Today’s subject: Don Hopkins. Back in the mid-1970s, the Oakland A’s had a thing for pinch-running specialists, with Belzoni native Herb Washington being the most famous of the bunch. Hopkins, a West Point native, also made a mark, stealing 21 bases and scoring 25 runs in 82 appearances (most as a pinch runner) in 1975, when he and Washington were briefly teammates. Unlike Washington, a world-class track star, Hopkins was a ballplayer, though the A’s rarely used him as a hitter or outfielder. Like Washington, Hopkins moved with his family from Mississippi to Michigan as a child. He ran track in high school but also played baseball well enough to be signed by the Montreal Expos. Hopkins hit .250 in the minors and swiped 269 bases over eight seasons. He got six at-bats (and one hit) in the majors and made three putouts in the field. He played his last MLB game in 1976 and was out of the game after 1977.
The pitching line from Monday’s game wasn’t pretty for Kendall Graveman: 4-plus innings, 6 hits, 3 walks, 7 runs (6 earned), 7 strikeouts. But, as Seattle manager Scott Servais told The Seattle Times, “I thought he threw the ball a lot better than what his line will look like. It was his first time out in 800 some days.” Indeed, just being healthy and back on a big league mound for the first time since May 2018 was a measure of success for Graveman, the Mississippi State alum who made his Mariners debut in an 8-5 loss at Houston. Graveman, 29 and entering his sixth MLB season, had Tommy John surgery in 2018 and made only a couple of minor league appearances in the Chicago Cubs’ system last summer. He signed with Seattle as a free agent in the off-season and reportedly had been sharp both in spring training and summer camp. After posting two scoreless innings Monday, he ran into trouble in a four-run third, giving up a three-run homer to Alex Bregman. Graveman was lifted after a fifth-inning homer by Jose Altuve, disappointed but not discouraged. “It was a blessing and a privilege to be back out there, but, man, I wanted the outcome to be better as I’m sure many people did,” he told The Seattle Times. Drafted out of MSU by Toronto in 2013, Graveman spent four years (2015-18) with Oakland, going 23-29 with a 4.38 ERA. Houston, defending American League champion, might not be the team you’d want to make your comeback against, but it won’t get any easier for Graveman. His next start will come next weekend against the A’s, another AL West power. P.S. Ex-Ole Miss star Bobby Wahl, who also last pitched in the majors in 2018, has made two appearances for Milwaukee to date. He got a one-pitch out vs. the Cubs last Friday, then yielded a homer in his one inning of work on Sunday.
Kendall Graveman, who last pitched in the majors in May of 2018, will get a comeback opportunity with the Seattle Mariners next spring. Ex-Mississippi State star Graveman has signed a $1.5 million contract (plus a 2021 option) with the M’s, who would appear to have openings in their rotation. Coming off 2018 Tommy John surgery, Graveman signed as a free agent with the Chicago Cubs last year but made just two minor league appearances. He became a free agent again when the Cubs didn’t pick up his 2020 option. Graveman, 29 next month, has a 23-29 career record with a 4.38 ERA. Drafted in the eighth round in 2013 by Toronto, he made his big league debut for the Blue Jays in 2014, then moved to Oakland in a trade the next year. He was the A’s opening day starter in 2017 and ’18. “His makeup is off the charts,” Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto told mlb.com.
The South Bend Cubs got to use a “ringer” as their starting pitcher in Game 1 of the Midwest League Championship Series, and former Mississippi State standout Kendall Graveman gave them the type of performance they might have expected. Veteran big leaguer Graveman, on an injury rehab assignment for the Class A Cubs, worked 3 2/3 innings, allowing a run on three hits, and South Bend beat Clinton 3-1 on Wednesday night. Graveman, 28, made his fourth rehab start – each one at a different minor league level — as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery last summer. In 13 1/3 innings, the right-hander has a 2.03 ERA and 16 strikeouts. Graveman signed with Chicago as a free agent after being a fixture in Oakland’s rotation for most of the previous four seasons. P.S. Hot-hitting Corey Dickerson left Philadelphia’s game – a 3-1 loss — against Atlanta on Wednesday with a sore left foot that the Meridian Community College alum described as “pretty painful.” … Ex-State star Brandon Woodruff threw live batting practice for Milwaukee on Wednesday and the All-Star righty appears close to returning to the club’s rotation. The Brewers, smarting from the loss of MVP candidate Christian Yelich, won their sixth straight Wednesday to move into a tie with the fading Cubs for the second wild card spot in the National League.
With its recent trade for ex-Ole Miss star Bobby Wahl, Milwaukee has added an intriguing piece to what was one of the best bullpens in baseball in 2018. Wahl, 26, was one of three players the Brewers obtained from the New York Mets for Keon Broxton. Wahl was a fifth-round pick by Oakland back in 2013 whose advancement has been stalled by injuries. The right-hander, who once threw 100 mph, has worked just 13 innings (6.92 ERA) in the big leagues the last two seasons. He had a good 2018 campaign in the minors – making the Pacific Coast League All-Star Game before the A’s sent him to New York – and he’ll go to spring camp with the Brewers bidding for a job with a club that went to the NLCS last fall. “(W)e certainly anticipate he’s a person who will contribute for us at the major league level this year,” Milwaukee GM David Stearns told mlb.com. A writer from brewcrewball.com recently offered this assessment: “Wahl’s pure ‘stuff’ screams dominant relief ace, but his middling command … may cause the kind of frustrating inconsistency that holds him back from locking down a late-inning relief role.” Wahl aims to join a Milwaukee staff that includes ex-Mississippi State standout Brandon Woodruff and several Biloxi Shuckers alumni.
And now for something completely different: After 17 years in the Milwaukee Brewers’ system, Tim Dillard has been signed by Texas. The minor league deal with the Rangers includes a spring training invite for the former Saltillo High and Itawamba Community College star, now 35. Right-hander Dillard had a 9.70 ERA in 25 games at Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2018 but has a 4.07 career minor league ERA. He also has 73 MLB appearances on his resume, the last in 2012. Dillard has become something of a social media star (see previous posts) in recent years. … In the span of a few minutes last week, ex-Ole Miss star Chris Ellis went from being the property of the St. Louis Cardinals to the Texas Rangers to the Kansas City Royals. He was picked in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft by the Rangers out of the Cardinals’ system, then traded to the Royals. If he doesn’t make the Royals’ big league roster in the spring, he’ll likely return to the Cardinals, for whom he pitched very well at Double-A and Triple-A in 2018. Ellis, originally drafted out of Oxford by the Los Angeles Angels, also has pitched in Atlanta’s system. … Former Ole Miss and Pearl River Community College standout Braxton Lee was picked up by the New York Mets from Miami’s system in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. Lee, an outfielder, got into a handful of big league games with the Marlins last April but spent the rest of the season in the minors before being removed from the 40-man roster in November. … PRCC product Zach Clark, a 2016 draftee by Milwaukee, is playing in the Australian Baseball League, hitting .216 in 15 games for Auckland. Clark hit .246 with eight homers and 19 steals for Wisconsin in the Class A Midwest League this past season. … Ole Miss product Dallas Woolfolk, a 13th-round pick by Oakland in June, was suspended for 50 games next season after testing positive for Amphetamine, MLB announced on Friday. Woolfolk had a 7.31 ERA in 11 appearances in the rookie-level Arizona League this summer.
Among the gaggle of big league players not offered contracts for 2019 were a couple of Mississippi-connected names of note: Billy Hamilton and Kendall Graveman. Ex-Taylorsville High star Hamilton was cut loose Friday by Cincinnati, for which he has been the starting center fielder most of the past five years, and Mississippi State product Graveman was non-tendered by Oakland, for which he was the opening day starter the last two seasons. They are now free agents. There are reports that both could be re-signed to minor league deals by their former clubs if they don’t land a job elsewhere. Hamilton, 28, is a spectacular outfielder and base stealer who just hasn’t hit (.236 in 2018, .245 career). Graveman, 27, had a brutal 2018, possibly related to injury. He underwent Tommy John surgery in July and is expected to miss most of the 2019 season. He was 1-5 with a 7.60 ERA in his seven big league starts this past season. His career ERA over five seasons is 4.38.
The Oakland A’s plan to use a bunch of pitchers in tonight’s American League Wild Card Game against the New York Yankees. One who won’t see the mound is Kendall Graveman, the club’s opening day starter this year and in 2017. Ex-Mississippi State standout Graveman had Tommy John surgery in July; he may not pitch again until late in the 2019 season. “It does suck, it’s no fun, it stinks,” he told the San Francisco Examiner when his surgery was announced. “With the love I have for the game, it’s not easy, and it hurts right now — the guys are playing so well and I want to be out there competing with them.” It must be especially painful now, considering that in his previous three years with the A’s, they didn’t sniff the postseason, finishing dead last in the AL West each year. Graveman struggled at the start of this season – he was 1-5 with a 7.60 ERA in the big leagues – and was in the minors when his injury was diagnosed. (Oddly enough, his one MLB victory in 2018 was against the Yankees in May.) The 27-year-old righty also battled injuries in 2017, going 6-4, 4.19. He is 23-29, 4.38 for his career. P.S. Former Mississippi Braves Ryan Buchter and Cory Gearrin could be in the parade of relievers the A’s use tonight. Gearrin was in Mississippi in 2009, posting a 2.84 ERA in 20 appearances. Lefty Buchter passed through Pearl in 2012 and had a 1.31 ERA in 35 games. Both have been effective for the A’s this season. … The Yankees’ bullpen includes former State star Jonathan Holder. The Gulfport native had a 3.14 ERA in 60 games this year. Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn, primarily a starter this year, is also active.
If you didn’t become a fan of Billy Beane during his three seasons as an outfielder with the Jackson Mets, then surely “Moneyball” won you over. The longtime Oakland A’s executive is still trying to win that last game of the season, and he might have a team that can do it this year. As they say in the movie, What is happening in Oakland? From a ho-hum start – and on the heels of three straight losing seasons – the A’s have caught fire. They are on a 38-13 roll and have climbed to within 2 games of Houston, the defending World Series champion and leader of the American League West, heading into a rather large weekend series at Oakland Coliseum. These A’s aren’t a team of household names – Khris Davis, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, Matt Olson, et al. – but that could change by October. Beane is now the A’s vice president of baseball operations but still works like a GM. With his club surging into playoff contention in mid-July, he engineered several moves just before the trade deadline that might prove huge. The A’s added Jeurys Familia, Shawn Kelley, Mike Fiers and Fernando Rodney, greatly enhancing their pitching depth. “We just went through three years where we didn’t have that opportunity (to make the postseason),” GM David Forst told Yahoo Sports. “And you know Billy’s personality. As soon as he sees it, he’s going to jump on it.” The A’s still have one of the lowest payrolls in MLB. They might not be buried under “50 feet of crap” as they were in the “Moneyball” season of 2002, but they’re still an underdog in this fight. It just kinda feels right to pull for Billy Beane.
The New York Mets, who seemingly need all kinds of help, have called up Ole Miss product Bobby Wahl from Triple-A Las Vegas. The Mets recently acquired Wahl, a relief pitcher, from Oakland in the Jeurys Familia trade. Wahl was drafted out of UM by the A’s in 2013 and made his big league debut last year, appearing in seven games before an injury curtailed his season (see previous post). He had a 2.27 ERA and 11 saves at Triple-A Nashville this year before the deal and had allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings at Las Vegas. The right-hander, who has hit 100 on the radar gun, has averaged 12 strikeouts per nine innings in his minor league career. The Mets host Atlanta tonight. … Wahl becomes the 26th Mississippian (native or college alum) to appear on a major league roster this season.