They were playing “Taps” for the Minnesota Twins’ season as recently as Aug. 3. They had just traded away closer Brandon Kintzler and starter Jaime Garcia and stood 51-54, well off the playoff pace. They were coming off a rough 2-6 road trip that a Minneapolis Star-Tribune writer called “the beginning of the end.” But Brian Dozier, the former Southern Miss star, had other ideas. As if to proclaim, “This season isn’t over until I say it’s over,” the veteran second baseman and leadoff batter went on a tear – and the team followed. Dozier hit his 25th home run and scored three times as Minnesota beat Arizona 12-5 on Sunday to improve its record to 63-59. Dozier, a .260 hitter on the year, is batting .329 in August. Over his last 16 games, he has belted eight home runs, driven in 16 runs and scored 19. Heading into a doubleheader today against the Chicago White Sox, the Twins are tied for the second wild card and 5 games back of first-place Cleveland in the American League Central. Having just put Miguel Sano on the 10-day disabled list, the Twins may look to Dozier to carry even more of a load. He appears more than capable. P.S. Milwaukee sent rookie Brandon Woodruff back to Triple-A Colorado Springs – but not because of any disappointment in the Mississippi State alum’s performance. The Brewers, still in playoff contention in the National League, won’t need a fifth starter until September. Woodruff is 1-1, 1.62 ERA in his three starts.
Scott Copeland, the former Southern Miss ace and onetime big leaguer, is still taking the mound every fifth day for the New Orleans Baby Cakes, Miami’s Triple-A affiliate. The 6-foot-3 right-hander, 29, worked 7 2/3 innings on Thursday night, yielding just two runs with eight strikeouts but getting no decision. He is 8-10 with a 5.31 ERA, a number inflated by a couple of bad outings. Copeland was a horse at USM in 2010, winning his first 11 decisions and earning Conference USA Tournament MVP honors. Drafted by Baltimore in the 21st round in 2010, he was released in 2012 and signed with Toronto. He spent parts of five seasons in the Blue Jays’ system and got his cup of coffee in the big leagues – with several refills, actually – for the Jays in 2015. He was up and down from Triple-A Buffalo to Toronto multiple times that season and managed to get into five MLB games, going 1-1, 6.46. He went to Korea for a stint in 2016, returned and re-signed with Toronto. He became a free agent again last off-season and signed a minor league deal with the Marlins. Copeland has a career minor league ledger of 60-62, 4.18 over 174 games, 57 of those in Triple-A, where you can smell the big league coffee but not quite taste it.
Brent Rooker, the first Mississippian picked in the 2017 draft (35th overall), has proven to be a quick study in pro ball. The ex-Mississippi State standout has already advanced a level in Minnesota’s system and is batting .314 with four home runs over his last 10 games, raising his average at high Class A Fort Myers to .237 with seven homers. But Rooker has a lot of company in the fast lane. Each of the top 10 Mississippi-connected players drafted and signed in June is off to a good start, some a great start. Tyreque Reed (Itawamba Community College) is batting .350 with five homers and 26 RBIs in the rookie Arizona League, though he hasn’t played in over a week for the AZL (Texas) Rangers. Dylan Burdeaux (Southern Miss) hit .319 in short-season A for Detroit and was quickly bumped up to low-A, where he is batting .265 in 23 games. Taylor Braley (USM), the second Mississippian picked (sixth round, Miami), is 1-1 with a 2.89 ERA in four appearances in the short-season A New York-Penn League. It may feel like old home week at times in the NYPL. Other Mississippians in the league: Braley’s former teammate Kirk McCarty is with Cleveland’s affiliate and is 2-1, 2.05 in nine games; Ryan Gridley (MSU), an Oakland draftee, is batting .268 with 17 RBIs and five steals; and David Parkinson (Ole Miss) is 1-1, 2.84 for Philadelphia’s affiliate. Tate Blackman (UM), in rookie ball with the Chicago White Sox, is hitting .227 with two homers and 13 RBIs and is over .300 in his last 10 games. Bryce Brown (Jackson State) is batting .254 with 20 RBIs and 12 steals at the rookie level for Tampa Bay. Erstwhile East Mississippi CC quarterback Vijay Miller, a San Diego draftee who apparently has given up football, has a 4.00 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 18 innings in the rookie Arizona League.
10 – Strikeouts by Chris Stratton on Sunday. The ex-Mississippi State star threw 6 2/3 shutout innings for San Francisco against Washington, notching his first win as an MLB starter. The Tupelo native has made 13 appearances, three starts, over the last two seasons.
8 – Strikeouts by Kendall Graveman, matching a career-high. The former State standout got his third win – and first since May – for Oakland, going seven innings against Baltimore. Graveman was on the disabled list for all of June and July.
122 – Strikeouts, as a hitter, this season by Hunter Renfroe, who took a hat trick for San Diego against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The State alum ranks 16th on the MLB strikeout chart and first among Mississippians. Tim Anderson has 118, Corey Dickerson 115.
6 – Leadoff home runs this season by Brian Dozier. The Southern Miss product’s 23rd bomb of the year helped Minnesota beat Detroit.
3 – Hits by Alex Presley in his second game off the disabled list for Detroit. The ex-Ole Miss standout is batting .327 in 36 games.
3 – Hits for Corey Dickerson in his last 33 at-bats. The former Meridian Community College standout went 1-for-4 in Tampa Bay’s loss to Cleveland and saw his average dip to .289.
9 – Hitting streak for Jarrod Dyson, who went 2-for-4 for Seattle in a loss to the Los Angeles Angels. The ex-Southwest Miss CC star is 14-for-34 (.418) during his streak, boosting his average to .258.
15 – Hits for Tim Anderson in his last 48 at-bats, a .312 average. The East Central CC alum hit his 13th homer for the Chicago White Sox in a loss to Kansas City.
49 – Stolen bases by Billy Hamilton, who got one Sunday in Cincinnati’s loss to Milwaukee. The Taylorsville High product has topped 50 steals in each of the previous three seasons and has 233 career, the most by a Mississippi native.
On this date in 1949, Luke Easter became the first black Mississippian to play in a major league game. A native of Jonestown, in Coahoma County, Easter made his debut as a pinch hitter for the Cleveland Indians at old Cleveland Stadium. This was two years and several months after Jackie Robinson broke the modern-era color line. Easter was 34 when he got his chance, having already played numerous years in various Negro Leagues. Easter did not homer in 45 at-bats for the Indians in 1949 but mashed 93 homers over the next four seasons, many of them tape-measure shots. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound first baseman produced two 100-RBI campaigns and had another of 97. Easter’s big league career was over after six games in 1954, but he played 10 more years in the minors. Despite his short time with the team, Easter was selected as one of the 100 Greatest Cleveland Indians in 2001, when the club celebrated its 100th anniversary. He died tragically in 1979 (see previous posts). P.S. In the majors on Thursday: Corey Dickerson, the former Meridian Community College star, snapped an 0-for-21 skid with a game-changing three-run homer for Tampa Bay in a win over Cleveland. It was homer No. 22 for Dickerson, who joins Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier atop the leaderboard in the All-Mississippi Home Run Derby. Ex-Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe has 20. … Ole Miss product Lance Lynn was hit in the head by a batted ball in the third inning but stayed in the game for St. Louis. He worked six innings all told, allowing two runs, and took a no-decision in the surging Cardinals’ 8-6 win vs. Kansas City.
Rookie Stuart Turner took center stage Wednesday among Mississippians in the majors. Turner, the ex-Ole Miss star, struck his first big league home run, an upper deck shot in the Reds’ 8-3 win vs. San Diego. “It could’ve been a wall-scraper and I would’ve taken it,” Turner told The Associated Press. Turner, a catcher and a Rule 5 draftee from Minnesota, has played sparingly, with only 46 at-bats all season. He is hitting .174. Footnote: Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton got his 45th stolen base for the Reds. … Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier went 3-for-4 with his 22nd homer – and fifth in his last seven games – to spark Minnesota’s 4-0 win at Milwaukee. Dozier’s bomb came off ex-Mississippi State standout Brandon Woodruff, who took the loss in his second big league start. He went 5 2/3 innings, allowing two runs. … East Central Community College product Tim Anderson homered – his 11th – doubled and drove in three runs to help the Chicago White Sox knock off Houston 7-1. It’s been a tough sophomore season for Anderson, who is batting .242, but he has warmed up lately (.346, two homers over his last seven games). … Ex-State star Tyler Moore also has been scuffling in limited playing time for Miami. He got a start at first base on Wednesday vs. Washington and went 2-for-3, but he is just 3-for-16 in August. He is batting .233 with six homers, the last of those on June 17. … Boston beat Tampa Bay 8-2 for its eighth straight win, but former MSU star Mitch Moreland of the Red Sox and Meridian CC alum Corey Dickerson of the Rays had a quiet night. They were a combined 0-for-8. All-Star Dickerson’s average has slipped to .293. … Ex-Mississippi Braves star Dansby Swanson went 0-for-4 in his return to Atlanta. Fellow M-Braves alum Sean Newcomb (1-7) took the loss against Philadelphia, which won 3-2 and improved to 11-2 against the Braves. The Phillies are 42-69 overall. … Former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn, 4-0 in his last six starts, goes to the bump for St. Louis tonight against Kansas City on MLB Network. Lynn is 10-6, 3.12 ERA for the Cardinals, who have won five straight. … UM product Chris Coghlan is 4-for-8 with two doubles in his rehab assignment at Class A Dunedin in Toronto’s system. He has been on the disabled list since June 16. … Former Rebel Bobby Wahl, on the DL with Oakland, reportedly will see a shoulder specialist in Dallas on Friday. Wahl has been out since May 24 and was shut down from a recent rehab assignment.
Brandon Woodruff makes his second big league start for Milwaukee tonight. The 24-year-old right-hander, a Wheeler High and Mississippi State alum, went 6 1/3 innings to beat Tampa Bay in his debut last Friday. At Miller Park tonight in the opener of a two-game set against Minnesota, Woodruff will be opposed by a slightly more experienced pitcher: Bartolo Colon. Colon is 44. He has made 517 MLB starts in a career that dates to 1997. He has logged 3,259 2/3 innings and posted 236 wins. Colon, who started this season with Atlanta, is just 3-9 with a 7.32 ERA in 2017 but threw a complete game against Texas his last time out. Both the Brewers and Twins are still playing meaningful games. The Brewers (59-56) are hot on the heels of the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central, while the Twins (55-56) are still hanging around in the American League Central race. “We’re never out of it,” former Southern Miss star Brian Dozier told The Associated Press after belting a grand slam in the Twins’ win over the Brewers on Tuesday. “I think that’s kind of the mentality that we’ve been sticking to.”