Virtually every game played in the American League these days is meaningful, with implications in the division races, the wild card race and/or the best record races. Key situations are magnified, clutch performers identified. Mississippians stepping up on Wednesday included two of the usual suspects: Mitch Moreland and Brian Dozier. Moreland, the ex-Mississippi State standout from Amory, hit a go-ahead pinch home run in the seventh inning for Boston, propelling the AL East leader to a 7-1 win at Toronto. He added a two-run single in the eighth inning, and now has 18 homers and 63 RBIs on the year. He is hitting .346 over his last 27 games and .257 on the year. “He’s in a good place,” Red Sox manager John Farrell told The Associated Press. Dozier, the former Southern Miss star from Fulton, went 4-for-5 with two RBIs and a run in Minnesota’s 11-1 romp past the Chicago White Sox. The Twins moved within a game of AL wild card leader New York (and 7 back of Cleveland in the Central). Dozier, batting .263, has 74 RBIs and 75 runs; that’s 149 runs accounted for in 124 games. He also has 26 homers and 14 steals. He’s in a pretty good place, too. Meanwhile, State alum Kendall Graveman, starting for an Oakland team reduced to a spoiler role, got rocked by the Los Angeles Angels, who are third in the wild card scramble. Graveman yielded three homers and five runs all told over five innings in a 10-8 loss. He got a no-decision but saw his ERA rise to 4.54. P.S. In a Pacific Coast League game that mattered (certainly to him), Hunter Renfroe blasted his third homer in nine games for El Paso. The ex-State star has 12 RBIs and a .526 average since San Diego sent him down to Triple-A.
Time to play three stars again, a minor league version.
Austin Riley: The former DeSoto Central High standout is crushing it for the Double-A Mississippi Braves. He had two hits on Thursday at Chattanooga, extending his hitting streak to 10 games and raising his average to .305 in 37 games. He is batting .457 during his streak. The 20-year-old third base prospect has six homers and 20 RBIs for the M-Braves and 18 homers on the season. He has 50 career home runs in three pro seasons. Riley still needs to polish up his defense, but his star is definitely rising.
Brent Rooker: The Mississippi State product, drafted 35th overall by Minnesota in June, went 2-for-4 with his ninth home run in 35 games for Class A Fort Myers. Rooker is now batting .274 at the high-A level after hitting .282 with seven bombs in 22 games in rookie ball. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound outfielder should make Double-A next year.
Hunter Renfroe: The MSU and Copiah Academy alum went 3-for-4 and is now 7-for-12 in three games at Triple-A El Paso since his demotion by San Diego. Renfroe, who had 20 homers for the Padres, hasn’t gone yard for the Chihuahuas yet but has three doubles, a triple and five runs. Surely the woeful Padres will bring him back in September.
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.
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.”
Former Southern Miss star Brian Dozier reached the 20-home run plateau for the fourth straight season when he went deep on Sunday in Minnesota’s 6-5 win over Texas. He joins fellow Mississippians Corey Dickerson (21) and Hunter Renfroe (20) in the 20-bomb club. Never considered a power hitter in college or in the minors, Dozier started pulling the ball more in 2013, when he hit 18 homers for the Twins. He followed with seasons of 23, 28 and then 42 last year. Dozier also drove in 99 runs and scored 104 in 2016, numbers he isn’t going to reach this year. He is batting .248 with 56 RBIs and 54 runs. The subject of trade rumors in the off-season, Dozier insisted he wanted to remain in Minnesota, where, despite his best efforts, things haven’t gone well. The Twins haven’t made the postseason during Dozier’s time with the club and aren’t likely to break through in 2017. He is under contract for one more year, so it seems likely he’ll be hitting homers for some other club in the near future.
The news slipped by quietly. Silento Sayles retired on July 6 at age 21. The former Port Gibson High star – who garnered national attention when he stole a prep record 103 bases during his senior year in 2013 – was playing for Mahoning Valley, the Cleveland Indians’ affiliate in the short-season New York-Penn League. In seven games, Sayles was batting .143 with no steals. Drafted by the Indians in the 14th round in 2013, Sayles was projected by some as the next Billy Hamilton, the Taylorsville High product who set a minor league stolen base record en route to the big leagues. But the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Sayles stole only 36 bases and was caught stealing 18 times in his 200 minor league games. He batted .222 with a .320 on-base average. Sayles is one of those players who probably would have benefitted from playing college ball before jumping into the pros. P.S. Kudos to Brent Rooker, who was promoted to high Class A Fort Myers by Minnesota, and Hill Denson, who will be inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2018. Ex-Mississippi State star Rooker, the 35th overall pick last month, went 0-for-4 in his Florida State League debut; he was batting .270 with seven homers in rookie ball. Denson, now the coach at Belhaven University after a long tenure at Southern Miss, has more than 1,000 wins on a resume that includes many coach of the year honors and other achievements.
One has to wonder if the Minnesota Twins are considering a promotion for Brent Rooker, who is wearing out the rookie-level Appalachian League. The ex-Mississippi State star – the 35th overall pick last month — has 12 hits in his last seven games for Elizabethton and is at .323 with five home runs and 10 RBIs in 16 pro games. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Rooker has been playing left field; he played mostly first base at State this year. … Rehabbing big leaguer Sean Rodriguez went 1-for-5 with four strikeouts for the Mississippi Braves in an 8-7 loss to Jackson (Tenn.) on Tuesday at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The M-Braves fanned 11 times all told and dropped to 4-14 in the second half of the Southern League season. They play the Generals again tonight at the TeePee. … Blake Anderson, the former West Lauderdale High star catcher, is now listed as a pitcher on the roster of the Gulf Coast League Marlins. Anderson, widely hailed for his defensive abilities, was a supplemental first-round pick by Miami in 2014. Injuries have limited him to 58 pro games (one in 2016), and he carries a .173 average. He has not appeared in a game this season. … None of the four high school players drafted out of the state this year signed to play pro ball. Myles Christian of Olive Branch, the highest prep pick (18th round, Seattle), is bound for Middle Tennessee State. C.J. Dunn of Center Hill, a Toronto pick, is going to Texas Tech; Ocean Springs’ Garrett Crochet, a Milwaukee pick, is off to Tennessee; and McLaurin’s Davis Bradshaw, another Brewers draftee, will play at Meridian Community College in 2018. The state’s Gatorade player of the year, Trey Shaffer, a left-hander from Biloxi, wasn’t drafted. The Southeastern Louisiana signee went 8-1 with a 1.20 ERA for the Indians. He also hit .380. … The only other 2017 draftees who didn’t sign were Mississippi State’s Jake Mangum, Ole Miss’ Brady Feigl and East Mississippi Community College’s Marcus Ragan, who is bound for Arkansas-Little Rock. State’s Cody Brown (New York Yankees) and Southern Miss’ Tracy Hadley (Chicago White Sox) signed as non-drafted free agents. … The Mississippi Semi-Pro State Tournament is scheduled for Thursday through Sunday at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium. Among the participants will be the Hattiesburg Black Sox, who won the Magnolia Adult Baseball League title. … USA Baseball has unveiled the 40-man group that will go to Minneapolis in August to take part in the 18U National Team Trials. Pitcher J.T. Ginn of Brandon and outfielder Joe Gray of Hattiesburg made the cut. The team trials begin on Aug. 19 and the final 20-man roster will be announced on Aug. 24. The 18U National Team will compete in the World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 World Cup in Thunder Bay, Canada, from Sept. 1-10.