31 May

the old guard

Freddy Garcia, 36 and a long time removed from his days as a Jackson Generals ace, turned back the clock on Thursday, throwing eight shutout innings for Baltimore in a 2-0 win over Washington. Garcia hadn’t gone eight innings in a start since 2009 and hadn’t put up eight shutout innings since 2006. “It was fun to watch,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, the former Mississippi State star. Garcia is 2-2 with a 3.57 ERA in this latest comeback. … Meanwhile, former Jackson Mets manager Davey Johnson saw his struggling Nationals drop to 27-27 and 5.5 games back of first-place Atlanta in the National League East. … Jeff Francouer, eight years removed from his Double-A campaign with the Mississippi Braves, hit a big ninth-inning homer for Kansas City, which snapped an eight-game losing skid by beating St. Louis 4-2. The game, which marked George Brett’s debut as Royals hitting coach, was halted for 4½ hours in the ninth and didn’t end until 2:14 a.m. CDT. Former Pillow Academy star Louis Coleman from Schlater got the win, and former JaxMets star Ned Yost, KC’s manager, got some relief — maybe — from the hot seat. … Atlanta put up season-highs for runs and hits in an 11-3 win over Toronto. Former M-Braves Jordan Schafer, Freddie Freeman, Evan Gattis and Mike Minor played key roles in that game, another pebble in the sack weighing down Blue Jays manager and ex-JaxMets standout John Gibbons. The Jays, loaded with talent, are 23-31 and 9.5 games back in the American League East. … Former JaxMets manager Clint Hurdle has Pittsburgh (34-20) playing well, but former OJMs infielder Ron Gardenhire is having another tough year in Minnesota (23-28). … Not to be overlooked is the positive impact former Gens star Lance Berkman is having on the field (.285, four homers, 28 RBIs) and off for first-place Texas.

30 May

predictions, predictions

Hunter Renfroe, the big basher from Mississippi State, will go 14th in next week’s MLB draft, according to mlb.com’s latest mock draft. Ferriss Trophy winner Renfroe, who put up tremendous offensive numbers and also plays a good outfield, is projected to be selected by Pittsburgh. Also pegged to go in the first round is Tim Anderson, the brilliant East Central Community College shortstop who led the Warriors to the state juco title. He is predicted to go 31st to Atlanta. Ole Miss pitcher Bobby Wahl isn’t listed among the first-rounders by mlb.com, but he can’t be far behind. P.S. Quick picks for the NCAA regionals that start Friday: State will win its tournament, Ole Miss and Jackson State will call it a season. The Bulldogs’ regional is regarded as a tough one with South Alabama (No. 18 RPI), Mercer (No. 28) and Central Arkansas placed in Starkville. But Dudy Noble Field is a tremendous home-field edge for State, which is making its 31st NCAA tourney appearance. Ole Miss, seeking to end that long CWS drought, won’t get past North Carolina State, a consensus top 10 team playing at home in Raleigh. Jackson State will go 2-and-out in Baton Rouge, where it must open with 52-9 LSU, which has the talent to win the national title. … Good for left-hander Alex Wood, promoted to Atlanta from Mississippi today. Not so good for the Double-A M-Braves, who lose the Southern League’s ERA leader (1.26, with a 4-2 record) in the midst of a division title chase.

28 May

at this point …

A check of the standings on Memorial Day, so they say, is a good measuring stick for how MLB teams are shaping up for the season. Contender, pretender, bottom feeder … we’re supposed to be able to tell something two months in. If the same is true of players, well, a check of the stats on Monday was good news for the likes of Lance Lynn, Mitch Moreland, Seth Smith, Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee and, perhaps, Desmond Jennings, Paul Maholm and Chris Coghlan. The other Mississippians in the majors could be in for a rough summer. Lynn (Ole Miss) is 7-1 with a 2.95 ERA for St. Louis, possibly the best team in baseball. Moreland (Mississippi State) is hitting .287 with 10 homers for a first-place Texas club. Smith (UM) is at .287 (.314 in his last 10 games) with five homers for a contending Oakland team. Papelbon (State) has been dynamite (9-for-9 on saves, 0.96 ERA) and Lee (Meridian Community College) very effective (5-2, 2.48), even though Philadelphia is off to a wobbly start. Jennings (Itawamba CC) is hitting just .235 but does have five homers and 32 runs in 46 games for Tampa Bay, which is hanging tough in the American League East. Maholm (State) was 6-4, 3.38 for first-place Atlanta before getting roughed up by Toronto today. Miami is a disaster, sure, but Coghlan (UM), after years of struggle, is showing positive signs (.250 in 92 at-bats, .333 over his last 10 games). Jarrod Dyson (Southwest CC), currently on the disabled list, is hitting .268 with six steals for another struggling club, Kansas City. Then there’s the other guys. Zack Cozart (UM) has a .232 average and five homers for Cincinnati, which looks set to battle the Cardinals for the National League Central title. Brian Dozier (Southern Miss) is in a 3-for-31 skid and is batting .197 for lowly Minnesota. Tyler Moore (State) has gotten only 79 at-bats and is hitting just .152 with one homer; his Washington team also has been sluggish. Julio Borbon (Starkville) homered on Monday and is batting .250 with four bags but has managed just limited duty for the scuffling Chicago Cubs. Tony Sipp (Gulf Coast CC) has a 4.91 ERA and two blown saves for Arizona, which looks like a factor in the NL West. Robert Carson (Hattiesburg) has a 9.45 ERA in nine games for the New York Mets, who appear to be going nowhere in 2013. Louis Coleman (Pillow Academy) has made just two relief appearances for KC since being recalled last week.

26 May

it’s a big one

Conor Fisk gets the ball today for his 12th start as a Southern Miss pitcher. None of the other 11 remotely compares in significance to this one. It’s do-or-die now for USM, which plays Rice in Houston for the Conference USA Tournament title. At 30-26, the Golden Eagles need to win to get an NCAA regional bid and join Ole Miss, Mississippi State and SWAC champ Jackson State in the postseason party. Otherwise, the Eagles will pack up the equipment, just as every other Mississippi college and juco has now done. So, who is Conor Fisk? He’s a 6-foot-2, 225-pound junior right-hander from Wisconsin. He was drafted out of high school by Milwaukee but went instead to a juco, Wabash Valley, where he was 14-2 with a 2.71 ERA in 2012. He is 4-3 with a 2.97 for USM. He pitched fairly well against Rice in a meeting in March, going seven innings and yielding eight hits and three runs. He got no decision in what became a 6-3 loss. In his last outing, on May 17 against Houston, Fisk got knocked around for nine hits and six runs (four earned) in 4 2/3 innings. He took the L in that one. Rice is the top seed in the tournament and is 40-17, virtually assured of an NCAA bid already. Maybe that will work in Fisk’s favor. Then again, there’s that win-or-go home pressure in the air. P.S. Roy Oswalt needs more polish before he’ll be ready to help the Colorado Rockies. The former Weir High and Holmes Community College star said as much himself after allowing four hits (two homers), three walks and three runs in five innings in a minor league start on Friday. … Add Jesus Sucre to the list of Mississippi Braves to make the majors. The catcher debuted for Seattle against Texas on Friday night. He was doubled up on that absurdly bad call at first base, where the pitcher (not on the bag) caught the ball in front of the first baseman (who was on the bag). The umpires somehow missed it.

24 May

talent abounds

Postseason survivors tend to have outstanding players, and there will be some serious star power on the field today in Appleton, Wisc., when Millsaps College and Southern Maine meet in the NCAA Division III World Series. Both teams have four players on the d3baseball.com All-America chart — and note that the pool of D-III players is gianormous. Millsaps (38-12) features first-team All-America catcher Wes Perkins (.428, 60 RBIs): second-teamer Keith Shumaker (.374, 51 RBIs as a hitter, 6-1, 3.01 ERA as a hurler); third-team third baseman Stephen Gates (.368, 63 runs); and honorable mention second baseman Kevin Wall (.344). Southern Maine (42-8) is led by d3baseball.com player of the year Tucker White, an outfielder who batted .411 with 10 homers, 56 RBIs, nine triples and 35 stolen bases. Third baseman Nick Grady was a first-team pick, and left-hander Logan Carman (12-0) and DH Chris Bernard were on the second team. Millsaps, making its first CWS appearance under the very successful Jim Page, has drawn a tough opener. But count on the Majors to put up a good fight in this eight-team, double-elimination affair.

23 May

unexpected heroes

Evan Gattis had a solid — though injury-interrupted — season with the Mississippi Braves in 2012. He had a good winter ball campaign. And he was impressive in spring training with Atlanta. But, still, no one could have expected the impact he has had with the Braves. Gattis, who belted his first career grand slam on Wednesday, has 10 home runs in 37 games. According to MLB Network, only two Braves rookies have gotten to 10 homers faster: Wally Berger in 1930 and Jeff Francoeur in his magical summer of 2005. Gattis also has 27 RBIs. But Gattis is not alone among former M-Braves who have been pleasant surprises for Atlanta, which has won six straight to reach 28-18 and open up a 4½-game lead in the National League East. Jordan Schafer, the onetime No. 1 prospect who fell hard and fast, seems transformed in his second tour with the Braves. The less cocky, more mature Schafer is hitting .309 with 12 runs, a team-best six steals and a .434 on-base percentage in 31 games. He is also a good outfielder with a strong arm. You actually find yourself wishing he played more. Then there’s Cory Gearrin and Luis Avilan, who have helped ease the sting of injuries in the Braves’ bullpen. Gearrin has a 0.87 ERA in 25 appearances, lefty Avilan a 3.06 in 21. They weren’t expected to be key contributors this season but have answered the bell. So, too, has Julio Teheran, also a former No. 1 prospect. After a so-so 2012 season in Triple-A, he won the fifth starter job in the spring and is 3-1 with a 3.99. The Braves have hardly missed Brandon Beachy, who is due back from injury soon. P.S. Cory Rasmus made his MLB debut on Wednesday, allowing two homers in 1 2/3 innings but finishing off Paul Maholm’s sixth win. Rasmus is the 72nd M-Braves alum to make The Show. … Happy 57th birthday to Buck Showalter, the ex-Mississippi State standout whose Baltimore Orioles are 25-21 and hanging tough in the American League East race.

19 May

a tiger’s tale

Raise your hand if you had heard of Alexander Juday before this season. Anyone? Well, he should be a little more well-known today. The sophomore right-hander from Indiana tossed a pressure-packed complete game to lead Jackson State to a 6-2 win over Prairie View and give the Tigers their first SWAC championship in 13 years. Juday went 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA over 17 innings in the league tournament at Fort Worth, Texas, and earned MVP honors. After starting this season as a set-up reliever, Juday is now a front-line starter with a 7-4 record and six complete games. That’s making a name for yourself. What’s more, coach Omar Johnson’s Tigers (34-20) now own a much-coveted automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. P.S. Millsaps (38-12) will play Southern Maine in its NCAA Division III College World Series opener. The game is set for Friday at Appleton, Wisc. … Of the five finalists for the Ferriss Trophy, which will be awarded on Monday, Mississippi State’s Hunter Renfroe would appear most deserving of the annual honor. The junior outfielder, a potential first-round pick in the MLB draft, batted .362 with 15 homers, 51 RBIs, a .691 slugging percentage, 48 runs and nine stolen bases. All that for a 40-12 team that enters this week’s SEC Tournament as the 5-seed. The other candidates, all worthy nominees, to be sure, are Ole Miss catcher Stuart Turner, Rebels pitcher Bobby Wahl, Southern Miss hurler Andrew Pierce and Delta State pitcher Josh Branstetter.

17 May

temperature reading

Who’s hot? Jackson State, for sure. The Tigers are 2-0 in the SWAC Tournament with comfortable wins over Texas Southern and Alcorn State. Mississippi State also falls into this category. The Bulldogs beat South Carolina on Thursday in their SEC series opener and have won three straight. At 15-13 in the SEC, State still has a shot at one of the top four seeds for the upcoming league tournament. Delta State, behind the masterful pitching of unbeaten Michael Manley (9-0), won its NCAA Division II South Region opener over Valdosta State 4-2. Warm: Southern Miss, with ace Andrew Pierce getting the start, lost at Houston 3-2 but still has a good chance of winning the C-USA regular season title. The Golden Eagles are 14-8, one up on three other teams with two games left. Millsaps, after winning its D-III regional opener, lost on Thursday to fall into the loser’s bracket. The Majors entered the NCAAs on the heels of SAA regular season and tournament championships. Pearl River Community College, which flopped in the MACJC Tournament on its home field, pounded state champion East Central 12-1 in the NJCAA D-II Region 23 Tournament, also in Poplarville. Next for the Wildcats, however, is top-ranked LSU-Eunice. Cool: Northwest CC and ECCC, who squared off for the state title, meet today in a Region 23 elimination game. Someone’s season will go cold. Cold: Ole Miss has lost three straight to three of its biggest rivals: State, USM and, on Thursday, LSU. The Tigers whipped the Rebels 7-1, dropping UM’s SEC record to 14-14. Alcorn, coming off an 11-1 loss to Jackson State, plays Texas Southern today in a SWAC tourney elimination game.

15 May

no free rides

Jackson State heads into the SWAC Tournament, which begins today in Fort Worth, Texas, with the best record in the league, both overall and in conference play. The Tigers are 30-20 and went 19-5 in the league to win the Eastern Division title. The Tigers had six players named either first- or second-team all-conference. The Tigers should be the favorites to win the tournament and claim an NCAA regional berth. Of course, in the SWAC, only the champion is likely to get an NCAA bid, so the pressure is that much greater. JSU was the best team in the league in 2012 and didn’t get out of the tournament. JSU opens against Texas Southern (20-27) in the eight-team, double-elimination affair. Alcorn State, No. 3 from the East, plays Arkansas-Pine Bluff today. The Braves went 15-39 this year, 1-29 in non-SWAC games. That’s the kind of thing that hurts the league’s reputation. P.S. JSU’s first-team All-SWAC picks were pitcher Andre Rodriguez, catcher Jose Cruz and DH Malcolm Tate. Outfielder Charles Tillery, who batted .353 with 24 steals, was the newcomer of the year and a second-team pick. … Bailey native and Meridian Community College product Darren Farmer of Grambling State was the hitter of the year after batting .361. Grambling didn’t make the tourney field.

14 May

the mudcat

Happened to see where, on this date in 1927, Aberdeen native Guy Bush pitched an 18-inning complete game for the Chicago Cubs. Eighteen innings. It takes some starters today four outings to get to 18 innings. Bush, a.k.a. the Mississippi Mudcat, who won 176 games over 17 years in the big leagues, was a true workhorse. In 11 of his seasons, he threw 180 innings or more and seven times topped 200 innings. In 1929, he made a National League-leading 50 appearances (30 as a starter), logged 270 2/3 innings, won 18 games, saved eight and posted a 3.66 ERA. P.S. On the subject of great pitching, Severino Signa of East Central Community College delivered a gem for the Warriors in Sunday’s MACJC Tournament clincher. The Stoneville product threw a one-hitter in a 4-0 victory over Northwest. The Warriors won their first state title since 2007, going 3-0 in the tournament as star shortstop Tim Anderson drove in nine runs. ECCC, Northwest and Pearl River advanced to the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament along with No. 1-ranked LSU-Eunice. The event starts Thursday in Poplarville.