In the Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees clash slated for the next three days at Yankee Stadium, we might be lucky enough to see a matchup of Mississippians in a crucial spot: Amory native Mitch Moreland of the BoSox vs. Gulfport’s Jonathan Holder of the Yanks. Moreland, having a strong year (.290, 11 homers, 40 RBIs), typically hits in the middle of Boston’s order. (A left-handed hitter, he isn’t in the starting lineup tonight against lefty CC Sabathia.) Holder, having a breakout season (1.78 ERA in 26 games), has been getting more calls in key late-inning situations for New York. Moreland is 0-for-1 this year and 0-for-2 career against fellow Mississippi State product Holder, a right-hander. Boston hitters are 0-for-8 against Holder in 2018 and were 1-for-15 against him last year. Moreland is 4-for-14 vs. the Yanks in 2018, with a homer, against Masahiro Tanaka, currently out with an injury. He was 10-for-50 last year, with homers against Tanaka and Sonny Gray, Saturday’s scheduled starter. The Red Sox currently lead the Yankees by a game in the American League East. P.S. Former Ole Miss star Lance Lynn, currently pitching on a one-year deal with Minnesota, is considered an attractive trade piece, and one of the teams mentioned by mlb.com as a good fit is – drumroll – the Yankees. After a sluggish start in 2018, Lynn, a veteran who eats innings, is 4-2, 2.40 over his last seven starts.
The first – and so far, only – Mississippian to make a big league debut this season is Braxton Lee, the Ole Miss alum from Picayune who played his first game back on March 30 for Miami. Next man up might be Zac Houston, the ex-Mississippi State star who has reached Triple-A in Detroit’s system in just his third pro season. Houston, 6 feet 5, 250 pounds, has posted a 1.59 ERA in nine relief appearances with one save and 18 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings for Toledo. He began 2018 at Double-A Erie and earned the promotion after putting up a 2.60 ERA in 13 games there. Houston dominated in the Arizona Fall League last year, allowing no earned runs with 18 punchouts in 11 1/3 innings. Rated the Tigers’ No. 14 prospect by Perfect Game, the former 11th-round draft pick has fanned 183 batters in 116 1/3 career innings, an average of 14.2 per nine. He appears to be ready for a shot with the Tigers, though they’d have to clear a 40-man roster spot for him. P.S. If Houston isn’t the next to make it, it could be Cody Carroll, the former Southern Miss star from Tennessee (not to be confused with the Cody Carroll from Florida who is currently at USM). Tennessee Cody Carroll is having a fine season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the New York Yankees’ system. He has a 2.76 ERA, three wins and seven saves for SWB. Featuring an upper 90s fastball, he has punched out 44 hitters in 32 2/3 innings. Drafted in 2015, the 6-foot-5 Carroll has a 2.74 career ERA with 20 saves. The depth of the Yankees’ big league bullpen might make it tough for Carroll to get a promotion this summer, but stuff happens. And he’s surely opened some eyes.
Jonathan Holder made the New York Yankees’ staff out of spring training but didn’t figure to hold a prominent role in a deep and talented bullpen. That has changed. The Mississippi State alum from Gulfport is pitching in high-leverage situations now. Case in point: Monday’s second game against Washington. Holder came on in the sixth inning with runners at first and third, no outs and the Yankees gripping a one-run lead. The right-hander got two strikeouts and a pop up to escape the jam, and New York went on to win 4-2. “After he did that you could feel a jolt across the bench,” Yankees starting pitcher Sonny Gray told mlb.com. Holder has gone 22 innings without allowing an earned run. In 23 appearances, he has a 2.19 ERA. Holder, who debuted in the majors in 2016, actually started slowly this season and was sent back to Triple-A. His response? “Go down and work on stuff,” he told nj.com. He reportedly refined his slider a bit and regained some velocity on his fastball. Since his recall on April 21, he has been lights out. For State fans, whose focus has been elsewhere (Tallahassee, Nashville, Omaha) in recent weeks, Holder’s performance should ring familiar. He was the closer on the 2013 Bulldogs team that made it all the way to the College World Series finals. That squad included six players who already have played in the majors and a couple more who might yet get there. Holder, a sophomore in 2013, went 2-0 with 21 saves and a 1.65 ERA for a 51-20 team. The Yankees drafted him in the sixth round in 2014, and he moved swiftly through their system.
It’s a Dog Day in Omaha, where Mississippi State plays Washington in a College World Series opener. Meanwhile, some former Dogs enjoyed a day of their own on Friday in the big leagues. Atlanta Braves TV broadcasters, Jeff Francoeur in particular, were effusively impressed with the arm of Hunter Renfroe, the ex-State star who made a couple of cannon-shot throws from deep right field to third base for San Diego. More impressive was the two-strike, two-out, two-run single Renfroe stroked in the seventh inning, putting the Padres up a run in a game they would go on to win 9-3. Renfroe has been in the throes of a skid and was batting just .229 at the time. He got another hit in the ninth and finished with a .245 average. At Yankee Stadium, Bulldogs alum Jonathan Holder pitched a scoreless sixth inning for his third hold of the year as New York beat Tampa Bay 5-0. Holder trimmed his ERA to 2.28. At Seattle’s Safeco Field, former State standout Mitch Moreland drove in a run and scored in Boston’s six-run third inning against Mariners ace James Paxton, but the Red Sox squandered a lead and lost 7-6. P.S. Southern Miss product Brian Dozier hit his 10th homer — off Cleveland’s Corey Kluber — to help Minnesota beat the Indians 6-3. It was Dozier’s 161st career bomb, moving him into sixth place alone on the all-time list of Mississippi natives. … Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart (shoulder) was placed on the 10-day disabled list by the Los Angeles Angels.
If you could gather together in some astral realm all the Mississippi natives who’ve ever played in the big leagues, oh, the stories they could tell. Willie Mitchell struck out Babe Ruth in his first at-bat. Gee Walker cycled on opening day. Claude Passeau threw a one-hitter in the World Series. Dave Parker was an All-Star Game MVP. Jay Powell won a Game 7 in the Series. Billy Hamilton stole four bases in his first start. But for sheer shake-your-head wonderment, it’d be hard to top Marcus Thames’ tale of his first major league at-bat. Sixteen years ago Sunday – June 10, 2002 – Louisville native Thames, playing for the New York Yankees, walked to the plate at Yankee Stadium to face Arizona’s Randy Johnson, reigning Cy Young award winner, and smashed the first pitch he saw for a home run. Thames, a 30th-round pick by the Yankees in 1996 out of East Central Community College, took a while to reach The Show but was not a one-trick pony. He hit 114 more MLB bombs – including seasons of 26 and 25 – over his 10-year career and averaged one homer per 15.9 at-bats, which, a Cut4 article on mlb.com points out, is one of the best ratios in history. Thames is now the Yankees’ hitting coach. P.S. Ex-Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff returned to the majors with Milwaukee on Sunday and, sans red beard, threw four strong innings before being lifted for a pinch hitter in a game the Brewers would lose to Philadelphia. … Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers, back up for a seventh stint this season with St. Louis, worked 2 1/3 innings in two games over the weekend. … Taylorsville High product Billy Hamilton contributed a triple, two runs and two outfield assists in Cincinnati’s win against the Cardinals on Sunday. A two-week slump has seen Hamilton’s average dip to .193. … Former State standout Adam Frazier was sent to Triple-A Indianapolis by Pittsburgh, presumably to get regular at-bats. In his third big league season, Frazier is batting .237 in 135 ABs.
This weekend’s Subway Series is the first for Ole Miss product Mickey Callaway as New York Mets manager. The scuffling Mets, losers of six straight, host the rampaging Yankees – whose hitting coach is Louisville native Marcus Thames — for three games at CitiField, all coming to a TV network near you. Mississippi State product Jonathan Holder (2.75 ERA) has done good work out of the Yankees’ bullpen. … An injury to Andrelton Simmons has meant a return to shortstop for Zack Cozart. The Ole Miss alum, signed by the Los Angeles Angels in the off-season to man third base, actually has moved about quite a bit on the dirt for L.A. He has 32 starts at third, 15 at second and five at short, the position he played for seven seasons with Cincinnati. Simmons, who could be out 2-6 weeks with an ankle sprain, might be the best defensive shortstop in the game, but Cozart is no slouch. In fact, Angels manager Mike Scioscia called him an “incredible shortstop.” What the Angels would like to see is a little more offense from their $38 million free agent, who is batting .229 with five homers and 18 RBIs. … Tonight, Cozart and the Angels will face Minnesota’s Lance Lynn, another former Rebels star. Lynn, also an off-season free agent signee, is 4-4 with a 5.46 for the Twins and has won three starts in a row. Worth noting: Cozart is .128 career vs. Lynn. … Arizona’s acquisition of outfielder Jon Jay might cut into Jarrod Dyson’s playing time. McComb native Dyson is hitting just .206 (with 10 steals) overall but is at .318 in his last seven games. And his defense is top-drawer. … Tonight marks a homecoming of sorts for Daniel Sweet, the Flowood native and former Northwest Rankin High star who plays for Pensacola, which is in Pearl for a five-game Southern League series against the Mississippi Braves. Sweet, a switch-hitting outfielder, is in his third season in the Cincinnati organization after being drafted out of Dallas Baptist. He is hitting .148 in 25 games for the Blue Wahoos in his first taste of Double-A. He was batting .284 in A-ball when he was promoted. … Tyler Marlette has been on a tear for the M-Braves, batting .382 in his last 10 games and .296 with six homers for the year. First baseman Marlette, 25, named to the SL All-Star Game on Wednesday, signed with Atlanta in the off-season after seven years in the Seattle organization. He is a career .272 hitter with 68 homers.
Kind of a good news/bad news scenario for Kendall Graveman. Oakland brought Graveman, the Mississippi State product, back up from Triple-A Nashville to make a start on Friday. Great. The start would be against the sizzling-hot New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Oh. Unbowed, Graveman answered the call with a strong six-inning effort, allowing just three hits and one earned run and notching his first big league win of the season in a 10-5 Oakland victory. The A’s opening day starter, Graveman was sent to the minors to work on mechanics after going 0-5 with an 8.89 ERA. He may have put those troubles behind him on Friday. “I thought I attacked better and had a good mindset,” he told mlb.com. Graveman did allow two home runs, including a three-run shot by Aaron Judge in his final inning. But those three runs were unearned because of an error that started the inning. It’s unclear if Graveman will remain in the Oakland rotation, but he certainly made a good case for doing so. … Two other Magnolia State college alums made MLB starts on Friday, and it did not go well for either. Ex-State standout Brandon Woodruff, also recalled from the minors on Friday, lasted just three innings for Milwaukee, allowing nine hits, a walk and seven runs against Colorado (at Coors Field). Former Ole Miss star Lance Lynn went 4 2/3 for Minnesota but was KO’d after yielding eight hits, two walks and four runs against the Los Angeles Angels. Still, there was some good news for the pair: Their teams rallied to win.