03 Apr

a change in the wind

The first five Mississippi-connected starting pitchers to go to the bump in MLB this season pitched relatively well but didn’t have much to show for it: two losses, three no-decisions and a stint on the injured list. If there was some sort of hex at work, it ended Tuesday night when Spencer Turnbull, the former Madison Central High star, took his turn. In his debut for Philadelphia, on a cold and rainy night at Citizens Bank Park, Turnbull threw five innings, allowed a lone unearned run, struck out seven and got the win against Cincinnati thanks in part to Bryce Harper’s three home runs. Turnbull was 1-4 with a 7.26 ERA for Detroit in an injury-curtailed 2023, then posted a 2.25 this spring after signing as a free agent with the Phillies. Later Tuesday, Ocean Springs native Garrett Crochet, making his second start of 2024 — and second career start — with the Chicago White Sox, went seven strong innings to beat Atlanta. Two wins in one day for the Mississippi boys. … To recap the seemingly cursed start for the Mississippians: Crochet went out on opening day last Thursday for the ChiSox, allowed one run in six innings but took an L in a 1-0 defeat against Detroit. … That same day, ex-George County High star Justin Steele pitched well but suffered a hamstring injury in the fifth inning and got a no-decision for the Cubs vs. Texas; he is now on the IL. … On Saturday, Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn, back with his original club this year, battled through four shutout innings for St. Louis against the Los Angeles Dodgers but was shelved after an untimely rain delay. The Cardinals went on to win. … On Sunday, Mississippi State product J.P. France worked 5 2/3 innings for Houston against the New York Yankees, yielding three runs, but got a no-decision in a game the Astros would lose late. … On Monday, ex-MSU star Dakota Hudson, in his Colorado debut, pitched 5 1/3 solid innings against the Cubs but took the loss because of three unearned runs, the product of a “little league homer” by Christopher Morel that was misplayed by Rockies left fielder Nolan Jones.

02 Apr

birds of a feather

On a Baltimore team loaded with youthful talent, Jordan Westburg is fitting right in. The second-year big leaguer out of Mississippi State hit his first walk-off home run on Monday night, giving the Orioles (3-1) a 6-4 victory against Kansas City. “I just love being a part of this clubhouse,” Westburg, 25, said in a postgame TV interview. “It’s just so much fun to play here in Baltimore.” A first-round pick out of Starkville in 2020, Westburg debuted with the Orioles last summer and hit .260 with three homers in 68 games for a playoff-bound club. He hit just 10 homers in three years at State but blasted 60 in the minors in three seasons. He started at second base Monday but has also played third and shortstop, versatility that should serve him well. Westburg was 0-for-3 Monday when he dug in against the Royals’ Nick Anderson in the ninth inning and drove an 0-2 pitch the opposite way and into the right-field seats at Camden Yards. “I’m pretty excited about that one,” the normally even-keeled Westburg said. P.S. Former DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley hit the first homer of 2024 by a Mississippian in the majors, a three-run bomb earlier Monday in the Braves’ 9-0 win at Chicago’s frigid Guaranteed Rate Field. Riley, who has 135 career homers, has started at third base on opening day for the Braves for five straight seasons. The team had six different starters in an eight-year stretch following the Chipper Jones era. … Ex-MSU standout Justin Foscue might get his first big league opportunity with Texas after Rangers third baseman Josh Jung went down Monday with an injury (fractured wrist). Foscue was a late cut this spring and is now at Triple-A Round Rock. … Former Bulldogs ace Ethan Small is rehabbing an oblique injury and is not currently with San Francisco, which acquired the left-hander in a spring trade with Milwaukee.

01 Apr

poll positions

Slumping East Central Community College dropped one spot in the NJCAA Division II poll, while surging Pearl River CC climbed one spot. Former No. 1 ECCC (33-3 with three losses in its last five games) is now No. 2 behind LSU-Eunice; Pearl River (34-5 with 21 straight wins) moved up to fourth from fifth. Jones (29-5) is No. 7 and Northwest (25-9) sits at No. 17. … Pearl River’s all-around strength is fairly remarkable: The Wildcats are No. 2 in the country in runs and home runs, second in ERA and fourth in fielding percentage. … In Baseball America’s new NCAA Division I poll, which is dominated by SEC teams, Mississippi State (19-10) checks in at No. 19 despite losing two of three (via walk-offs) at Florida, which ranks fourth. Arkansas remains No. 1 after a sweep of LSU last weekend and will host Ole Miss this coming weekend. Former Lewisburg High star Brady Tygart is 3-0 with a 2.51 ERA as the Razorbacks’ No. 3 starter. Madison Central High alum Braden Montgomery, who plays for No. 3 Texas A&M, is the SEC’s player of the week after going 7-for-14 with three homers in a sweep of Auburn. … William Carey University (22-10) has won 11 of 12 and surely will get back into the Top 25 in the next NAIA coaches poll. The Crusaders were preseason No. 4. … Jackson State was ranked No. 2 in Black College Nines’ HBCU Large School poll last week but will surely tumble after getting swept at Florida A&M by a collective 29-5 over the weekend. JSU is 19-8, 5-3 SWAC.

31 Mar

the right stuff

Facing a power-packed lineup in enemy territory, a day after his team blew a late lead and lost, Jurrangelo Cijntje sizzled on Saturday. The Mississippi State sophomore threw seven commanding innings against Florida — a consensus top 10 team — in leading the Bulldogs to a resounding 12-2 victory. That’s what an ace does. “I was just trying to give my team the chance to win,” Cijntje said in a 247sports.com story. “These guys deserve it after an awful loss yesterday. We needed that today.” MSU improved to 19-9 and 4-4 in the SEC. Florida is 15-11, 5-3. The Bulldogs belted five homers — two each by Dakota Jordan and Connor Hujsak — but the performance by Cijntje stole the show. The Netherlands native, who played high school ball in Florida, had family members in the crowd at Condron Ballpark, and they watched him hold the Gators to two runs on five hits with eight strikeouts and two walks. Cijntje arrived at State last year with the fanfare of being a switch-pitcher. He had some tough times in the rugged SEC, finishing 3-5 with an 8.10 ERA overall. He has turned things around in 2024, currently sitting at 5-1 with a 3.43 in seven starts. He has punched out 53 in 39 1/3 innings. Clearly, his stuff plays. The Bulldogs’ pitching overall has been better this season under new pitching coach Justin Parker. The staff ERA is 4.16, fifth in the SEC. It was an ugly 7.01 in 2023, and no Bulldogs fan need be reminded that last year’s team went 27-26 and 9-21 in the league.

31 Mar

have a week

Belhaven University’s road show this past week was a rousing success. The NCAA Division III Blazers went 3-1, clinching the Maloney Trophy Series with a blowout win against Millsaps and then taking two of three from conference foe Piedmont. Under first-year coach Andrew Gipson, a former Blazers player, Belhaven is 13-10 and 3-2 in Collegiate Conference of the South. The week started on Tuesday with a 19-6 victory at Millsaps’ Twenty Field, a game that featured a stellar hitting performance by Eli Britt and a jaw-dropping 11 stolen bases by the Blazers. Britt, from Petal by way of Meridian Community College, was 4-for-5 with six RBIs and five runs. Tristan Pearson, from Biloxi and Jones College, homered and drove in three for BU. On Thursday, the Blazers dropped the opener at Piedmont 10-5 despite a four-RBI game from Jackson Prep product Owen Abney. But the staff stopper, senior Brett Sanchez, stepped up on Friday with a four-hitter in a 4-1 victory. Sanchez (3-1), a Golden Spikes Award candidate, struck out 14 and walked none in the complete game. Hunter Harrell, a Southwest CC transfer, homered for the Blazers. In Saturday’s rubber game, Harrell rapped two doubles and drove in a pair of runs in a 7-4 win. The bigger star of the day was reliever Kade May (from Florence via Copiah-Lincoln CC), who worked the final seven innings and yielded just two runs. The road show goes on next week: Belhaven visits Millsaps again on Tuesday, then travels next weekend to play a CCS series against Covenant. The Blazers have stolen 92 bases, a big reason they are averaging 5.7 runs a game despite hitting just .263.

30 Mar

worth noting

The Gwinnett Stripers, Atlanta’s Triple-A club, opened their season Friday and Southern Miss alum Hurston Waldrep was not on the roster. That has fueled speculation that the Braves’ No. 2 prospect will start the season with the Double-A Mississippi Braves, who open next week. Waldrep posted a 1.53 ERA (and 41 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings) over four levels of the minors in 2023, after being drafted in the first round out of Florida. He allowed no runs in 4 1/3 innings in the Grapefruit League for Atlanta this spring. … Ex-Mississippi State standout Jake Mangum homered in his first Triple-A game on Friday for Durham (Tampa Bay system) and threw out a base runner from center field. … USM product Chuckie Robinson, starting at catcher, got a hit and threw out a runner attempting to steal in his debut with the Chicago White Sox’s Triple-A Charlotte club. … Perhaps disappointed not to make the New York Yankees’ 26-man roster, ex-Jackson Prep star Will Warren allowed three hits, three walks and five runs while getting just one out in his start for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. … Former Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz has signed a minor league contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers after being released by the Angels. … Tim Anderson, ex-East Central Community College standout, is 3-for-8 in his first two games for Miami, where he signed as a free agent after the White Sox cut him loose after last season. … In college ball, the state’s six NCAA Division I schools went 0-6 Friday, the most glaring loss suffered by Alcorn State, a 29-3 loser at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Also of note: Mississippi State squandered a 6-2 lead in the eighth inning and fell at Florida 7-6.

29 Mar

tough start

Quite the hard-luck day for the two Mississippi natives who got the nod as starting pitchers on Opening Day in the big leagues. Ocean Springs’ Garrett Crochet pitched brilliantly for the Chicago White Sox in his first career MLB start Thursday but was saddled with the loss when the ChiSox came up empty in a 1-0 defeat against Detroit. Much worse was what happened to Lucedale’s Justin Steele, who was sailing along in the fifth inning for the Cubs when he injured his left hamstring fielding a bunt. He is expected to land on the injured list with what was labeled a strain. “Spirits are high,” Steele told mlb.com postgame. “I’ll have a speedy recovery from this … . ” Steele, a 16-game winner in 2023, yielded three hits, a walk and a run with six strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings in a game the Cubs would lose 4-3 at Texas. Crochet, a converted reliever, allowed one run (a sac fly) and five singles with eight strikeouts, including the first batter he faced, over six innings. “He’s got weapons to get people out. So he stood out there like a man today and did his job,” White Sox manager Pedro Grifol said in an nbcsportschicago.com article. One of the hits yielded by Crochet was an infield knock by Biloxi High product Colt Keith, who was making his MLB debut for the Tigers. The hit glanced off Crochet’s glove and rolled under the second baseman’s hand. “I was imagining a bomb to right-center, but that’ll work, too,” Keith said with a chuckle in a TV interview. For the record, the first hit (and RBI) of the season by a Mississippian (native or school alum) was a first-inning single by ex-Mississippi State star Jordan Westburg, whose Baltimore team whipped the Los Angeles Angels 11-3. P.S. Kudos to Southern Miss leadoff batter Dalton McIntyre, who banged out five hits and scored four times in the Golden Eagles’ 14-4 win over visiting Troy. USM (17-9, 5-2 Sun Belt) had 20 hits (six doubles) all told in the seven-inning game.

28 Mar

play ball

It’s Opening Day in the big leagues, and the eyes of Mississippi should be trained on Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field and Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, as a couple of Mississippi-born left-handers embark on career firsts. In Chicago, Ocean Springs native Garrett Crochet, a converted reliever, will go to the bump for the White Sox to make his first career MLB start. In Texas, Lucedale native Justin Steele, a 2023 All-Star, will make his first Opening Day start for the Chicago Cubs against the defending champion Rangers. History buffs take note: The last Mississippi native to start the opener for the Cubs was Waynesboro’s Claude Passeau in 1946; he also started the openers in 1941 and ’42. The last Magnolia State native to pitch Game 1 for the ChiSox was Jackson’s Reb Russell, way back in 1916. There are firsts all over the place today. In Chicago, Crochet will face Detroit and ex-Biloxi High star Colt Keith, who’ll make his big league debut at second base weeks after signing a long-term contract that could be worth as much as $82 million. In Kansas City, former Mississippi State stars Hunter Renfroe and Adam Frazier will make their Royals debuts against Minnesota. Ex-Southern Miss slugger Matt Wallner is not in the Twins’ lineup today. In Miami, East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson, a former batting champ, will make his Marlins debut against Pittsburgh; and in Baltimore, ex-MSU standout Jordan Westburg makes his first Opening Day start for the Orioles. Also, Louisville native Marcus Thames is the new hitting coach for the White Sox, while Tupelo native Dave Clark takes over as Houston’s first-base coach. P.S. Ethan Small, former Mississippi State standout, reportedly has made San Francisco’s opening day roster as a bullpen piece. The lefty was acquired from Milwaukee last month. … Vicksburg native and ex-big leaguer Dmitri Young, who hit three homers on opening day 2005 for Detroit, is serving as a grand marshal for Cincinnati’s Opening Day parade today. Young played several years for the Reds.

28 Mar

rising river

East Central Community College currently holds the No. 1 ranking in NJCAA Division II, but Pearl River CC is No. 5 with a bullet. The Wildcats swept two games from Hinds on Tuesday to run their win streak to 19. They are 32-5 and 12-0 in the MACCC, alone in first place. ECCC, which won its first 31 games of the season, lost for the second time in three outings on Wednesday, falling to Copiah-Lincoln 3-1 in Game 2 of a twinbill. ECCC is 32-2, 8-2. Seventh-ranked Jones beat Gulf Coast twice on Wednesday to improve to 29-5, 11-1; and No. 18 Northwest sits at 24-8, 9-1, after a sweep of Holmes. But Pearl River, which won the national championship two years ago, is the team of the moment. The ‘Cats belted 11 homers in a sweep of Itawamba on Saturday, then got great pitching on Tuesday from Thomas Crabtree — the league’s reigning pitcher of the week — and J.P. Robertson, former Germantown High star, in the 9-2, 6-1 sweep of Hinds. Hollis Porter, named the NJCAA D-II hitter of the week on Wednesday, homered in Game 1 and drove in three runs in Game 2. The Mississippi State transfer from Hurley is batting .425 with 15 homers, four shy of the school single-season record. P.S. Baseball America’s first projected field of 64 for the NCAA Tournament features four state schools, with Jackson State joining Southern Miss, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. UM and MSU — the national champs in 2022 and 2021, respectively — missed the tournament in 2023.

26 Mar

roster ramblings

As opening day rosters and lineups take shape across MLB, injuries have opened the door for a couple of Mississippi products to step into prominent roles. Ex-Mississippi State star Adam Frazier apparently will start at second base for Kansas City and Madison Central High alum Spencer Turnbull will get a spot in Philadelphia’s rotation. Veteran Frazier signed with the Royals as a free agent after a season in Baltimore; he’ll play second base while Michael Massey is out. The oft-injured Turnbull, signed by the Phillies as a free agent after several years with Detroit, reportedly will fill the rotation spot vacated by the injured Taijuan Walker. … Former MSU standout Justin Foscue, despite a solid spring (.261), has been optioned to Triple-A by Texas. He had been battling for the first base job left open by the injury to Bulldogs alum Nathaniel Lowe. … Jackson Prep alum Will Warren reportedly will start the season at Triple-A in the New York Yankees’ system. Though not on the 40-man roster, the right-hander had been vying for a rotation spot (see previous post). … With Baltimore having sent top prospect Jackson Holliday to the minors, former MSU star Jordan Westburg may start the season as the Orioles’ second baseman, though mlb.com projects him as the opening day DH. He played well as a rookie utility man in 2023. … Jacob Waguespack, former Ole Miss pitcher, apparently will work out of bullpen for Tampa Bay after making the club as a non-roster invitee this spring; he started and worked two innings in a Grapefruit League game on Monday. … Former Ole Miss standout Grae Kessinger, who has been down with a hamstring injury, resumed workouts on Monday in Houston’s camp. Kessinger filled a utility role for the Astros as a rookie in 2023 and is in line to do so again. … Ex-MSU star Jake Mangum, in his latest bid to make the big leagues, did not crack the Rays’ roster and will start the year in the minors. He hit .375 this spring. … Tampa Bay traded with Philadelphia last week for former Bulldogs pitcher Zac Houston, a minor league vet who’s expected to work in Triple-A. … Former Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz, 35, was released by the Los Angeles Angels, who had the left-hander in camp as a non-roster invitee. … Ex-Wheeler High and MSU standout Brandon Woodruff announced that he will not pitch in 2024 as he recovers from shoulder surgery. The two-time All-Star re-signed with Milwaukee, a two-year deal, as a free agent this spring. … George County High product Justin Steele has pronounced himself fit and ready to go as the Chicago Cubs’ Game 1 starter at Texas on Thursday. The All-Star lefty was hit in the knee by a comebacker last week. “I’m just kind of eager to get it (the season) here, get it underway and play some ball with the boys,” Steele told mlb.com on Saturday.