31 Jul

trade winds

Paul Maholm should really help the Atlanta Braves. The former Mississippi State ace might not be considered a big league star, but he is a solid No. 3 or 4 type pitcher. And he gives the Braves’ rotation a second left-hander (with Mike Minor), which is big. He was 9-6 with a 3.74 ERA for the Chicago Cubs and his career mark of 62-79 would be much better if hadn’t spent all that time with Pittsburgh. The Braves also added a capable outfielder in Reed Johnson in the deal for former Mississippi Braves pitchers Arodys Vizcaino and Jaye Chapman. Vizcaino might be a star someday, but the Braves have so much pitching depth, they could afford to part with him. Maholm, from Greenwood, joins a short list of Mississippi natives to play for Atlanta, including Bob Didier, Rod Gilbreath, Howard Battle, John Thomson and Jay Powell. … Texas may have been compelled to make the Ryan Dempster trade with the Cubs after watching Weir native Roy Oswalt’s performance against the Los Angeles Angels on Monday. Bugs Bunny ball was not working for Oswalt, who gave up 11 hits and eight runs in 5 1/3 innings. His ERA ballooned to 6.49 in six starts. And he’s got that back problem. … Former M-Braves center fielder Gorkys Hernandez moved from Pittsburgh to Miami, where he might actually get to play. He can run and has an outstanding glove. P.S. Richton’s JaCoby Jones, the former Mr. Baseball now at LSU, won the Cape Cod League home run derby on Saturday night.

29 Jul

sparking some interest

Two interesting things happened to the Mississippi Braves on Saturday night. They beat Mobile 7-3 at Trustmark Park for their season-high fifth straight win. They also got into a ninth-inning dustup with the BayBears, a benches-clearing incident resulting in several ejections. (Fines and/or suspensions may be in the offing.) Regrettable thought it may be, that’s the kind of thing that can light a fire under a club that seems to need it. A defining moment, perhaps. We’ll see. The M-Braves are now 15-19, 5½ games out of first place in the Southern League South with a trip to division leader Montgomery (21-14) coming up. Onetime big leaguer and Brandon native Brent Leach is scheduled to start tonight’s opener of the five-game series with the Biscuits, an M-Braves nemesis literally from Day One. A five-game series at Chattanooga follows the Montgomery trip. If these M-Braves have a move in them, it’s time to make it. P.S. Class A Asheville (Colorado Rockies) manager Joe Mikulik, the former Jackson Generals standout who famously — or infamously — went on a tirade in a 2006 game, was at it again on Friday. Mikulik threw another YouTube-worthy tantrum in a game at Charleston, S.C., “stealing” third base and giving it to a fan, among other things.

28 Jul

leading man

Lance Lynn is zeroing in on the 2012 Cool Papa Bell Award, given here for the top performance by a Mississippian (native or college alum) in the majors. The big right-hander out of Ole Miss won his 13th game on Friday. He didn’t pitch great (eight hits, two walks, six runs in five innings), but his St. Louis teammates backed him with five home runs in a 9-6 win over the Chicago Cubs. Lynn is 13-4 with a 3.42 ERA and has been a big reason the Cardinals are still hanging around in the National League Central race. … Others still in contention for the Cool Papa include UM product Seth Smith, who is batting .251 with 11 homers and 38 RBIs (five on Friday) for Oakland; ex-Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland, who is batting .272 with 10 homers for Texas (and is due off the DL soon); former MSU standout Jonathan Papelbon, who has 22 saves for Philadelphia; and Bulldogs alum Paul Maholm, who is 9-6 with a 3.88 ERA for the lowly Cubs. P.S. One of the best stories in baseball is being written by Ben Sheets, who is now 3-0 with a 0.50 ERA in three starts for Atlanta. Sheets, out almost two years following Tommy John surgery, launched his comeback with the Mississippi Braves earlier this month.

27 Jul

the arms keep coming

It is often said that the Atlanta Braves do a great job of drafting and developing quality arms. We’ve seen the evidence flowing through the pipeline at Trustmark Park since 2005. Consider a few of the stalwarts who’ve passed through with the Double-A Mississippi Braves: Blaine Boyer, Macay McBride, Chuck James, Jo-Jo Reyes, Charlie Morton, Matt Harrison, Kris Medlen, Tommy Hanson, Craig Kimbrel, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy and Scott Diamond. On the cusp of breaking out are the likes of Randall Delgado, Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino, J.J. Hoover, Luis Avilan, Paul Clemens and Brett Oberholtzer. The latest to reach the Double-A stage is J.R. Graham, who sparkled in his TeePee debut on Thursday night: five innings, two hits, no runs, eight strikeouts. (As if he needs something more to stand out, he sports old-school stirrups.) A 6-foot right-hander drafted just last summer out of Santa Clara, Graham hits the mid-90s with his fastball and displays great control. In 170 1/3 pro innings, he has walked just 32 batters while fanning 132. He went 9-1 with a 2.63 ERA at Class A Lynchburg to earn the promotion to Mississippi last week. He joins a rotation already bubbling with big league prospects: Zeke Spruill, Sean Gilmartin, David Hale and Gary Moran. If nothing else, Atlanta has pieces to offer in a trade. P.S. The more you see of Todd Cunningham, the more you have to be impressed. The M-Braves’ leadoff batter scored the game’s only run in the eighth inning Thursday night when he raced around from first base on an infield hit and throwing error. Cunningham, hitting .317, had reached on a two-out infield single to extend his latest hit streak to six games.

26 Jul

clear a space

Pittsburgh, seeking more punch in its lineup, has called up highly regarded prospect Starling Marte. That’s bad news for Ole Miss alumnus Alex Presley. Marte has displaced Presley, at least for tonight, as the Pirates’ leadoff batter and left fielder. Presley, who batted .298 in 2011, is hitting just .231 this season. Marte, a five-tool talent, was batting .286 with 21 doubles, 13 triples and 12 home runs in Triple-A. He might not be ready to take over as a major league regular, but then again, he doesn’t have to do a lot to give the Bucs more than Presley was putting up.

23 Jul

tale of the tape

OK, so it’s not really Bobby Abreu vs. Lance Berkman. But the former Jackson Generals stars, the most accomplished hitters produced by the Capital City’s old Texas League franchise, will be on the same field today, as opponents, when the Los Angeles Dodgers play the St. Louis Cardinals. Both are piling up impressive career numbers. Abreu, 38, who seemed revived when the Dodgers nabbed him after the Angels cut him loose, has played in 2,319 games, ringing up 2,432 hits, including 286 homers, plus 1,439 runs, 1,347 RBIs and 397 stolen bases. He passed through Jackson in 1994, batting .303 with 16 homers. Berkman, now 36, didn’t come along in Jackson until 1997, when he hit .306 with 24 bombs. Abreu was already an established big leaguer when Berkman reached the majors in 1999, but Berkman’s stats aren’t far behind. He has out-hit Abreu .296 to .292, and has a better slugging percentage, .545 to .477, despite battling injury problems in recent seasons. In 1,794 games, Berkman has 1,839 hits, 359 homers, 1,116 runs, 1,198 RBIs and 48 steals (18 in one season, as if to show that he could do that, too). Wonder which one will break down and retire first? Not that we’re counting the days. No, just the numbers.

23 Jul

ranger ramblings

Mitch Moreland is scheduled to start a rehab assignment tonight for Triple-A Round Rock as he attempts to work his way back to Texas. Mississippi State product Moreland, out a month with a hamstring injury, is expected to take some time off this week to be with his wife, Susannah, for the birth of their first child, and is reportedly targeting early next week for his return to the Rangers’ lineup. He is hitting .272 with 10 homers and 25 RBIs. Meanwhile, Holmes Community College’s Roy Oswalt was scratched from a scheduled start for the Rangers tonight because of lower back stiffness. The problem isn’t believed to be serious, according to reports, but Oswalt does have that history … . His next win, whenever that might be, will move him into second place alone on the all-time Mississippi list. He is currently tied with Claude Passeau at 162.

22 Jul

rebel yells

It was a good day to be a Rebel in the big leagues. Ole Miss product Seth Smith hit a game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth inning today and Oakland went on to beat the New York Yankees 5-4 in 12. Smith’s homer was his 11th and the first allowed this season by Yanks closer Rafael Soriano. The win gave the surging A’s a four-game sweep of New York. Lance Lynn threw six shutout innings for St. Louis, leading the Cardinals to a 7-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs. Lynn notched his 12th win of the season. And Alex Presley, batting leadoff for Pittsburgh, had a hit and scored a run as the Pirates won their fifth straight, 3-0 over Miami. P.S. Jackson native Donnie Veal was sent back to Triple-A by the Chicago White Sox. The left-hander made two scoreless appearances in his first big league duty since 2009 with Pittsburgh.

21 Jul

red-letter day

Zack Cozart snapped out of a 1-for-21 slump with a three-hit game on Friday night, helping first-place Cincinnati beat Milwaukee 3-1 and hold onto a half-game lead in the National League Central. “It feels good. Especially for me …,” the rookie shortstop out of Ole Miss told mlb.com after Friday’s game. Cozart hasn’t hit perhaps as well as the Reds had hoped this season — his average is just .246 — but has provided some pop. He homered Friday, giving him 10 for the season. He also has 22 doubles. His runs accounted for total is 68 (20 RBIs, 48 runs) in 88 games, which isn’t bad for a guy who’s not a middle-of-the-order hitter. And no one’s complaining about his defense. It’ll be interesting to see how Cozart responds as the playoff chase heats up. It’s got to be fun to be in the middle of that, right?

20 Jul

a wanted man?

Despite winning 14 of 19, the Chicago Cubs are still buried in the depths of the National League Central and figure to be sellers as the July 31 trade deadline approaches. One of the players who figures to attract a fair bit of attention from the buyers is former Mississippi State standout Paul Maholm. The veteran — and, yes, crafty — left-hander has pitched as well as anybody of late, winning four straight with a 0.89 ERA. For the year, he is 8-6, 4.09. Maholm “escaped” Pittsburgh as a free agent in the off-season, signing a one-year, $4.75 million deal (with a team option) with the Cubs. It’s a good bet he’ll be wearing a different unie soon. P.S. Jackson’s Seth Smith had a big two-run hit in Oakland’s 4-3 win over the New York Yankees late Thursday. Keep an eye on those Swingin’ A’s, just 7 ½ back in the American League West.