Some consider moving from starter to reliever a demotion of sorts. Former Mississippi State star Kendall Graveman has made the switch with the Seattle Mariners and couldn’t be happier about it. “It’s been fun,” he recently told the Seattle Times. “The adrenaline’s a lot different. It’s a different ballgame coming out of the bullpen and I really don’t (miss starting). Mentality-wise, I really think I fit down there.” Numbers-wise, it also looks like a good fit. The 30-year-old right-hander picked up his third save – of both the season and his eight-year MLB career – by pitching the ninth inning Thursday to close out a 1-0 victory over Houston. The Astros were no-hit for 6 1/3 by Yusei Kikuchi. Graveman has been called on nine times by the Mariners and has yet to allow a run over 10 2/3 innings. He has yielded just two hits and two walks while fanning 12. He was 24-31 as a starter with an ERA well above 4.00 from 2015-2020. Graveman missed time last season, his first in Seattle, because of a benign bone tumor in his neck. He moved to the bullpen when he returned and has nailed down a leading role there in 2021. “He’s going out there and pumping 99 mile per hour sinkers, power sinkers,” M’s starter Justus Sheffield told the Seattle Times. “It’s a beautiful thing to watch.” … The Mariners (14-12) host the Los Angeles Angels (12-11) – Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Albert Pujols, et al. – this weekend. The Angels also have a Mississippi college product who’s thriving in a bullpen role: ex-Ole Miss star Mike Mayers. Mayers, a middling reliever in St. Louis most of his big league career, has blossomed with the Angels the past two seasons. He is 1-1 with a save and a 2.77 ERA in 13 innings this season. Ten of his 12 appearances have been scoreless.
The results of last weekend left both Delta State and Mississippi College a little deflated. DSU lost two of three at home, including an L on Senior Day at Ferriss Field, while MC was swept on the road by Lee University, the No. 2 team in NCAA Division II. Well, forget all that. The Statesmen and Choctaws will be plenty fired up this weekend. The old rivals meet in a three-game set to finish the regular season at Frierson Field in Clinton. They’ll play a single game Friday and a pair on Saturday. DSU (22-14, 19-13 Gulf South) has clinched a berth in next week’s GSC Tournament; MC (15-18, 12-16) is still hunting. The all-time series tilts heavily to DSU, 43-12. But it’s 11-7 since 2015, when the Choctaws returned to D-II status and the GSC. Both teams can trot out some good arms – DSU’s Hunter Riggins (6-4, 3.03 ERA) and MC’s Jackson Bridges (5-3, 4.67), for example – but it would not be a shock to see the long ball determine the series winner. The Statesmen lead the GSC in homers with 50, topped by Jake Barlow with 12 and Hayden White with eight. MC is fourth with 42 homers, led by Ken Scott’s 10 and nine each from Caleb Reese and Dylan Duplechain. The teams didn’t play in last year’s aborted season, making this the first meeting between coaches Rodney Batts, who is in his second year in Cleveland, and Jeremy Haworth, now in his sixth at Clinton.
So many good things happened for Atlanta in its 10-0 rout of the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday. The Braves’ third straight win got them back to .500, tied for first in the National League East at 12-12. Huascar Ynoa, a Mississippi Braves alum, pitched brilliantly and hit his first career home run, one of five Atlanta belted. Former M-Braves star Freddie Freeman also went yard in a four-hit game and, after the Cubs raised the white flag, struck out laughing in an off-the-rails at-bat against Chicago first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Not to be overlooked is the performance of Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High (and M-Braves) product who went 4-for-5 with a two-run homer, a double and two runs. Atlanta’s third baseman, who had been getting a lot of grief for a slow start, is heating up. He is on a 9-for-20 roll. Over his last 15 games, he is batting .341 (.421 OBP) with three homers, six RBIs, 10 runs and eight walks. He has boosted his average to .286 and his on-base percentage to .400. His homer Wednesday was a line drive to left field, his double a rope to right, his two singles shots to center. Talk about using all fields. It’s a good sign for a good guy who comports himself in such an admirable way. P.S. On a somber note, it was on this date in 2007 that Cleveland native Josh Hancock, a St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher, died in an early morning automobile accident on Highway 40 in St. Louis. He was 29. MLB postponed a nationally televised game scheduled for that night against the Cubs out of respect. Hancock was a key member of the Cardinals’ 2006 World Series-winning club, pitching in 62 games that season, though he didn’t appear in the Fall Classic. An Auburn alum who also went to high school in Alabama, he is buried near Tupelo.
Far from the bright lights of the big leagues, where Shohei Ohtani is generating lots of buzz for his two-way heroics, Sloan Dieter of William Carey University is doing some impressive double-duty stuff down in Hattiesburg. A senior from Lake Charles, La., Dieter was named on Monday the Southern States Athletic Conference’s player of the week for last week. It was the second straight week he has won the award and the fourth time in his three years at WCU he has claimed it. He has also won the SSAC pitcher of the week award three times. Last week, Dieter, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound right-hander, hit .583 with two homers, five RBIs and five runs as the Crusaders went 5-0. He also threw a seven-hit shutout with nine strikeouts last week. He is batting .333 with 14 homers and 45 RBIs for the 30-10 Crusaders and has posted a 7-2 record with a 1.81 ERA. He rates some Ferriss Trophy consideration. For his college career, Dieter is batting .307 with 25 homers and has a 17-5 record with a 2.94 ERA.
The score was tied in the fifth inning at Comerica Park on Monday when former McComb High star Jarrod Dyson came up to face ex-Madison Central star Spencer Turnbull. Kansas City’s No. 8 hitter, leading off the inning, slashed a double to left field against Detroit’s starting pitcher. A sac bunt and a sac fly later, the Royals led 3-2. That would be the final score as the Royals, completing a four-game sweep at Detroit, improved to 14-7, best record in the American League. The Tigers fell to 7-16, worst in the league. Dyson, 36, back in KC after several years elsewhere, is a role player for the Royals. He has just 13 at-bats, four hits, three runs and two steals. He has been used mainly as a defensive replacement; his speed plays in the outfield. Dyson is good at little things, which has been a key to the Royals’ good start. See the bunt and sac fly on Monday. “People call them little things, but they’re big things. They’re really important for teams that fight like our team fights,” manager Mike Matheny said in an mlb.com story. The Tigers, meanwhile, are mired in a major funk, having lost 10 of 11 as their offense sputters. Their only win in that span was on April 21 in Turnbull’s first start of 2021 coming off the COVID-19 list. The big right-hander, now in his fourth MLB season, pitched well enough to win Monday, allowing just five hits (one homer) and no walks while striking out five over six innings. Tigers broadcasters raved about his curveball. But the Tigers went 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position and left 11 on base. “Baseball’s cruel, and when you’re in these situations and these ruts, it feels like all these weird things happen,” manager A.J. Hinch said.
Brandon Woodruff, the former Mississippi State standout from Wheeler, threw six shutout innings to beat the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Sunday. The Milwaukee ace is 2-0 with a 1.55 ERA and has yet to allow a home run in 29 innings this season.
Pearl River Community College wrapped up the junior college state championship with a sweep of Northeast on Sunday. Gulfport’s Tate Parker hit two homers, a grand slam and then a seventh-inning game-clincher, Nos. 14 and 15 on the year, in a 13-5 win in Game 1 at Poplarville. The third-ranked Wildcats are 33-7 and 23-5 MACCC.
Decatur’s Kemp Alderman, a freshman, blasted a walk-off bomb for Ole Miss on Saturday as the Rebels salvaged the third game of their SEC series against LSU.
Collinsville’s Ben Ethridge threw a three-hit, 11-strikeout shutout at Western Kentucky on Saturday, helping Southern Miss take three of four in the C-USA series.
Lucedale’s Logan Tanner hit a two-run homer off Jack Leiter on Saturday as Mississippi State handed the Vanderbilt ace — and potential No. 1 MLB draft pick — his first loss of the season. Rowdey Jordan’s leadoff blast got the Bulldogs rolling.
Brandon High took down previously undefeated Madison Central 7-6 on Friday. The Jaguars, No. 3 in the latest MaxPreps national poll, are now 24-1. The Bulldogs are 20-7.
Three former Mississippi Braves pitchers notched wins as MLB starters on Friday: Huascar Ynoa for Atlanta, Mike Minor for Kansas City and Alex Wood for San Francisco. A fourth, John Gant, got a W for St. Louis on Saturday.
Anybody remember – or still have — the 1972 Topps Billy Cowan card? To celebrate the 70th anniversary of Topps baseball cards, mlb.com asked readers/fans to send in their favorites, and one of the submissions recently highlighted was the ’72 Cowan. It shows the Calhoun City native posed in a batting stance with the iconic Big A at the California Angels’ stadium looming in the background. The halo that circles the A lurks just above Cowan’s head. It’s artsy and kinda cool.
Other submissions of local significance: a 1974 Topps Dave Parker from the Grenada native’s early days with Pittsburgh and a 2003 Topps Cliff Lee, a rookie card of the Meridian Community College product when he came up with Cleveland. If you like baseball, you have to like baseball cards, especially old ones. Personal favorite: 1965 Topps Willie Mays. First year of collecting. Great player. Regal pose. Great card design. Can still smell the bubble gum.
The All-Mississippi Home Run Derby, major league division, might be starting to heat up after a chilly start. JaCoby Jones, the Richton High alumnus, got on the board on Thursday, hitting his first home run of the season for Detroit in a 4-2 loss to Pittsburgh. Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central product, got his first bomb for Atlanta on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium. Ex-Mississippi State – and Amory High – star Mitch Moreland hit his first two of 2021 on Tuesday, going deep for Oakland against Minnesota. There is a new, supposedly “deader,” ball in play this season, but it doesn’t seem to have affected former Bulldogs slugger Nate Lowe. He homered on Wednesday for Texas and leads the Magnolia State pack with five. He’s on pace for about 40. East Central Community College product Tim Anderson, not a pure slugger, has three homers in just nine games. (Mississippi Braves alum Ronald Acuna also seems to love the new ball: He leads all of MLB with seven homers.) And yet, some Mississippians seem stuck in a power outage. MSU alum Hunter Renfroe, who entered this season with 97 homers over his five MLB campaigns, has hit one to date in his first season in Boston. Ex-Meridian CC standout Corey Dickerson hasn’t gone yard yet for Miami, nor has MSU product Brent Rooker for Minnesota. Adam Frazier, another ex-Bulldogs star who averaged nine homers over the last three seasons, hasn’t cranked one out yet for Pittsburgh, though he is batting .329.
Ole Miss right-hander Gunnar Hoglund is the top-rated draft prospect in the state, per MLB Pipeline’s new Top 150 announced Wednesday. Hoglund, 3-2 with a 2.73 ERA, is No. 10. He pitched well but took the loss in the Rebels’ 5-2 defeat against Mississippi State in Starkville last Friday. Hoglund was opposed as the starter by Bulldogs left-hander Christian MacLeod (3-2, 2.83), MLB Pipeline’s No. 66 prospect who also pitched well but got no decision. UM lefty Doug Nikhazy (4-1, 1.86), who threw the brilliant one-hitter at State on Saturday, is No. 100 in the new draft list. Will Bednar (2-1, 3.55), who took the loss for the Bulldogs in that game, is No. 34 on the list. (That’s the kind of power-packed series it was last weekend.) The only other Mississippi product on the list is Madison Central High senior Braden Montgomery, who sits at No. 54. The switch-hitting outfielder (.469, three homers) and righty pitcher (6-0, 0.22) is committed to Stanford. The draft is in July. The ratings will change before then. “This is a really tough draft,” a scout said in the mlb.com story. “It’s a year of challenges (due to COVID-19 restrictions) with mixed opinions on a lot of guys.”
A snapshot into the mercurial life of a major league relief pitcher: On Tuesday in Anaheim, former Ole Miss pitcher Mike Mayers was summoned from the Los Angeles Angels’ bullpen in the seventh inning with one out and a Texas runner at third. In his first game in a week, he struck out the first batter, but the second, Joey Gallo, a lefty slugger facing a shift, laid down a squeeze bunt up the third-base line for a hit. The runner scored, cutting the Angels’ lead to 3-2. After he struck out ex-Mississippi State standout Nate Lowe to end the inning, Mayers barked at Gallo, apparently miffed about the bunt. Mayers worked a 1-2-3 eighth, trimming his ERA to 0.93, and the Angels won the game 6-2. On Wednesday, Mayers was summoned in the eighth with one out, a runner on first and the Angels again up 3-1. Gallo was the first batter. He walked on a 3-2 pitch. The next batter, Adolis Garcia, hit a three-run bomb. Lowe followed with another homer. Mayers trudged off, his ERA suddenly swollen to 3.72, and the Angels lost the game 7-4. Mayers has had a good year to date. He has a win, two holds and a save. He had allowed only one homer in his first eight appearances. Then came Wednesday. His next appearance will be interesting to watch.