Despite a rash of injuries, defending World Series champion Houston has stayed afloat in the American League playoff pool, and one of the unexpected heroes is rookie right-hander J.P. France. France, who capped his college career at Mississippi State, threw seven shutout innings at St. Louis on Thursday night as the Astros routed the Cardinals 14-0. It was the fifth straight quality start for France, who is 3-3 with a 3.13 ERA in 10 starts since being recalled from the minors in early May. “I just was able to locate, and it was one of those games where everything was working …, ” he told mlb.com. With the win, Houston (44-37) moved past the Los Angeles Angels and into second place alone in the AL West, 5 games back of first-place Texas (49-32). The Astros and Rangers start a four-game series at Globe Life Field tonight. France, who started his college career at Tulane, went 5-5, 3.84, at MSU in 2018 and was a 14th-round draft pick as a senior that summer. He made the Astros’ 40-man roster this past off-season and made his big league debut May 6, throwing five shutout innings at Seattle. Grae Kessinger, the ex-Ole Miss star and another Astros rookie, got into Thursday’s game as a defensive replacement at first base. He went 0-for-1 with a walk and is 1-for-10 in his six MLB games. He is 1,930 hits behind grandfather Don but just six back of uncle Keith on the Kessinger hit list. … The Angels (44-39) lost 9-7 at home to the Chicago White Sox as a trio of Mississippi products played key roles for the enigmatic Sox. Former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn (5-8, 6.47) got the win despite yielding three homers — including MSU alum Hunter Renfroe’s 14th — and five earned runs in six innings. East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson, in an 0-for-24 spiral entering the game, went 2-for-5 and scored twice. And MSU product Kendall Graveman (3.06 ERA in 36 appearances) closed out the win despite allowing two runs — on a Shohei Ohtani bomb — in the ninth. P.S. Kudos to former Mississippi Braves star Freddie Freeman and Biloxi Shuckers alum Orlando Arcia for making the National League All-Star team, joining ex-M-Braves standout Ronald Acuna, and to Madison Central High alum Braden Montgomery, now at Stanford, for making the final roster of the Collegiate National Team.
Colt Keith: The former Biloxi High standout homered in his first Triple-A at-bat on Wednesday and finished 3-for-4 for Toledo, Detroit’s top affiliate. He had 14 homers in Double-A.
Jordan Westburg: The Mississippi State alum went 2-for-5 with an RBI double for Baltimore and is batting .417 with at least one hit in each of his first three MLB games.
Adam Frazier: The State product hit a game-tying homer — his ninth — with Westburg aboard in the eighth inning for the Orioles, who fell 11-7 in 10 to Cincinnati.
Hunter Renfroe: The former State star belted his 13th homer for the Los Angeles Angels, his first since June 13. He is tied with Brent Rooker for second-most bombs in the majors among Mississippians, one back of Austin Riley.
Nick Sandlin: The Southern Miss product pitched a clean 1 1/3 innings in relief for Cleveland and got the win vs. Kansas City as the Guardians moved into first place in the American League Central. Sandlin is 4-3 with a 3.14 ERA.
James McArthur: The ex-Ole Miss standout made his MLB debut for the Royals — and it didn’t go well: seven earned runs in one inning of work, a 63.00 ERA.
Thomas Dillard: The Ole Miss alum hit his 16th homer for Lexington in the independent Atlantic League and is fourth in the loop in homers.
Bobby Bradley: The Gulfport native hit his 17th homer for Charleston in the Atlantic League and is tied for second in that category.
Hunter Hines: The MSU star went 0-for-5 for Yarmouth-Dennis in the Cape Cod League but picked up his 22nd RBI, which leads the collegiate summer league. He also leads the loop in homers with six.
Braden Montgomery: The Madison Central alum, now at Stanford, went 2-for-5 in the final Stars vs. Stripes Series game and finished 5-for-17 with three RBIs in four games at the Collegiate National Team training camp.
Mason Nichols: The Ole Miss standout threw a scoreless inning in the Stars vs. Stripes game and finished with a 3.00 ERA and four strikeouts in three appearances in the training camp.
Tanner Hall: The Southern Miss ace was named a first-team All-America by Baseball America, the latest in a series of honors for the MLB draft prospect.
Braden Shewmake: The former Mississippi Braves shortstop hit for the cycle for Triple-A Gwinnett, a first for the Atlanta affiliate. Shewmake, who made a brief big league appearance this season, is batting .232 with eight homers.
P.S. From the Always a Mississippi Connection Dept.: Ex-MSU star Brent Rooker went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts for Oakland in Domingo German’s perfect game for the New York Yankees. In the last perfect game, on Aug. 15, 2012, ex-Itawamba Community College star Desmond Jennings struck out as a ninth-inning pinch hitter for Tampa Bay in Felix Hernandez’s perfecto for Seattle.
The do-over starts tonight for the Mississippi Braves, who play Biloxi at MGM Park. With the start of the second half of the Southern League season, the team’s record is wiped clean. Considering that the M-Braves finished last in the South Division at 33-35, that’s a good thing. The Shuckers went 34-35, so the do-over is welcome there, too. Unfortunately for many of the M-Braves players, their individual numbers will follow them into the second half. But perhaps they’ll feel like they’re getting a fresh start, a feeling Alan Rangel — tonight’s starting pitcher — would welcome. The right-hander is 1-7 with a 4.91 ERA. He’s better than those numbers. The Mexico native, 25, is on his third tour with the Double-A M-Braves. He was the winning pitcher in the deciding game of the 2021 Double-A South championship series. He made it to Triple-A in 2022 and, for a brief time last September, was in the big leagues, though he never got into a game. He’ll make his 13th start of 2023 tonight against Biloxi, hoping to notch his first win since May 14. He’ll also be hoping that the M-Braves’ bats perk up against the Shuckers’ Carlos F. Rodriguez, 4-2, 3.02. After making a long climb to get over .500, the M-Braves finished the first half with a whimper, losing their last three and scoring a total of four runs. They’ve had two days off to recharge. Drew Lugbauer, batting .271 with 12 homers, is expected back in the lineup after a stint on the injured list. Landon Stephens, despite a .220 average, has emerged as a power threat with 13 homers. But the top Atlanta prospects on the roster have scuffled: Jesse Franklin V is at .214, Cal Conley at .221 and Tyler Tolve at .247. The M-Braves are next-to-last in the league in runs, first in ERA. In the first half, that was not a winning formula. As of right now, they are 0-0.
The good news on Brandon Woodruff is that the Mississippi State alum threw a 25-pitch bullpen session on Tuesday following a similar session on Saturday. What remains uncertain is when the 30-year-old right-hander might come off the injured list and rejoin the Milwaukee rotation. “I have to get to a certain point where I get the pitch count up,” the ex-Wheeler High star told mlb.com. “Once I get to live BPs, that determines the speed of how this thing will go.” So, maybe late July? Woodruff has been out since April 11 with a shoulder injury. He had a 0.79 ERA in his two starts of 2023. The Brewers are second in the soft National League Central, a half-game back of Cincinnati, but almost certainly need a healthy Woodruff to stay in playoff contention. He is a two-time All-Star who is 42-25 with a 3.14 ERA since he arrived in the majors in 2017. He has a 3.18 ERA in eight postseason appearances from 2018-21. … Madison Central alum Spencer Turnbull (neck injury) has begun throwing sessions but no timetable has been reported for his potential return to Detroit. After missing all of 2022 following Tommy John surgery, he was 1-4, 7.26, this season before being shut down on May 13. P.S. Ole Miss product James McArthur, called up by Kansas City on June 24, has yet to make his MLB debut. The 6-foot-7 righty had a 4.87 ERA at Triple-A Omaha after being acquired in a trade with Philadelphia. … Former Biloxi High star Colt Keith is expected to make his Triple-A debut today for Toledo (Detroit system) at Columbus. … Ex-Ole Miss standout Tim Elko is expected to make his High-Class A debut today for Winston-Salem (Chicago White Sox) at Aberdeen.
Now that LSU has pummeled Florida in the College World Series finale to claim the national championship, the college season is officially over. It was not a banner year for Mississippi’s four-year schools, but there were gold medal performances from the two that made the postseason. In NCAA Division I, Southern Miss won a regional on the road and came within one win of a trip to the CWS. In NAIA, William Carey University won a regular season conference title, a regional and two games in the World Series. Bravo. Take a bow coaches Scott Berry and Bobby Halford. Alas, seven state schools had losing seasons, some falling under the category of Major Disappointment (see defending national champ Ole Miss, for example). Here’s a school-by-school look at the records and relevant numbers:
USM — Record: 46-20. Number: 12, the Golden Eagles’ final ranking by Baseball America.
Carey — 49-11. 652 runs.
Mississippi State — 27-26. 7.01 ERA.
Ole Miss — 25-29. 6 SEC wins.
Jackson State — 28-25. 26 home runs.
Mississippi Valley State — 15-36. 407 strikeouts (by hitters).
Alcorn State — 8-40. 111 errors.
Delta State — 27-26. 12-11 at Ferriss Field.
Mississippi College — 16-33. .256 batting average.
Blue Mountain Christian — 26-25. 10 different starting pitchers.
Rust — 25-25. 14 GCAC wins.
Tougaloo — 11-34. 0-8 start, 1-9 finish.
Millsaps — 22-23. 238 walks (by pitchers).
Belhaven — 21-18. 4 different home-field sites.
MUW — 6-25-1. 27 road games.
P.S. Props to Seth Farni, an outfielder at St. Stanislaus High, for being named a second-team All-America by Baseball America. The Ole Miss commit, who goes 6 feet, 190 pounds, hit .370 with eight homers, 30 RBIs and 45 runs (per MaxPreps) for the MHSAA Class 3A runner-up.
Ex-Mississippi State star Jordan Westburg stood in the batter’s box for his first big league at-bat with both raindrops and chants of “Westy, Westy” cascading from above at Camden Yards in Baltimore. “It felt like something out of like a movie, or something that you dream, honestly,” he told mlb.com after Monday’s game, a 10-3 win over Cincinnati. Westburg walked (and later scored) in that first at-bat, picked up an RBI on a fielder’s choice grounder in his second and singled in his third. His debut was the lead story on MLB Network’s Quick Pitch. A first-round draft pick out of MSU in 2020, Westburg is the O’s No. 3-ranked prospect and was having a big year at Triple-A Norfolk before getting the call-up. He started at second base — where he made a slick play — and hit seventh in the order. … Westburg wasn’t the only Mississippi product to get a promotion on Monday. Detroit has moved former Biloxi High standout Colt Keith, its No. 1 prospect and the No. 43 overall (per mlb.com), to Triple-A Toledo. The 21-year-old third baseman is expected to debut on Wednesday at Columbus. Keith hit .325 with 14 homers and 50 RBIs at Double-A Erie and helped the club win a first-half championship. He also has been chosen to play in the All-Star Futures Game in Seattle on July 8. (Other Mississippians who have played in that game include Billy Hamilton, Hunter Renfroe, Nathaniel Lowe, Dakota Hudson, Ethan Small and Matt Wallner.) … Who’ll be next among Mississippians in the minors to move up the ladder? Possibly Blaze Jordan, the slugger from DeSoto Central who is currently at High-Class A Greenville in the Boston system. Jordan, 20, is hitting .328 with 10 homers and 47 RBIs in his first full season at Greenville, where he finished 2022. Red Sox GM Chaim Bloom recently said of the team’s No. 10 prospect, “(H)e’s definitely got our attention.” And then there’s Tim Elko, the Ole Miss product who is batting .297 with 17 homers and 57 RBIs at Low-A Kannapolis in the Chicago White Sox’s chain. Elko, at 24, is a little old for this level and seemingly deserves a bump up.
A trio of Mississippi high school products are in Cary, N.C., vying for spots on the Collegiate National Team. Dakota Jordan, Braden Montgomery and Mason Nichols are taking part in the Stars vs. Stripes Series that began Sunday at USA Baseball’s National Training Complex. On the coaching staff that will make decisions on which players among the 58 in camp make the 26-man final roster are Jackson State coach Omar Johnson and former Alcorn State star Corey Wimberly. Cal Poly’s Larry Lee is the Team USA manager. Jordan, an outfielder, is a Jackson Academy alum who just completed a decorated freshman season at Mississippi State. Montgomery, an outfielder/pitcher who played at Madison Central, was All-Pac-12 at Stanford this season. Nichols, a pitcher out of Jackson Prep, was a sophomore at Ole Miss in 2023, winning four games and saving four in 23 relief outings. The Collegiate National Team will play series against teams from Chinese Taipei and Japan starting June 30. In Sunday’s game, Montgomery went 1-for-4 with a double and a walk for the Stars, who won the 12-inning contest 15-5. Jordan was 0-for-1 with a walk for the Stripes, and Nichols allowed a run in one inning of work with a strikeout and a walk. The series continues today. P.S. Southern Miss’ Matthew Etzel made his Cape Cod League debut on Sunday, going 1-for-2 for Chatham. MSU’s Hunter Hines belted a pair of homers for Yarmouth-Dennis and now has five on the season; he is batting .315 with 17 RBIs. Also in the Cape: MSU’s Ross Highfill is batting .250 with two homers for Falmouth, and fellow Bulldogs alum K.C. Hunt has a 1.17 ERA in three games for the same club. USM left-hander Kros Sivley has made one appearance for Hyannis, allowing a run in two innings. UM’s Nichols had a 4.50 ERA for Hyannis before he left for the Team USA tryouts. … Props to former Mississippi Braves star Freddie Freeman for getting his 2,000th MLB hit on Sunday with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He is second on the hit list among former Jackson area Double-A players; ex-Jackson Generals standout Bobby Abreu finished with 2,470.
A lot of Baltimore Orioles fans, upon hearing the news of the latest call-up, are probably wondering, What took so long? Former Mississippi State star Jordan Westburg, having a terrific season at Triple-A Norfolk, reportedly will join the Orioles on Monday and will be in the lineup against Cincinnati at Camden Yards. The O’s No. 3-ranked prospect, Westburg has played second base, shortstop, third and some outfield this season, batting .295 with 18 homers and 54 RBIs in 67 games. Following Sunday’s 3-2 win against Seattle, second baseman Adam Frazier — another MSU alum — was batting .228, shortstop Jorge Mateo .224 and rookie third baseman Gunnar Henderson .244. Baltimore (47-29) is in second place in the American League East. Westburg, 6 feet 2, 210 pounds, was the 30th overall pick out of Starkville in the 2020 draft. He didn’t hit for a lot of power at State but has belted 60 homers in his three minor league seasons and carries a .285 average. … One has to wonder why Cincinnati hasn’t made room on its roster for former Southern Miss standout Chuckie Robinson. The Reds, in first place in the National League Central but coming off back-to-back losses to Atlanta, are carrying three catchers and none of them is hitting. Robinson is batting .335 for Triple-A Louisville and hit his ninth homer in 52 games on Sunday. He is reputed to be a good defensive catcher. The 28-year-old Robinson got some big league time last season (.136, two homers in 59 at-bats for an awful Reds team) but was waived after the season and re-signed with the club.
Making his first start at first base for the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday night at Colorado, Hunter Renfroe made a nice play to start a double play and end the first inning. Then the former Mississippi State standout celebrated with a single to lead off the second inning. The party at Coors Field was just getting started. Renfroe went 5-for-5 with a walk as the Angels set franchise records for hits (28) and runs in a 25-1 rout of the Rockies. Mickey Moniak also had five hits and four other Angels had at least three. “(H)itting gets contagious sometimes,” Angels manager Phil Nevin told mlb.com in one of the season’s great you-don’t-say statements. Renfroe hit a three-run double in the club record-tying 13-run third inning. He finished with four RBIs and three runs. His career day raised his average to .261. Normally the team’s right fielder, Renfroe is batting .281 over his last 15 games, though he has been stuck on 12 homers since June 13. The Angels (42-36) have climbed past Houston into second place in the American League West. P.S. Ex-Ole Miss standout James McArthur got his first big league call-up Saturday with Kansas City but did not pitch. McArthur, 26, traded from Philadelphia to the Royals in May, has a 4.87 ERA in 12 appearances at Triple-A Omaha. … Ex-Rebels star Mike Mayers, a big league vet, was assigned by the Royals to Omaha last week after a rough stint in the majors. He got a hold in his return to Triple-A on Friday. … Former MSU ace Ethan Small went on the injured list Saturday at Triple-A Nashville (Milwaukee system). The former first-rounder has a 3.46 ERA in the minors this season and made one wobbly appearance with the Brewers. … Houston Harding, who got into pro ball as an undrafted free agent in 2021, made his Double-A debut Saturday for Rocket City in the Angels’ system. The left-hander, who won seven games for MSU’s 2021 national title team, allowed a three-run homer but fanned five in 2 2/3 innings vs. Montgomery. He had a 1.32 ERA in A-ball before his promotion. A Coldwater native, Harding was a strikeout machine at Itawamba Community College before signing with MSU. … Landon Sims, one of the heroes of State’s ’21 championship team, made his pro debut this month and has pitched in four games, allowing no runs, in rookie ball for Arizona. Sims was the 34th overall pick last summer after missing most of the ’22 season at State with an elbow injury.
In the familiar confines of Wrigley Field and other major league parks, Justin Steele has been good, perhaps All-Star good. Today, the former George County High star enters a great unknown, London Stadium, when he takes the mound for the Chicago Cubs against St. Louis in the opener of the London Series. He’ll be opposed by the savvy veteran Adam Wainwright, but don’t expect a pitchers’ duel. The stadium dimensions have been increased by a few feet since 2019, when the New York Yankees and Boston hit 10 home runs and scored 50 runs in a pair of games in the inaugural London Series. But it’s still likely to play as a hitter’s park. Steele is 7-2 with a 2.71 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP this season; he is 5-1, 2.57, at Wrigley, which tends to favor hitters. The left-hander from Lucedale went five innings (yielding two runs on a late homer) against Baltimore on June 17 in his first start off the 15-day injured list. Several Cardinals batters have good numbers against Steele: Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Tommy Edman are a combined 10-for-25 with a homer (by Goldschmidt). … Also in London is Chris Stratton, the ex-Mississippi State standout who works out of the St. Louis bullpen. He has a 4.30 ERA in 27 games for the scuffling Cardinals, who are last (31-44) in the National League Central. The Cubs are third at 36-38.