06 Jul

change in the wind?

The zero is gone. Maybe the luck has changed, too. Justin Steele, the lefty from Lucedale, winless in 12 starts this season for the Chicago Cubs, got on the board Friday and did it in emphatic fashion. Steele threw a two-hitter at the Los Angeles Angels in a 5-1 victory at Wrigley Field. He walked two, fanned seven. He threw just 95 pitches, only four in locking down the W in the ninth inning. It was Steele’s first career complete game in 76 starts over four seasons. As he jogged to the mound for the ninth, the p.a. played his walk-out song, Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” and the Wrigleyville crowd got loud. “It was a special moment. Something I’ll never forget,” Steele said in an mlb.com piece. Steele won 16 games for the Cubs in 2023 and made the All-Star Game. The George County High product got hurt in the season opener this year, went on the injured list and endured nothing but tough luck after his return — before Friday, that is. He is now 1-3 despite a 2.95 ERA. Today at Wrigley there is a Justin Steele bobblehead giveaway. Talk about good timing. … Steele’s complete game was the first by a Mississippi native in MLB since Brandon Woodruff tossed one on Sept. 11 of last year. There were none in 2022. For the record — and as an indicator of how the game has changed — the career mark for complete games by a Mississippian is 188 by Claude Passeau (1935-47). Guy Bush (1923-45) posted 151. Roy Oswalt (2001-13) had 20. P.S. From all indications, Colt Keith has found his power midway through his rookie season. The former state player of the year from Biloxi High hit two 400-foot home runs Friday for Detroit, fueling a 5-4 win at Cincinnati. Lefty hitter Keith, 6 feet 2, 211 pounds, now has seven bombs on the year, four in his last 15 games. He didn’t hit his first MLB homer until May 24. A fifth-round pick in 2020, Keith hit 38 homers over his three minor league seasons.

14 Jun

just stuff

There were some notable home runs on Thursday: Nacho Alvarez, promoted from the Mississippi Braves to Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday, hit his first home run of 2024, helping the Stripers beat Nashville 8-7. … Geraldo Quintero of the M-Braves hit his second homer of the season and his second at Rocket City, in Madison, Ala., where the M-Braves won a “home” game 7-5 on the playable field conditions of Toyota Field. … Former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner blasted two homers for Triple-A St. Paul (Minnesota affiliate) and now has six this month and 13 overall for the Saints. … DeSoto Central High alum Blaze Jordan hit his third homer and first since coming off the injured list Wednesday (see previous post) for Double-A Portland (Boston). … In the big leagues, former M-Braves standout Justyn-Henry Malloy, in his ninth MLB game, hit his second homer for Detroit and first at Comerica Park in a Tigers win. … There were also some notable pitching performances, most notably Ocean Springs native Garrett Crochet’s outing for the Chicago White Sox in a 3-2, 10-inning win at Seattle. The big left-hander struck out a career-best 13 while allowing two hits and one run in seven innings. He is now tied for the MLB lead with 116 punchouts. … Lucedale native Justin Steele also got a no-decision, throwing six shutout innings for the Cubs in their loss to Tampa Bay. Steele has a 3.22 ERA in nine starts but has yet to register a win. … Brandon native Will Warren, pitching at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (New York Yankees), took a shutout into the sixth inning against Rochester before yielding a three-run homer and departing the game. He got a no-decision in the RailRiders’ loss. After a brutal May, Jackson Prep product Warren (4-4, 7.01, on the year) has a 2.81 ERA in three June starts. P.S. Former Hattiesburg High star Joe Gray Jr. has been released by Kansas City. A second-round pick in 2018 by Milwaukee, Gray was batting .136 at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. He hit .213 for his career with 51 homers and 70 steals, never having any success above A-ball. Only 24, he might draw some interest from independent teams.

02 Jun

connect four (plus one)

Spencer Turnbull had been a little erratic since moving to the Philadelphia bullpen in early May, but he was a smooth operator on Saturday in a clutch relief situation. The big right-hander out of Madison Central High threw three hitless innings for the mighty Phillies in a 6-1 win over St. Louis, notching his first win since April 19, when he was in the rotation. After starter Ranger Suarez departed Saturday’s game (line drive off his pitching hand in the second inning), the Phillies turned the game over to the bullpen. Turnbull worked innings 4-6. His ERA was 1.67 in his six starts to begin the season. He moved to the pen to accommodate the return of Taijuan Walker, and his ERA was 7.00 over his first six relief appearances, a new role for the six-year veteran. Saturday’s effort was nearly perfect. “Turnbull really picked us up tonight,” manager Rob Thomson told mlb.com. “If he does have to make Ranger’s (next) start, I am comfortable with him at 80 pitches, five (innings) — something like that.” … Three other Mississippi high school products pitched in MLB games on Saturday: George County alum Justin Steele, in his sixth start since coming off the injured list, wasn’t sharp on a rainy day in Chicago. He yielded seven hits and four walks in five innings against Cincinnati, but four of the five runs he was charged with were unearned. The Cubs rallied late to win 7-5. Steele, a 2023 All-Star, remains winless with a 4.10 ERA. … Ocean Springs product Garrett Crochet turned in another sizzling effort for the White Sox: one run over six innings with eight strikeouts. But the lowly ChiSox blew a lead and lost to Milwaukee 4-3. Crochet, in his first season as a starter, is 5-5 with a 3.49 for a 15-44 team. … Former Tupelo High star Chris Stratton threw a scoreless inning for Kansas City in a 7-3 loss to San Diego. Stratton has a 5.76 ERA, two wins, three saves and three holds in 23 relief appearances for the Royals. P.S. In the NCAA Tournament, a fifth state prep product, Niko Mazza out of MRA, delivered one of the best pitching performances of the postseason: a two-hit shutout in a 6-0 elimination game win for Southern Miss against Northern Kentucky in the Knoxville Regional. Mazza registered his ninth win of the year.

01 May

on memory lane

It was a familiar sight when he was wearing the uniform of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College Bulldogs, Brandon Parker circling the bases after a home run. The Saucier native made the trip for the first time as a Mississippi Brave today, though his first career Double-A bomb couldn’t help the run-starved team beat Pensacola. The visiting Blue Wahoos spanked the M-Braves 5-3 in 10 innings for the second straight game, dropping the home team’s record to 7-16. At Gulf Coast in 2018 and ’19, Parker belted 38 homers, setting the school record with 24 as a freshman. He was the NJCAA Division II player of the year that season, when he also batted .424 with 81 RBIs. He hit 14 more homers as a sophomore and even swiped 12 bases. Atlanta drafted him in the 10th round in 2019. He hasn’t hit a ton in pro ball, with 27 homers and a .224 average over 257 games. He is 8-for-45 (.178) this year as the M-Braves’ fourth outfielder. Parker reached Double-A at the end of 2023 and made the M-Braves’ opening day roster this season. He called it “an honor” to play in his home state and for a team he grew up rooting for as a kid. P.S. Justin Steele, the ex-George County High star from Lucedale, threw 63 pitches in a rehab assignment for Triple-A Iowa in the Chicago Cubs’ system. Steele has been on the MLB injured list since opening day with a hamstring strain. The 2023 All-Star, a 16-game winner for the Cubs, worked 3 1/3 innings today, yielding six hits, a walk and three runs.

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.

02 Mar

present arms …

Justin Steele, the former George County High standout, won’t be resting on his laurels this spring. His first Cactus League outing on Friday was evidence of that. Steele worked three innings for the Chicago Cubs against the White Sox, throwing 46 pitches, 32 for strikes, and using his entire arsenal, per reports. The 28-year-old left-hander from Lucedale yielded two hits, a walk and two runs with two strikeouts. Steele went 16-5 with a 3.06 ERA in 2023, helping the Cubs stay in the playoff chase till the bitter end. He finished fifth in the Cy Young Award voting in the National League. “I gotta do it again, that’s how I’m looking at it,” he told mlb.com. The Cubs are counting on that. … Spencer Turnbull, the ex-Madison Central star, made his first appearance with his new club, throwing two clean innings with four punchouts for Philadelphia vs. Miami in the Grapefruit League. Turnbull was non-tendered by Detroit after battling injuries in 2023 and posting a 7.26 ERA in just seven games. the Phillies signed him as a free agent, a one-year, $2 million deal. “I can’t even begin to explain how grateful I am to have a new opportunity, a new situation here,” Turnbull told nbcsportsphiladelphia.com. He was 12-29 with a 4.55 ERA overall in five seasons with Detroit but was on a nice roll from 2020 into ’21 (8-6, 3.46) before being beset by injuries. … Southern Miss product Hunter Stanley, getting a look as a minor leaguer in Cleveland’s camp, struck out the only batter he faced against the Los Angeles Dodgers. In two Cactus League outings, Stanley has yielded one run in 1 1/3 innings. He has a 4.58 ERA over the minor league seasons, having made Double-A last year. … Minor league vet Zac Houston, a Mississippi State alum and non-roster invitee in Tampa Bay’s camp, had a rough outing, allowing four runs (including a three-run homer) in 2/3 of an inning against Pittsburgh. The 29-year-old Houston, in pro ball since 2016, has made three appearance for the Rays. … Hurston Waldrep, the ex-USM star now a top prospect with Atlanta, is from Thomasville, Ga., and — yes — grew up a huge Braves fan. The Braves drafted the right-hander in the first round out of Florida last summer. “The way it worked out, I really couldn’t ask for anything different,” he said in an MLB Network interview. Waldrep pitched at four levels in 2023, including a stint with the Double-A Mississippi Braves. He is in camp vying for a big league roster spot but has yet to debut in the Grapefruit League. Waldrep was 7-2 with a 3.22 ERA and three saves in two years in Hattiesburg before transferring to Florida and helping the Gators make the College World Series.

04 Dec

keep on rakin’

A month into the Puerto Rican Winter League season, former Delta State standout Trent Giambrone is leading the circuit in home runs. Giambrone has hit three homers in 21 games for first-place Criollos de Caguas and is batting .200 with three doubles, a triple and 10 RBIs. The 29-year-old infielder, who had a cup of coffee with the Chicago Cubs in 2021, played in the independent Atlantic League this past season and hit .287 with 22 homers and 72 RBIs. Drafted by the Cubs in 2016 after a highly decorated college career at Jones County Junior College and NCAA Division II DSU, the 5-foot-8 Giambrone batted .233 with 62 homers and 72 RBIs in six minor league seasons and went 2-for-13 for the Cubs in ’21. He became a minor league free agent after the 2022 season.

16 Nov

he’s the one

At one point this past season, Justin Steele looked like a frontrunner for the National League Cy Young Award. The former George County High star missed some time with an injury, had a few wobbles down the stretch and ultimately finished fifth in the voting revealed on Wednesday. Any disappointment he might have felt surely was assuaged by the $1 million bonus he received for that rank. Steele, a 28-year-old left-hander, went 16-5 with a 3.06 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP over 30 starts in his third MLB campaign with the Chicago Cubs. He made the All-Star Game and threw a scoreless inning. He was one of the main reasons the Cubs stayed in the hunt in the NL wild card chase until the bitter end. For all those efforts, Steele is the 2023 winner of the Cool Papa Bell Award, given here to the top performer among Mississippians (natives or school alums) in the big leagues. Steele, a Lucedale native, was drafted in the fifth round by the Cubs in 2014, persevered through injuries and finally made The Show in 2021. Now a mainstay in the Cubs’ rotation, he gets the nod for the Bell over DeSoto Central product Austin Riley, the 2022 winner who had another big year for Atlanta.

15 Oct

a touch of history

If history — and coincidence — serve as a guide, a Mississippian will have an impact in tonight’s American League Championship Series opener. Houston, with Mississippi State alum J.P. France and ex-Ole Miss standout Grae Kessinger on its roster, hosts Texas, with former State stars Nathaniel Lowe and Chris Stratton on board, in Game 1 at Minute Maid Park. Way back on Oct. 15, 1946, in Game 7 of the World Series, Pascagoula native Harry “The Hat” Walker famously drove in Enos Slaughter with the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning, propelling St. Louis to a 4-3 win against Boston at Sportsman’s Park. The hit was Walker’s seventh and produced his sixth RBI of the Series. Shaw native and MSU alum Boo Ferriss started that game for the Red Sox and pitched well into the fifth inning. On Oct. 15, 2013, ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn pitched 5 1/3 innings and got the win as St. Louis beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 and went up 3-1 in the National League Championship Series. It was Lynn’s second win in the NLCS, which the Cardinals won in six. On Oct. 15, 2019, former MSU standout Dakota Hudson, starting for St. Louis, had the dubious honor of allowing all seven runs in Washington’s 7-4 win that finished off a four-game sweep in the NLCS. Hudson retired only one of the eight batters he faced, yielding five hits and a walk. Three of the runs he was charged with were unearned because of an error. Just for the record, on Oct. 15, 2011, the Rangers beat Detroit 15-5 to clinch a second straight trip to the World Series. Amory native and State product Mitch Moreland was on that club, though he did not play in the Game 6 clincher. P.S. Former MSU pitcher Kendall Graveman did not make the Astros’ ALCS roster because of a shoulder problem. … Milwaukee has announced that MSU product Brandon Woodruff will have shoulder surgery and miss most if not all of the 2024 season. … Ex-Ole Miss standout Mike Mayers, an MLB vet who finished 2023 in the Chicago White Sox’s system, has become a minor league free agent. … Ex-MSU pitcher Chris Young was fired as the Cubs’ bullpen coach.