Former Mississippi State star Jonathan Papelbon blew a save (just his fourth of the year in 41 chances) on Sunday, got booed by the Philadelphia crowd, made an apparent vulgar gesture as he walked to the dugout, got ejected and then engaged umpire Joe West in a heated confrontation. Can this marriage be saved? Papelbon clearly doesn’t want to be in Philly, and maybe this was the final straw for Phillies management. … Four former Mississippi Braves belted home runs on Sunday, but none did so for Atlanta. Martin Prado and Brian McCann went deep for the New York Yankees, Yunel Escobar for Tampa Bay and Jordan Schafer for Minnesota. … Meanwhile, M-Braves alum Mike Minor allowed eight hits, three walks and five runs in 4 2/3 innings as skidding Atlanta lost its third straight game to a woeful Texas team that is playing a veritable Triple-A lineup. Minor is 6-11 with a 4.74 ERA. The Braves are just one game over .500 and likely have had a fork stuck in their season. … Former Ole Miss star Seth Smith got a hit for San Diego, but it was just his fifth in 35 at-bats. His latest slump has dropped his average to .268, and he has been stuck on 12 home runs for a while also. … Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton stole a base, his 56th on the year for Cincinnati but first since Sept. 2. He is also slumping (.139 over his last 10 games) at the plate and has seen his average fall to .259. … Former Jackson Generals standout Bobby Abreu is 2-for-3 since the New York Mets recalled him from the minors. Abreu now has 2,468 career knocks and a .291 average.
You want good pitching … you need good pitching … especially in the heat of the playoff race. But good isn’t always rewarded; such is the fickle nature of baseball. Both Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn and ex-Picayune High standout T.J. House were good on Thursday. Only one could smile at day’s end. Firing furious fastballs at Cincinnati’s hitters, veteran right-hander Lynn went eight innings for St. Louis. He allowed just three hits (one by Billy Hamilton) and one run, struck out six and walked one. But the Cardinals, clinging to first place in the National League Central, were shut out by Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman. Lynn took the loss in the 1-0 game and is now 15-9 with a 2.73 ERA. Plying pinpoint placement against Minnesota, rookie left-hander House went seven innings for Cleveland. He allowed just four hits (one by Brian Dozier) and no runs with eight strikeouts and no walks. The Indians, trying to chase down an American League playoff berth, scored two runs and House got the victory, in Game 2 of a twinbill sweep, to improve to 3-3, 3.42. (For what it’s worth, House became the first Cleveland pitcher ever to go at least seven innings and allow one run or less with no walks in three consecutive starts.) “It’s really exciting to watch his development,” Indians manager Terry Francona told mlb.com. P.S. Former Harrison Central star Bobby Bradley was named the rookie level player of the year for 2014 by Baseball America. Bradley, an Indians farmhand, batted .361 with eight homers and 50 RBIs in the Arizona League. Also making BA’s classification all-star teams were Ole Miss product Auston Bousfield (Padres) in short-season Class A; former Mississippi State star Kendall Graveman (Blue Jays) in high Class A; and ex-Mississippi Braves closer Chasen Shreve in Double-A.
Former major leaguers Bill Hall and Fred Lewis are plugging away in the independent Atlantic League, though neither is on a team enjoying much success. Nettleton’s Hall, 34, who played 11 years in the big leagues, is batting .258 with three home runs and 18 RBIs for Long Island, the defending league champ but a sub-.500 club in 2014. Lewis, 33, the ex-Stone County High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star, is hitting .259 with six homers, 39 RBIs and 12 stolen bases this year. The 7-year MLB veteran began the season with Lancaster but is now with Bridgeport, the league’s worst team. … In Japan, Pascagoula’s Joey Butler, another ex-Gulf Coast CC standout, is playing sparingly in his first season with Orix, which stands second in the Pacific League with just a handful of games remaining. Butler, 28, who has 17 MLB at-bats on his ledger, is hitting .231 with two homers and six RBIs in 21 games for the Buffaloes.
October gets the hype, but heroes can be made in September, as well. There are a handful of Mississippians on teams that are still contending for MLB playoff berths. Some hold prominent positions, some just occupy supporting roles. But you never know who the moment will find or when it’ll happen. That’s what makes the playoff push so compelling. In the heated American League Central race, outfielder Jarrod Dyson (Southwest Mississippi Community College) and right-hander Louis Coleman (Pillow Academy) are trying to help Kansas City make the postseason for the first time since 1985. Among the teams trying to catch the first-place Royals is Cleveland, which has found a reliable starting pitcher in lefty T.J. House (Picayune High). Oakland, still in the hunt in the AL West as well as the wild card race, has a stable full of quality arms, including left-hander Drew Pomeranz (Ole Miss), who can start or relieve in a pinch. Toronto, still standing in the AL wild card scrap, brought up minor league sensation Kendall Graveman (Mississippi State) to help in its bullpen. Graveman (see previous post) gave up a hit and a run in his MLB debut on Sept. 5. (Incidentally, he became the 25th Mississippi-connected player to appear in the big leagues in 2014.) In the National League, Washington may just be the best team out there, and Mississippians Tyler Moore (Mississippi State) and Aaron Barrett (UM) are contributing, Moore as a right-handed slugger off the bench and Barrett as a righty out of the pen. And for St. Louis, still in a dogfight in the NL Central, Lance Lynn (Ole Miss) already has won 15 games and will get the call in several more big ones. P.S. Desmond Jennings, the Itawamba CC product, may be shut down by Tampa Bay because of a nagging knee problem. Jennings hasn’t played since Aug. 28, and the Rays are fading fast from postseason contention. … A pair of Mississippi natives are on opposing sides in the Double-A Eastern League Championship Series. Jackson native and ex-Ole Miss star Cody Satterwhite has a 2.33 ERA and 15 saves for the Binghamton Mets, while Tupelo native and former MSU standout Chris Stratton (1-1, 3.52 in five starts) got the win for Richmond (Giants) in its division series clincher. … Houston native and Ole Miss alum Justin Henry (.251 in 73 games) is playing for Triple-A Pawtucket (Red Sox), which is in the International League finals.
There is no game tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Had the Mississippi Braves won the second half in the Southern League South, they would be playing Mobile at the TeePee in Game 3 of the division series. But two losses in the final series at Huntsville cost the M-Braves dearly, as Jacksonville ended the season with 10 straight wins and finished a game up in the SL South. It is disappointing that the M-Braves didn’t make the playoffs, but this was not a disappointing season. Not in the least. Manager Aaron Holbert’s club had the league’s best overall record: 83-56. They led the league in batting (.266) and stolen bases (141), finished second in ERA (3.37) and were tied for third in runs (609). Even attendance was up: an announced 3,152 per game. The M-Braves had six players on the final roster who batted .280 or better, led by Jose Peraza, a fast-rising prospect at second base who batted .335 and stole 25 bases in 44 games. Outfielder Cedric Hunter, a one-time big leaguer, surely re-opened some eyes by batting .295 with 14 home runs and 72 RBIs. Kyle Kubitza, another good prospect at third base, hit .295 with eight homers, 55 RBIs and 21 steals. And jack-of-all-trades Barrett Kleinknecht, a.k.a. Klank, hit .280 with nine homers and 38 RBIs. Pitching prospect Jason Hursh, Atlanta’s No. 1 pick in 2013, went 11-7 with a 3.58 ERA. Aaron Northcraft went 7-3, 2.88 before a midseason promotion to Triple-A Gwinnett. Williams Perez, Mitch Atkins and Greg Ross were also outstanding as starters. Shae Simmons was a lights-out closer (0.78 ERA, 14 saves) before he was promoted to Atlanta at the end of May. Several others in the bullpen stepped up, including Ryne Harper, John Cornely and Brandon Cunniff. This was a very good team, fun to watch. Such a shame they didn’t get to keep playing. P.S. Tim Bogar joined the ranks of former Jackson Mets now managing in the majors when he took over in Texas for Ron Washington, who surprisingly resigned on Friday. Bogar played shortstop for Our Jackson Mets in 1989, hitting .266 with four homers and 45 RBIs. The other former OJMs now managing are Ned Yost in Kansas City, John Gibbons in Toronto and Ron Gardenhire in Minnesota. Pittsburgh’s Clint Hurdle managed the JaxMets in 1990. Bogar, who was Washington’s bench coach, was a highly successful minor league manager, but his MLB debut didn’t go so well: The lowly Rangers (53-88) lost to Seattle 7-5.
Though his power has waned — and his team’s postseason hopes have flickered out — Brian Dozier’s bat still has some life. The former Southern Miss star is batting .350 over his last 10 games with five RBIs and seven runs for Minnesota, which is battling with the Chicago White Sox to avoid last place in the American League Central. Dozier, not a noted slugger, belted 15 home runs through June, helping the second baseman get an invite to the MLB Home Run Derby (which didn’t go so well). He hit his 20th bomb of the year on Aug. 10 – and hasn’t hit one since. But that’s not really his game. Dozier’s other numbers for the season range from fair to great: .244 average, 132 hits, 80 walks, 62 RBIs, 20 steals and a league-leading 98 runs in 136 games. By season’s end, he’ll likely have improved his numbers from 2013 in every important category.
Of the players on the inaugural Mississippi Braves team in 2005 who reached the majors — and there are several — Brian McCann is easily the most accomplished. Jeff Francoeur had his moments of glory, of course, and Blaine Boyer is still kicking in San Diego’s bullpen. Also deserving of a tip of the cap is the less-heralded Gregor Blanco, who has been a valuable contributor in San Francisco for the past three years and helped the Giants win a World Series in 2012. Blanco played center field for the ’05 M-Braves and impressed with his speed, which is still showing. He is batting .260 (.340 on-base percentage) for the Giants, a strong postseason contender, with 14 stolen bases and five triples, and he makes plays in the spacious outfield at AT&T Park. Blanco also has four homers, 31 RBIs and 38 runs. Over his last 10 games, he has hit .333 with 15 runs accounted for. Blanco debuted in Atlanta in 2008 and hit .251 with 13 bags in 144 games. The Braves gave up on him — perhaps too soon — but he has gone on to have a nice career: .257, 14 homers, 25 triples, 80 steals and 232 runs. P.S. Erik Cordier became the latest M-Braves alumnus to reach the majors (No. 89) when he debuted for the Giants on Wednesday. The right-hander, regularly hitting 101 mph, walked a batter, hit a batter and fanned a batter in a scoreless inning of work.
Curious to see how Kendall Graveman’s stuff plays in the big leagues. It sure worked in the minors. The ex-Mississippi State standout, a September call-up by Toronto, accidentally discovered a cut fastball, ala Mariano Rivera, this summer while throwing in A-ball. That pitch essentially propelled the right-hander to Double-A, then Triple-A and now to the Blue Jays. He went 14-6 with a 1.83 ERA as a starter at four levels in the minors. The Blue Jays, hanging buy a thread in the American League postseason race, figure to use Graveman out of the bullpen. “A big league starter? I don’t know,” Gary Allenson, Graveman’s manager at Triple-A Buffalo, told the National Post of Toronto. “He doesn’t light up the radar gun. But he’s got good movement on his fastball, and it’s late movement.” Allenson, a former Jackson Generals manager, also said that a “soft tosser” like Graveman can have a hard time getting an MLB opportunity, so Graveman has already beaten those odds. The Alabama native was an eighth-round pick by the Jays in 2013 after he went 8-5 with a 3.09 for State’s College World Series team. P.S. Other interesting call-ups include former Mississippi Braves pitcher Erik Cordier (11-7, 3.71 for the 2010 club) by San Francisco and ex-M-Braves outfielder Antoan Richardson by the New York Yankees. Richardson got a cup of coffee with Atlanta in 2011; Cordier is awaiting his MLB debut.
Desmond Jennings got the Labor Day weekend off, thanks to a left knee problem. The former Itawamba Community College standout, who last played for Tampa Bay last Thursday, is expected back in the lineup soon, possibly today. Though the Rays are essentially out of the running for a postseason berth, it’s a safe bet they would like to see a strong finish from Jennings, who hasn’t had a stellar year. He is batting just .244 with 10 home runs, 36 RBIs, 15 steals and 64 runs in 123 games. Jennings, who plays center field and usually leads off, was riding a six-game hitting streak before he left the lineup. He was 9-for-28 (.321) in that span. … Washington, threatening to run away with the National League East, added Ole Miss alum Aaron Barrett and Mississippi State product Tyler Moore as September call-ups. Barrett, a right-handed reliever, was 3-0 with a 3.21 ERA in his prior stint with the Nationals, while Moore hit .214 with three homers in two brief tours. Moore, a former Northwest Rankin High and Meridian CC star, was hitting .265 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs at Triple-A Syracuse. P.S. Worth noting: Jonathan Papelbon, the ex-MSU standout, got the last three outs of Philadelphia’s no-hitter against Atlanta on Monday. The final out in the 7-0 game was a line drive to the first baseman off the bat of former Mississippi Braves standout Phil Gosselin.
The lights were bright, the stage was big and T.J. House, the pride of Picayune High, rose to the occasion. On ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, before a sell-out crowd at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, in a key American League Central contest, rookie left-hander House worked seven innings for Cleveland, allowing one run on five hits with no walks. He stood to get the win, which would have been his third of the year, but the Indians’ bullpen blew the save in the ninth. Cleveland scored twice in the 10th to take a 4-2 lead before the game was suspended because of weather. It’ll be resumed in Cleveland on Sept. 22. … Among the marquee games today is Pittsburgh at St. Louis, with former Ole Miss star Lance Lynn taking the mound for the Cardinals, who have caught Milwaukee in the National League Central race. Pittsburgh is hanging on in third place. Lynn is 14-8 with a 2.79 and is trying to become only the second pitcher in MLB to win at least 15 games in each of the last three seasons. … In Atlanta on Sunday, former Mississippi Braves standout Alex Wood delivered perhaps his best career outing in the Braves’ 1-0 win over Miami. Wood went eight innings, allowed five hits and no walks and fanned 12. Then ex-M-Braves closer Craig Kimbrel blew through the Marlins in the ninth for his 41st save. Former M-Braves Phil Gosselin, Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons combined to go 7-for-11, but the only hit that produced a run for Atlanta was a home run (No. 21) by another ex-M-Braves star, Evan Gattis. Oh yeah, and former M-Braves right fielder Jason Heyward made yet another great catch. Doesn’t it seem like he does that everyday? … At Huntsville today, in the Double-A Southern League, the current M-Braves will pin their postseason hopes on right-hander Mitch Atkins (6-1, 3.56). The M-Braves need to beat Huntsville and get help from Mobile, which will try to halt Jacksonville’s nine-game win streak. If the Suns (a Miami affiliate) win again, they’ll also win the SL South. If the M-Braves do make the postseason, they’ll play at home on Saturday (Sept. 6) in the division series.