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 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.

12 Feb

opportunity knocks

A long wait is over for Spencer Turnbull. The ex-Madison Central High standout, cut loose (non-tendered) by Detroit in November, reportedly has signed with Philadelphia, a one-year, $2 million contract with incentives. Right-hander Turnbull became, on May 18, 2021, the first Mississippian (native or school alum) to throw a no-hitter in the big leagues. He was 4-2 with a 2.88 ERA when he went down with an arm injury in June of that season. Since then, he has rarely been healthy. He missed the rest of the ’21 season and all of ’22 after Tommy John surgery and posted a 7.26 ERA for the Tigers in seven games in an injury-plagued 2023 season. Now 31, Turnbull is 12-29, 4.55, in 61 career appearances. He is expected to get a crack at the Phillies’ rotation in camp — which opens in Florida on Wednesday — but more likely will start the year in Triple-A. P.S. Five players with Mississippi ties are on USA Baseball’s Golden Spikes Award preseason Watch List: Konnor Griffin of Jackson Prep; Dakota Jordan of Mississippi State; Shane Lewis, a Warren Central alum now at Troy; Braden Montgomery, a Madison Central product now at Texas A&M; and Brett Sanchez of Belhaven University. The award goes to the top amateur player in the country. Former MSU star Will Clark won it in 1985.

25 Oct

amazing arizona

Twenty-two years ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks did something amazing. They scored twice in the bottom of the ninth inning against Mariano Rivera and beat the mighty New York Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series. On Tuesday night, the D’backs did something amazing again. They beat mighty Philadelphia — at Citizens Bank Park, for the second straight night — to win Game 7 of the National League Championship Series and reach the second Fall Classic in their 26-year history. The franchise was just four years old when the ’01 team, which included former Ole Miss star David Dellucci, won the championship. That club had been largely constructed by Mississippi State alum Buck Showalter, who was fired as manager after the 2000 season reportedly because of a dispute with ownership. Originally drafted by Baltimore, Dellucci was plucked by Arizona (and Showalter) in the expansion draft in the fall of 1997. He hit .260 with a league-best 12 triples in 1998 and was still a reserve outfielder on the 2001 club. He played in two World Series games, including a pinch-running appearance in the fateful ninth inning of Game 7; he was erased on a fielder’s choice for the first out. Interestingly enough, Dellucci also played for Texas, which will face the D’backs in the Fall Classic that begins Friday in Arlington. Showalter was manager of the Rangers when Dellucci was with the team (2004-05).

21 Oct

sudden change

Grae Kessinger, rookie infielder for Houston, watched the first eight games of the Astros’ postseason run from the dugout. The ex-Ole Miss star got quite a different view of the proceedings in the ninth inning Friday night, watching from first base as a pinch runner when Jose Altuve launched a momentum-shifting three-run homer that carried the Astros to a 5-4 win over Texas in a wild, wild Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. Kessinger went in at shortstop in the bottom of the ninth and, with two runners on, made a leaping snag of a line drive for the first out. Two outs later Houston had swept the three games at Globe Life Field to go up 3-2 in the best-of-7. The defending champs can earn yet another trip to the World Series with a win in Game 6 at home on Sunday. The grandson of longtime big leaguer Don Kessinger — who never made a postseason appearance in 16 years in The Show — Grae was a midseason call-up by the Astros this year and played sparingly, batting .200 with one homer in 40 at-bats. Houston kept the versatile Kessinger on the postseason roster but didn’t get him into a game before Friday. It was one that won’t soon be forgotten, by Kessinger or anybody else who watched. Before Adolis Garcia’s dramatic three-run homer for Texas in the sixth inning and the benches-clearing kerfuffle he instigated in the eighth, former Mississippi State standout Nathaniel Lowe put the Rangers on the board with an opposite-field homer off Justin Verlander in the fifth. It was Lowe’s second homer this postseason, and he is now 5-for-19 in the ALCS. … Meanwhile, in Arizona, things got a little wild also in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. The Diamondbacks, summoning a rally for the second straight day, scored three times in the eighth inning, handing ex-Mississippi Braves star Craig Kimbrel the first blown save of his postseason career and beating Philadelphia 6-5. The series is square at 2-2. The big blow against Kimbrel (now 10-for-11 in saves) was a two-run, game-tying bomb by pinch-hitter Alek Thomas. A subsequent single and walk knocked Kimbrel out of the game, and the go-ahead hit came from Gabriel Moreno against Jose Alvarado. The Phillies struck out three times in the ninth. Of note: Brookhaven native and veteran MLB umpire Lance Barksdale is slated to be behind the plate for Game 5 tonight at Chase Field, which will feature aces Zack Wheeler and Zac Gallen.

18 Oct

gold rush

Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star now manning third base for Atlanta, and ex-Mississippi State standout Nathaniel Lowe, Texas’ first baseman, are among the finalists for Rawlings Gold Glove Awards. Both have previously been recognized for their hitting prowess, Riley winning a Silver Slugger in 2021 and Lowe taking one in 2022. Also making the top three at each position (in each league) were former Mississippi Braves Michael Harris II (center field), Dansby Swanson (shortstop) and Freddie Freeman (first base) and Biloxi Shuckers alum Mauricio Dubon (both second base and utility). Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of Hattiesburg native and ex-big leaguer Charlie Hayes, is among Riley’s competition at third base in the National League. Riley’s defensive metrics don’t compare well to Hayes’ or Ryan McMahon’s, but the ex-M-Braves star committed just 11 errors in 393 chances in 2023 and routinely made outstanding plays (see Game 2 of the NL Division Series). Gold Glove winners will be announced on Nov. 5. Of note: Bryson Stott, Philadelphia’s second baseman, is a finalist in his first year after moving from shortstop to second. Stott has credited Laurel native Bobby Dickerson with helping him make the transition. Dickerson, a former minor league player and longtime MLB coach, is in his second year as Phillies infield coach. He also has worked extensively with third baseman Alec Bohm and Bryce Harper, who learned to play first base at midseason. Bohm made several outstanding plays in the Phillies’ 10-0 win Tuesday in Game 2 of the NL Championship Series. “As much as we have a lot of really great hitters, games are won on defense,” Bohm told mlb.com.

17 Oct

a few small details

Nathaniel Lowe, the ex-Mississippi State standout, stroked an RBI single to cap a four-run first inning for Texas in its 5-4 win against Houston in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. Lowe was 3-for-8 with a home run this season against Astros starter Framber Valdez before Monday’s big hit — and 6-for-23 career vs. Valdez. The lefty-hitting Lowe went hitless the rest of the way Monday and is 1-for-8 in the series, which the Rangers lead 2-0 heading to Arlington for Game 3 on Wednesday. Lowe, a .273 career hitter, is 5-for-33 (.152) in his postseason career. … J.P. France, MSU alum, made his postseason debut for the Astros and worked 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief, retiring Lowe on a fly ball for the third out of the fifth inning. Rookie France, who won 11 games as a starter for Houston this year, yielded one hit, a triple, which was erased in a double play to end the sixth. He departed after issuing a one-out walk in the seventh. … Umpire Andy Fletcher, an Ole Miss alum and Mississippi resident, worked the plate in the National League Championship Series opener, his first LCS assignment. He missed 12 ball-strike calls, according to Umpire Auditor, a relatively poor 90.9 percent correct call rate. There did not appear to be a lot of complaints during Philadelphia’s 5-3 victory. Brookhaven native Lance Barksdale worked third base and is slated to go behind the plate in Game 5 at Arizona, should the best-of-7 series go that far. … Former Mississippi Braves standout Craig Kimbrel got the save for the Phillies, his third of this postseason and 10th in 10 chances (over 27 appearances) in his MLB career.

12 Oct

leaving a mark

Home runs were the dominant theme in the MLB playoffs on Wednesday night. There were 14 in the three games, and a couple of postseason homer records were set. Unfortunately for former Ole Miss star Lance Lynn, he was on the bad end of one of those records. The 36-year-old right-hander, starting for Los Angeles, allowed four solo homers in the third inning, accounting for all of Arizona’s scoring in a 4-2 win that clinched a National League Division Series sweep for the upstart Diamondbacks. No team had ever hit four homers in one inning of a postseason game. “The way (Lynn) was throwing the baseball, I didn’t expect that,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told the Los Angeles Times. Maybe it shouldn’t have been a total shock. Lynn led all of MLB with 44 homers allowed this season, which he split between the Chicago White Sox and the Dodgers. And the ball flies at Arizona’s Chase Field. Lynn — described by TBS’s Ron Darling as “stubborn, angry and mule-ish” on the mound — got through the first two innings, allowing just two singles. Then … boom: 1,626 feet of home runs in the third. Lynn was gone after 2 2/3 and the Dodgers, the No. 2 seed in the NL, were gone from the postseason a little while later. Lynn has had a great career. He won an SEC title at Ole Miss and a World Series title with St. Louis. He has made two All-Star Games. He has won 136 major league games, five more in the postseason, and he won a World Baseball Classic game earlier this year. But that four-homer inning is no doubt gonna sting for a while. … Elsewhere, Philadelphia hit a club-record six homers, two by Bryce Harper, in a 10-2 win over Atlanta at another homer haven, Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies lead that NLDS 2-1 heading into Game 4 tonight. Former Mississippi Braves standout Spencer Strider, a 20-game winner this year, will start for the Braves. … Houston clinched its seventh straight American League Championship Series appearance by beating host Minnesota 3-2 in Game 4. All the runs in that game came via the long ball, with Jose Abreu hitting the go-ahead shot — his third in the two games at Target Field — in the fourth inning.

10 Oct

just wow

To steal a line from Verne Lundquist, “In your life … have you seen anything like that.” The home run. The catch. The throw. A package deal. Fans of the Atlanta Braves surely will never forget what transpired on Oct. 9, 2023, at Truist Park. In a matter of minutes on Monday night, Austin Riley hit a go-ahead two-run homer, Michael Harris II made a sensational catch in center field and Riley fielded a wild throw from Harris and gunned down Bryce Harper for a game-ending double play. Hitless and scoreless for 5 2/3 innings, down four runs, the Braves got up off the mat to beat Philadelphia 5-4, squaring the National League Division Series at a game apiece. The Phillies’ Zack Wheeler handcuffed the Braves into the sixth, striking out 10 to tie a franchise postseason record held by, among others, Meridian Community College alum Cliff Lee. Then the Braves got on the board thanks to some aggressive baserunning by Ronald Acuna Jr. Then Travis d’Arnaud hit a two-run homer in the seventh. Then Riley golfed a two-run shot off Jeff Hoffman to put the Braves ahead in the eighth and send the ballpark into a frenzy. These Braves hit homers. It’s what they do. It was the fourth postseason homer for former DeSoto Central High star Riley; his first, in Game 1 of the 2020 NLCS, put the Braves ahead in the ninth against Los Angeles. In Monday’s ninth, Harper drew a leadoff walk and was at first base when Nick Castellanos launched a drive to deep right-center. Harris — whose defensive skills are well-known to Mississippi Braves fans who watched him at Trustmark Park just last year — ran the ball down, leaping against the fence to make the catch. His throw to the infield got past Ozzie Albies, but third baseman Riley was backing up the play, fielded the ball and threw a laser to first base to catch Harper off the bag. “Right place, right time” was the ever-humble Riley’s postgame explanation. “The postseason is special,” he told mlb.com. And this was a special win for a 104-win team that appeared to be sleepwalking for the first 14 innings of the series. The Braves still have work to do. They must win at least once in Philadelphia to stay alive in the best-of-5. Monday might have been a turning point.

27 Sep

not so fast there

It was at some point during the fourth inning Tuesday night that Atlanta broadcaster Tom Glavine, who knows a thing or two about crafty pitching, remarked that Chicago Cubs lefty Justin Steele was giving “a clinic on pitching.” Indeed, the former George County High star shut out the powerful Braves through five innings, retiring eight in a row at one stage, and carried a six-run lead into the sixth. Then Kevin Pillar crushed a leadoff homer — the Braves’ 300th of the season — and everything changed — at Truist Park and elsewhere. The Atlanta crowd woke up and so did the Braves, who knocked out Steele, rallied to win 7-6 — aided greatly by a two-out, two-run fielding error in the eighth inning — and delivered the Cubs a crushing blow in the National League playoff race. On a night when Philadelphia secured the top wild card seed in the NL, the Cubs’ loss also clinched the Central Division title for Milwaukee. In addition, the Cubs fell to third in the wild card standings, a game back of Arizona and just a half-game ahead of Miami. Steele, an All-Star this year and a darkhorse Cy Young Award candidate, went 5 1/3 innings vs. the Braves and was charged with three runs. He has been stuck on 16 wins since Sept. 4. He is 0-2 in his last four outings as his ERA has risen to 3.06. He could get one more start, in the season finale. … The Phillies — and Laurel native Bobby Dickerson, their infield coach — partied hard at Citizens Bank Park after a walk-off hit in the 10th inning against Pittsburgh. They’ll host a wild card series next week. … The Brewers, who had already clinched a playoff berth, celebrated their division title with much more fervor, despite having lost their game Tuesday at American Family Field against St. Louis. They will also host a wild card series. P.S. Southern Miss product Matt Wallner hit a 463-foot grand slam for playoff-bound Minnesota at Target Field, his second slam and 13th homer of 2023. “One of the furthest balls I’ve ever seen hit. Ever. That’s 20-something years of professional baseball,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli told The Associated Press after Minnesota’s 11-3 win over Oakland. … Ex-USM star Walker Powell celebrated a Southern League pennant after Tennessee, the Cubs’ Double-A team, beat Pensacola 10-3 to sweep the best-of-3 finals. Walker, an 11-game winner this year, did not pitch in that series.