A Mississippi product took the field in each of the five big league games played on Monday night. Only one enjoyed a postgame celebration. Mike Mayers, the former Ole Miss standout, worked a clean eighth inning and earned his sixth hold in the Los Angeles Angels’ gritty 5-4 win against Houston. Pitching for the third straight day and 18th time this season, Mayers trimmed his ERA to 4.58. Three Mississippi State alumni were on the losing side: Adam Frazier went 1-for-3 in Pittsburgh’s 14-1 loss to Cincinnati, Hunter Renfroe went 1-for-3 in Boston’s 4-1 loss to Baltimore and Nate Lowe put up a 1-for-3 in Texas’ 3-1 defeat against San Francisco. And ex-Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson had a 1-for-4 in Miami’s 5-2 loss to Arizona. … Dickerson’s average slipped to .316, but he still leads all Mississippians in the majors in batting; Frazier is at .308. P.S. In the Double-A South, the Mississippi Braves and Biloxi Shuckers begin a six-game series at MGM Park tonight. It’s the Shuckers’ home opener. Lefty Hayden Deal (0-1, 1.80), the M-Braves’ opening day starter, is expected to get the nod in Game 1. Former State star Ethan Small is likely to start in the series. The 2019 first-round pick made his Double-A debut on May 7, allowing four runs in three innings in a loss at Birmingham.
The Los Angeles Angels made a flurry of roster moves on Thursday – you might’ve heard they cut Albert Pujols – and one of the new additions is former Mississippi State standout Jack Kruger. The 26-year-old catcher made his MLB debut in a loss against Tampa Bay, entering in the top of the ninth as a defensive replacement. He didn’t get to hit. Kruger was a 20th-round pick out of State in 2016 after an outstanding season with the Bulldogs: .344, eight homers, 40 RBIs. Over four minor league campaigns, Kruger is hitting .265 with 15 homers. He was with Mobile in the old Southern League in 2018-19. Kruger joins Justin Steele (George County/Chicago Cubs) and Nick Sandlin (Southern Miss/Cleveland) as Magnolia State products to debut in 2021. … Sandlin notched his first career hold on Thursday night, pitching two clean innings in the Indians’ 4-0 with over Kansas City, a victory that gave Cleveland sole possession of first place in the American League Central. Sandlin has yet to allow a hit or walk in 4 1/3 innings over three appearances.
The 100th home run of Hunter Renfroe’s big league career sailed into the seats above the Green Monster on Tuesday night. It was his first homer at Fenway Park as a member of the Boston Red Sox, who signed the former Mississippi State star primarily to add some power to their lineup. After a sluggish start, Renfroe may be beginning to produce the desired thunder. He has homered twice in his last three games and, after a 3-for-4 effort in Tuesday’s win against Detroit, is batting .333 over his last seven games. “Just changing a little timing, making sure it’s a little better, that’s really what I’ve been working on in the cage a little bit and just staying with my approach,” the Crystal Springs native said in an mlb.com story. He is at .222 for the year with three bombs and 13 RBIs. … Ex-Bulldogs standout Mitch Moreland hit a two-run homer for Oakland in a win over Toronto on Tuesday, giving him 601 RBIs for his 12-year career. It was his 180th career homer. Moreland, who left Boston as a free agent and signed with the A’s in the off-season, is hitting .225 with four homers and 13 RBIs. … George County High product Justin Steele, a rookie with the Chicago Cubs, notched his first career MLB win Tuesday after pitching a scoreless ninth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Cubs won Game 2 of the twinbill on David Bote’s walk-off hit. Steele, who won 16 games as an oft-injured starter in the minors going back to 2014, has posted a 3.68 ERA in six appearances this season with 12 strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings. P.S. Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers has been put on the 10-day injured list (undisclosed) by the Los Angeles Angels. The reliever has a 2.51 ERA in 14 games.
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.
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.
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.
Somewhat lost in the disappointment that has been the Los Angeles Angels’ 2020 season is the emergence of former Ole Miss star Mike Mayers as an effective bullpen arm. Mayers, in his first season with the Angels, threw two clean innings on Saturday night and picked up the win as his club, now 23-30, rallied past Texas 4-3. Mayers (2-0) now has a 1.80 ERA over 25 appearances; the 28-year-old right-hander has allowed just one earned run in his last 15 games. Mayers spent the first four years of his MLB career with St. Louis, which drafted him out of UM in the third round in 2013. His big league debut in 2016 was cringe-worthy — nine earned runs in 1 1/3 innings as a starter against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday Night Baseball — and he never found any consistency with the Cards. He had a 7.03 ERA in 73 games. But the Angels saw something they liked and claimed Mayers on waivers after last season. Working with new Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway, another ex-Rebels star, Mayers apparently has found something. … Coincidentally, Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn got the start for Texas in Saturday’s game and pitched well — again — only to see his team lose — again. Lynn’s excellent work — he is 6-2 with a 2.53 ERA in 12 starts — has been wasted on an 18-34 team.
The Los Angeles Angels left the Winter Meetings having added an impact hitter, Anthony Rendon, but failing to address what most pundits say is a bigger need: pitchers. But don’t forget what the Angels did earlier this off-season to impact their pitching: They hired Mickey Callaway as pitching coach on new manager Joe Maddon’s staff. Former Ole Miss star Callaway’s two-year stint as manager of the New York Mets was a little rocky, but he did some outstanding work as the pitching coach in Cleveland from 2013-17. The Indians ranked among the American League leaders in ERA and strikeouts while Callaway was there and made it to the World Series in 2016. He can be a difference-maker for an Angels staff that ranked 12th in AL ERA in 2019. The Angels, linked to several free agent pitchers, also may be seeking some new arms via trade and reportedly have checked on the availability of Indians Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, both of whom Callaway worked with in Cleveland. P.S. Congratulations to Jackson native Stan Cliburn, who was rehired as manager of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in the independent Atlantic League. It’ll be the 29th season as a pro manager for the one-time big league catcher, who has more than 2,000 wins.
After two injury-wracked seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, former Ole Miss star Zack Cozart will get a fresh start next spring with San Francisco. It’s unclear exactly how healthy Cozart is after two shoulder surgeries or how the third baseman/shortstop fits into the Giants’ infield plans. The Angels, reportedly looking to clear salary, traded Cozart, slated to make about $13 million in 2020, and a highly regarded prospect (shortstop Will Wilson) to the Giants, who currently have Evan Longoria at third and Brandon Crawford at short. Former Biloxi Shuckers star Mauricio Dubon is also in the infield mix there. Cozart, 34, was an All-Star in Cincinnati in 2017, when he batted .297 with 24 homers. He signed a three-year, $38 million free agent deal with the Angels prior to the 2018 season but has played just 96 games in two years, hitting .190 with five homers. … Cozart is the fifth Mississippian in the majors to land with a new team this off-season: UM alum Mike Mayers was a waiver claim by the Angels, Mississippi State product Kendall Graveman signed with Seattle, ex-Rebels standout Drew Pomeranz signed with San Diego and State alum Hunter Renfroe went to Tampa Bay in a trade.
If you saw Tommy La Stella play for the 2013 Mississippi Braves, you knew he could hit. The lefty-swinging infielder batted .343 in 81 games. The power he’s displaying in 2019 isn’t something anyone has seen before. Now with the Los Angeles Angels, La Stella belted his 10th home run of the season in a victory at Minnesota on Monday night. That’s as many as he had hit in his previous five MLB seasons combined. La Stella – which means “The Star” in Italian – has more homers this year than Angels stars Mike Trout or Albert Pujols. With 24 RBIs, he trails only Trout on the club. La Stella also has more homers than any other M-Braves alum in the majors; Ronald Acuna is second in that pack with eight. After his big year in Pearl in 2013 (when he hit four homers), La Stella made it to Atlanta the next season. He was dealt to the Chicago Cubs in November of 2014 for Arodys Vizcaino and spent four years with the Cubbies, winning a ring in 2016. The Angels acquired him last November. His emergence as a regular has taken at-bats away from Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart, who is mired in a deep slump (.136, no homers). P.S. Former M-Braves star Dansby Swanson is the second-most improved hitter in the big leagues this year, behind only Cody Bellinger. That’s according to a detailed analysis by mlb.com’s Mike Petriello. After a couple of disappointing years in Atlanta, Swanson is currently batting .268 with six homers and 25 RBIs – plus, according to the mlb.com piece, striking out less, walking more and hitting the ball harder and higher.