hamilton is batting .250 (.301 on-base percentage) with 10 triples and 84 runs in 134 games in his fourth season as a Reds regular.
The Billy Hamilton highlight reel, filled with daring stolen bases, ridiculous diving catches and great throws, added something new today: a walk-off home run. The Taylorsville High product swatted a Josh Hader fastball over the left-field wall at Great American Ballpark as Cincinnati beat Milwaukee 5-4. It was not only the first walk-off ever for Hamilton but his first right-handed homer of the season. The 160-pound leadoff batter and center fielder, who also picked up his 12th assist in the game, has four homers his season and 17 career bombs. “I’d rather throw a guy out than hit the big homer, but I’ll take both of them,” he told The Associated Press. On the season, he is batting .250 with 36 RBIs, 82 runs and an MLB-best 58 steals.