31 May

cy young watch

The competition is stiff for the Cy Young Award in the National League, home to Jacob deGrom, Trevor Bauer, Yu Darvish, Max Scherzer, et al. If Brandon Woodruff wasn’t in the conversation entering 2021, he certainly is now. Woodruff beat Scherzer head-to-head on Sunday, allowing just two hits while fanning 10 in a 3-0 win by Milwaukee over Washington. The former Mississippi State star from Wheeler is 4-2 with a 1.27 ERA — second in MLB only to deGrom — and has racked up 10 straight quality starts. Batters are hitting .138 against him — that’s second-best in MLB — and he is tied for seventh in the majors with 83 strikeouts. He toyed with the Nationals’ hitters on Sunday, utilizing three effective pitches. “I was mixing it up and getting ahead and moving the ball around to different quadrants of the zone. That’s what helps out,” Woodruff said in a classic understatement in an mlb.com article. What’s more, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound right-hander just exudes confidence on the mound. The only Mississippi-connected pitcher to win a Cy Young is Cliff Lee, the Meridian Community College product who claimed the American League honor in 2008 with Cleveland. (BTW, Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn — 6-1 with an AL-best 1.37 ERA — is off to a Cy Young-caliber start with the Chicago White Sox.)

30 May

time tunnel

Looking ahead for a Mississippi-flavored “week in review:”
On May 30, 1935, Babe Ruth grounded out in his last big league at-bat for the Boston Braves. The pitcher for Philadelphia was Jackson native Jim Bivin. Ruth was replaced in the outfield by Ludlow native Hal Lee.
On May 31, 1964, San Francisco and New York played a 23-inning, 7-hour and 23-minute game, at the time the longest by time in MLB history. Southern Miss product Jim Davenport, on with a triple, scored what proved to be the winning run for the Giants in an 8-6 victory.
On June 1, 2003, former Jackson Generals star Lance Berkman – the self-proclaimed Big Puma — scarfed a twinkie tossed to him by a rowdy Wrigley Field fan, then hit a home run in the next inning in Houston’s win against Chicago.
On June 2, 2000, former Jackson Mets standout Rick Aguilera posted his 300th career save, pitching for the Cubs against Detroit. He is one of just 30 players all-time to reach that milestone; he finished with 318 (plus 86 wins) over 16 seasons.
On June 3, 2004, Julio Franco became, at 45, the oldest player to hit a grand slam in a major league game. Cleveland native Josh Hancock threw the pitch for Philadelphia. Vicksburg native John Thomson got the win for Atlanta.
On June 4, 1906, Edward Harbert “Doc” Marshall was born in New Albany. He would go on to play for Ole Miss and then spend four years with the New York Giants, batting .309 in 1930 and .258 for his career. The middle infielder played in the minors until 1941.
On June 5, 1992, Pete Young made his big league debut. The former Mississippi State star from McComb retired the only five batters he faced for Montreal against the Cubs. He would appear in only 16 more games over two seasons.

30 May

energy guy

“Energy” isn’t one of the five tools commonly used to evaluate players. Maybe it should be. Billy Hamilton certainly has it, and it’s helped him stay in the game and make contributions with the Chicago White Sox this season. In Game 2 of the ChiSox’s sweep of Baltimore on Saturday, the Taylorsville High product hit his first home run of the season to break a scoreless tie in the fourth inning and sprinted around the bases, losing his helmet along the way. The guy one White Sox broadcaster called “Mr. Funsie” joyfully high-fived virtually every teammate in the dugout. Fans serenaded him as he took his position in center field at Guaranteed Rate Field. In the sixth, the speedy Hamilton made a diving catch with the bases loaded and no outs, preserving a 3-0 lead. The White Sox won 3-1, improving to 31-20. Hamilton has bounced all over the majors the last three years and made the White Sox as a non-roster invitee this spring. He is batting .208 with seven RBIs, nine runs and four steals in 29 games. Now 30 and in his ninth MLB season, Hamilton has his limitations, but he has found a way to fit in with a strong club, mainly with the energy he brings. “He’s the life of the party,” White Sox broadcaster Len Kasper said during Saturday’s game.

29 May

that’s progress

After a rocky Triple-A debut, Ryan Rolison bounced back Friday night with a strong second effort, notching his first win for Albuquerque. The former Ole Miss star, a first-round pick by Colorado in 2018, went five innings, allowed five hits and one run with seven strikeouts in a 4-1 victory against Sugar Land. Rolison, a lefty, was 2-1 with a 3.07 ERA in three starts at Double-A Hartford. He made a good impression in spring training with the Rockies and might be looking at a call-up this summer. Colorado seemingly always needs pitching help, though it takes a special something to succeed at Coors Field. Maybe Rolison has it. … Bobby Wahl, another UM product, took a step toward getting back to the big leagues on Friday. The veteran right-hander, 29 and in his ninth pro season, picked up a win with a clean inning of relief for Triple-A Nashville in Milwaukee’s system. The injury-prone Wahl has been on the injured list all season. He made his first rehab appearances for Double-A Biloxi and now has a 4.91 ERA in four games with the Sounds. He has 17 MLB appearances on his ledger.

28 May

ode to nevers and ball

It’s Jackson Generals Throwback Night at Trustmark Park in Pearl, a salute to the former Texas League team that occupied Smith-Wills Stadium from 1991-99. There might actually be a few cranks in the park tonight who attended Gens games back in the day, even some who might have been there on Sept. 3, 1994, when one of Smith-Wills’ most memorable events occurred. The Generals were facing archrival Shreveport in the TL East title series. The Gens were down 1-0 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth of the decisive Game 5. They had managed just two hits all night. Two lousy singles. Then lightning struck. Twice. In the same place. The Generals got back-to-back home runs from Tom Nevers and Jeff Ball to stun the Captains 2-1. The dugout went crazy. The crowd of 1,400 at cozy Smith-Wills went crazy. Up in the booth, radio play-by-play man Bill Walberg did, too. He called it “the miracle on dirt.” It felt like one. Jackson manager Sal Butera, the ex-big league catcher who had been on seven championship clubs as a player, said he had never witnessed anything more dramatic. Nevers, a Minnesota high school star in baseball and hockey, was a first-round pick by the Houston Astros who hit .267 with eight homers for the Gens in 1994. He played until 2002 but never made the majors. Californian Ball, a San Jose State product, hit .316 with 13 homers that season; he ultimately made the big leagues in 1998 with San Francisco but got just four at-bats. He played in independent ball until 2003. Alas, the ’94 Gens went on to lose to El Paso in four straight in the TL Championship Series. But that shouldn’t diminish the memory of “the miracle on dirt.” P.S. The first time the Mississippi Braves held a Generals tribute, in 2019, Ian Anderson and Jeremy Walker threw a combo no-hitter. … On Thursday night, Shea Langeliers, one of Atlanta’s top prospects, hit a grand slam to help the M-Braves top Montgomery 7-6 in the third game of the six-game Double-A South series. The M-Braves are 9-12.

27 May

just stuff

Oak Grove visits Northwest Rankin tonight to decide the MHSAA Class 6A South State title and berth in next week’s finals against Madison Central. All of the other state championship pairings are set for the big event that starts Tuesday at Trustmark Park in Pearl. In 5A, it’s Saltillo-Pascagoula, 4A West Lauderdale-Sumrall, 3A Booneville-Magee, 2A East Union-Taylorsville and 1A Tupelo Christian-Resurrection Catholic (Pascagoula). Madison Central is top-ranked in the state by MaxPreps and is No. 6 in the country. NWR is fifth in the state, Oak Grove 12th. Sumrall is No. 4, and Booneville is eight. … Southern Miss beat Western Kentucky in its C-USA Tournament opener, finishing off the 11-1 win at 2:59 a.m. today in Ruston, La. The Golden Eagles play again tonight, throwing C-USA pitcher of the year Walker Powell at Lousiana Tech. Ole Miss and Mississippi State both lost in SEC tourney play on Wednesday and face elimination games today in Hoover, Ala. Delta State starts play in the NCAA Division II South Region today vs. Tampa at Pensacola, Fla. … Braden Shewmake, the Mississippi Braves shortstop and Atlanta’s No. 4 prospect, is in the throes of a woeful slump. After an 0-for-4 on Wednesday against Montgomery at the TeePee, Shewmake is batting .086. He has five hits, one homer. He hit .300 over two levels in 2019. … Jacob Robson, the former Mississippi State standout, is hitting the pause button on his torrid start in the minors this season. But for good reason. Robson, a native of London, Ont., is off to play for Team Canada in the Olympics qualifying event in Florida next week. Robson, 26, a lefty-hitting outfielder, is batting .424 with two homers and 10 RBIs for Double-A Erie in Detroit’s system. He played in Triple-A in 2019, hitting .267, and has a .295 career average. He was an eighth-round pick out of Starkville in 2016. He’s not on the Tigers’ top 30 prospect list but has been in their big league spring camp the last couple of years. … Magnolia State products Hunter Renfroe and Austin Riley played a little tit-for-tat in Wednesday’s MLB game between Boston and Atlanta. Renfroe, from Crystal Springs, hit a 377-foot homer for the Red Sox in the second inning. Riley, from Southaven, retaliated with a 390-foot shot, also over Fenway Park’s Green Monster, three innings later. Boston ultimately won the game. … MLB placed Los Angeles Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway, a former Ole Miss pitcher, on the ineligible list through 2022, the culmination of investigation into numerous sexual harassment allegations. The Angels promptly fired Callaway, who hadn’t been with the team at all this season. … Ex-Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz, now with San Diego, reportedly has suffered a setback in his recovery from a left shoulder impingement and could be out an extended time. He has been on the IL since May 13.

26 May

minor matters

Joe Gray Jr. had a day, perhaps one of his best, for Low-A Carolina in Milwaukee’s system on Tuesday. The ex-Hattiesburg High standout went 3-for-6 with a grand slam, six RBIs, four runs and a stolen base. A second-round pick in 2018, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound outfielder scuffled in his first two pro seasons, batting under .200, but is at .239 with five homers, 18 RBIs and five bags for the Mudcats. Over his last four games, Gray is 7-for-20 with three bombs. Once ranked among the Brewers’ top 10 prospects, he has dropped off the mlb.com chart. Only 21, he is certainly capable of a resurgence. Missing the 2020 season didn’t help. Gray hit .182 with two homers in 24 games in the rookie Arizona League in 2018 and .164 with three homers in 31 games in the advanced rookie Pioneer League in 2019. … Jake Mangum, the former Mississippi State and Jackson Prep star, has made a smooth adjustment to Double-A pitching. Moved up as part of the injury-riddled New York Mets’ roster shuffling, Mangum is batting .385 in three games at Binghamton in the Double-A East. He homered and drove in four runs Tuesday. He was hitting .206 in A-ball. … Delvin Zinn, the Itawamba Community College product from Pontotoc, is batting .275 with eight RBIs, 13 runs and 14 steals, tops in the High-A Central, for South Bend in the Chicago Cubs’ system. Zinn swiped 30 bags in 2019. (He was involved in a rare benches-clearing brawl that led to four ejections on Tuesday in a game against Fort Wayne; Zinn was not ejected.) … Ex-MSU standout Hunter Stovall, back in Colorado’s system after a brief detour with Philadelphia, is hitting .264 with a homer and nine RBIs for High-A Spokane. … Jordan Westburg, the 30th overall pick out of State last summer, is raking at a .373 clip with three homers and 18 RBIs for Baltimore’s Low-A Delmarva team. He might not be long for that level.

26 May

welcome back

Back in the big leagues for the first time since last September, Petal’s Demarcus Evans looked ready for duty on Tuesday night. The 24-year-old right-hander struck out four of the seven batters he faced, including Justin Upton and Anthony Rendon, and walked just one in two innings of scoreless relief for Texas in its 11-5 loss to the Los Angeles Angels. Punchouts are kind of a thing for Evans, who has averaged 13.9 per nine innings over a minor league career that began in 2015. Evans debuted in the majors in 2020, famously yielded a homer to the first batter he saw — guy named Albert Pujols — but didn’t allow another run over four innings. A lat strain set the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Evans back in spring training. He tuned up at Triple-A Round Rock this month, recording 16 K’s in 7 2/3 innings with a 2.35 ERA. Injuries to a couple of Texas pitchers opened the door for Evans’ return. He might just stick.

25 May

Whatever happened to …

LeDarious Clark, the former Southeast Lauderdale High and East Mississippi Community College star, is on the roster of the independent Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League. Clark was released by Texas last spring after five years in the Rangers’ system. A 12th-round pick out of West Florida in 2015, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound outfielder reached Double-A in 2019 but batted just .200 in 38 games for Frisco. Clark, 27, hit .238 with 48 homers and 99 steals in his minor league career. “We have gotten good reports on Clark,” Lancaster manager Russ Peeples said in a release announcing Clark’s signing. “Those reports say that he has a lot of tools but that he has not put it together consistently as of yet. We are hoping he can come here and do just that.” The Barnstormers open their season on Thursday. P.S. Braxton Lee, a onetime big leaguer from Picayune, signed with Southern Maryland of the Atlantic League. The Blue Crabs are managed by Jackson native and ex-big leaguer Stan Cliburn. Lee, drafted by Tampa Bay out of Ole Miss in 2014, appeared in eight games (.176) with Miami in 2018. He was in the New York Mets’ system in 2019. … Former Hattiesburg High star – and onetime big leaguer – Robert Carson is back in the Atlantic League with the Lexington Legends. The 32-year-old left-hander has pitched in the league every season since 2015 and was 15-8 for York in 2018 and ’19. … Elijah MacNamee, the Mississippi State product, is on the roster of the independent Evansville Otters of the Frontier League. MacNamee, an outfielder who played at State from 2017-19, signed with Evansville in 2019 and hit .309 for the club that season. The league did not operate in 2020. MSU product Denver McQuary, from Maben, and Southern Miss/MSU alum Tyler Spring, from Wiggins, are also on the Otters’ roster. The ’21 season starts Thursday. … Former Starkville High and Meridian CC standout Milton Smith, previously in the Miami Marlins’ system, is with the Frontier League’s New York Boulders, who also signed ex-Mississippi Valley State star Zach Penprase, now 36. (Little-known fact: Penprase led the nation in stolen bases with 60 at Valley in 2006.) … Belhaven University product Tanner Cable will pitch for Gateway in the Frontier League.

25 May

trophy tradition

Kudos to Tanner Allen, the Mississippi State standout who was a most-deserving winner of the Ferriss Trophy, awarded to the state’s best player by the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. Allen, also named the SEC Player of the Year, has filled the stat sheet all season for the highly ranked Bulldogs. The Alabama native has a .387 batting average, .618 slugging average, eight homers, 53 RBIs, 54 runs and eight stolen bases. A lefty-hitting outfielder, Allen likely will be a fairly high pick in this summer’s MLB draft. MLB Pipeline ranks him as the No. 149 prospect. It’s interesting to note that five of the previous nine Ferriss winners have reached the big leagues: Drew Pomeranz, Chris Stratton, Hunter Renfroe, Brent Rooker and Nick Sandlin. All but Rooker, back in Triple-A, are currently in The Show. (Pomeranz is on the injured list.) The most recent Ferriss winner, Jake Mangum, is in Double-A. Mangum won the award in 2019 – it wasn’t given in 2020 – and also in 2016, when he was the first freshman to receive it. P.S. The inaugural HBCU World Series has been cancelled. MEAC champion Norfolk State opted not to play in the event that was scheduled for this weekend at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium. Southern University would have represented the SWAC.