Whether it means anything for next season, who knows? But Chris Stratton, the Mississippi State product from Tupelo, has done a heckuva job down the stretch as the closer for Pittsburgh. Stratton picked up his eighth save on Saturday, pitching a clean ninth inning in an 8-6 win against Cincinnati. Since Sept. 7, the 31-year-old right-hander has made 11 appearances for the lowly Pirates and registered six saves (in eight chances) and two wins with a 2.45 ERA. For the season, he is 7-1 with a 3.63 ERA for a team that has won only 61 games. The former SEC pitcher of the year has pitched in a variety of roles in a big league career dating to 2016. Closer is a new one. “I think he’s done a nice job of finding his niche out there,” Bucs manager Derek Shelton recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Stratton is on a one-year deal with the Pirates and is eligible for salary arbitration after this season. His is 25-19, 4.56 ERA for his career.
Buried in the box score of a dreary performance by the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday there is a bright spot. Petal High alumnus Anthony Alford went 2-for-4 and scored the Pirates’ lone run (on a wild pitch) in a 13-1 loss to Cincinnati. Since getting a second chance with the Bucs this season, Alford has made the most of it. The 27-year-old outfielder is batting .300 (.378 on-base percentage) over his past 15 games. He has boosted his season average to .229 and has five homers, 10 RBIs, 13 runs and five stolen bases in 43 games. In four previous MLB trials, dating back to his debut with Toronto in 2017, Alford had never played more than 18 games. Injuries — and poor performance — have hounded him. After an awful start with Pittsburgh this season, Alford was designated for assignment, taken off the 40-man roster and shipped to the minors in April. He responded by batting .307 with 14 homers at Triple-A Indianapolis. When the Pirates had a need in early August, they brought Alford back. “That’s never an easy thing to do,” he recently told dkpittsburghsports.com. “Overcoming that, staying positive, making those adjustments.” He made a brief detour to the injured list in mid-August but has managed to stay healthy since. He’s likely fighting for a 2022 job. Pittsburgh keeps running him out there, which is a good sign.
There is a new leader in the clubhouse. In the category of Longest Home Run by a Mississippian in 2021, it’s now Anthony Alford. The former Mr. Baseball from Petal hit a 469-foot homer at Chicago’s Wrigley Field on Friday. Actually, the ball left Wrigley Field and landed somewhere on Waveland Ave. As the Pittsburgh Pirates broadcasters like to say, “Clear the deck. Cannonball coming.” In the very next inning, Alford hit another homer, a 435-footer, that tied the score — but the Bucs wound up losing to the Cubs in a battle of National League Central also-rans. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Alford reportedly puts on a show of power in batting practice. A teammate says he has “crazy-stupid pop.” Seeking to impress Pirates brass looking to next year, Alford has four homers in 70 at-bats this season but is hitting just .186 with 37 strikeouts. … According to onlyhomers.com, Alford’s 469-footer tops the 465-foot shot by Mississippi State alum Nate Lowe as the longest by a state product this season. Third on that list is Brent Rooker’s 460-footer, followed by Hunter Renfroe’s 456. Renfroe, the crusher from Crystal Springs, also has a 453, a 444 and a 439. Lowe also has a 451. Mitch Moreland’s longest is 444, Austin Riley’s 439. Could we get these guys together for a Home Run Derby?
Far from the MLB playoff races, where teams are looking to next year and players are seeking to make good impressions, the Chicago Cubs met the Minnesota Twins at Target Field on Wednesday. Justin Steele, the former George County High star, made one of those good impressions. The Cubs’ rookie left-hander threw five shutout innings for his first win since shifting from the bullpen to the rotation. Relying mainly on two different fastballs, Steele allowed one hit, walked three, hit a batter and fanned three in the 3-0 victory. “I thought the fastball looked electric, to be honest with you,” Cubs manager David Ross said in an mlb.com story. Steele, who has made four starts, is 3-2 with a 3.48 ERA overall in 15 games for the fourth-place Cubs. Drafted in 2014, the 26-year-old Steele logged over 300 innings in an injury-plagued minor league journey before making his big league debut on April 12. Meanwhile, for the last-place Twins, ex-Mississippi State star Brent Rooker was a bright spot, getting the club’s only two hits, both singles. Rooker, also looking to make an impression for 2022, is batting .201 with six homers in 38 games. Former Petal High standout Anthony Alford, hoping to secure a 2022 job with Pittsburgh, hit his second homer of the season in the last-place Pirates’ loss to the Chicago White Sox. The oft-injured Alford is batting .180 in 23 games. MSU product Nate Lowe, toiling for last-place Texas, went 1-for-3 in a loss to Colorado. Lowe is batting .321 over his last 15 games and .261 with 14 homers on the season, his first with the Rangers. P.S. Mississippi State alum Will Bednar, the first Mississippian picked in this year’s draft (14th overall), made his pro debut on Monday, working a 1-2-3 inning for San Francisco’s Arizona Complex League club. … The White Sox put shortstop Tim Anderson on the injured list Wednesday with a hamstring issue; the former East Central Community College star, an MVP candidate, had missed several games recently with sore legs.
The Mississippi Braves have risen to the best record in the Double-A South by minding their P’s: pitching and power. On a lazy Sunday afternoon at Trustmark Park in Pearl, they didn’t get enough of either. Biloxi bludgeoned the M-Braves 11-3, snapping an eight-game winning streak. The M-Braves lead the league in ERA (3.66) and rank second in home runs (117). On Sunday, the Shuckers, the league’s worst team by record, pounded out 16 hits – two by Ole Miss product Thomas Dillard, his first in Double-A – and drew six walks against five M-Braves pitchers. Starter Freddy Tarnok and Hayden Deal, first out of the bullpen, yielded four runs each. Braden Shewmake hit the M-Braves’ lone homer, his ninth, a first-inning solo shot that landed on the roof of the Farm Bureau Grill beyond right field. … Austin Riley hit his 25th home run in Atlanta’s 6-5 victory over Washington on Sunday, but the ex-DeSoto Central High star’s bigger contribution was the play he made to end the game. Riley dove and speared a hot shot down the third-base line, with runners at first and second, and threw out Carter Kieboom at first base. Riley’s glove rates some love. … Corey Dickerson may prove to be a valuable trade acquisition for Toronto, still scrapping in the wild card battle. The Meridian Community College alum hit his first homer for the Blue Jays in a win on Sunday and is 10-for-33 with five RBIs and five runs in 12 games for the team. He hit .260 with two homers for Miami before the trade. … San Francisco maintained the best record (76-42) in the big leagues with a 5-2 win against Colorado on Sunday, with two former M-Braves playing major roles. Alex Wood worked 6 2/3 innings to notch his 10th win and Tommy La Stella went 3-for-4 with two RBIs, boosting his August average to .300 coming off a three-month stay on the injured list. … Tough luck continues to hound former Petal High star Anthony Alford. After battling his way back to the majors from a demotion to Triple-A, the 27-year-old outfielder went on the IL on Sunday with a back strain. He is 4-for-17 since Pittsburgh brought him back to The Show. Alford’s 2020 season was curtailed by a fractured elbow. He suffered myriad injuries while in Toronto’s system from 2012-19.
Former Ole Miss standout David Parkinson, now a Philadelphia Phillies minor leaguer, got a major monkey off his back on Wednesday. The 25-year-old lefty worked 5 1/3 innings, allowing just two runs, and got the win as Lehigh Valley beat Rochester 5-3 in the Triple-A East. It was Parkinson’s first win since 2019. He is now 1-7 (with a 6.36 ERA) over 15 appearances in his first Triple-A campaign. A 12th-round draftee in 2017, he was the Phillies’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2018, going 11-1, 1.45 at two levels of A-ball. He wasn’t as sharp in Double-A in 2019 and didn’t pitch at all last year. Parkinson reportedly has a tendency to dwell on bad outings, of which he has had several in 2021. “One thing about Park is that he’s very cerebral, analytical,” LV pitching coach Aaron Fultz told The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., earlier this season. “The biggest advice I can give to him is that this game is very, very hard.” Wednesday’s win was a nice reward for his perseverance. … Also admirably soldiering on is Anthony Alford, the Columbia native and former Petal High two-sport star now in Triple-A in Pittsburgh’s system. Alford was 2-for-3 with his 10th homer of the season for Indianapolis on Wednesday. Alford’s latest big league trial ended on April 21, when Pittsburgh took him off its 40-man roster after a 2-for-24 start. He was assigned on May 1 to Indianapolis, where he struggled initially. Batting .175 on June 1, Alford is currently hitting .302, batting third and playing center field. He is 27 now – a long way from his days as a highly rated Toronto prospect — and owns a .150 career average in the big leagues. But he’s still wearing a uniform and trying to remain relevant.
Shohei Ohtani, the amazing double-duty All-Star, got the win and Raisel Iglesias the save in the Los Angeles Angels’ 5-3 victory against Boston on Tuesday night. Former Ole Miss star Mike Mayers was the “bridge guy,” pitching the eighth inning, between Ohtani and Iglesias. Mayers was credited with a hold, that somewhat obscure statistic that gives middle relievers something to, er, hold on to. A hold is awarded to a reliever who enters in “a save situation and maintains his team’s lead for the next relief pitcher, while recording at least one out.” Mayers’ scoreless inning of work gives the right-hander 11 holds on the year; the MLB lead is 17. He has a 4.17 ERA and two saves in 41 appearances. Drew Pomeranz, another UM product, fills a similar role to Mayers’ for San Diego. The big lefty notched his eighth hold on Tuesday, pitching a scoreless eighth in the Padres’ 7-4 win over Washington. Pomeranz, who recently came off the injured list, has a 1.59 ERA in 18 games. Chris Stratton, the ex-Mississippi State standout from Tupelo and another middle relief specialist, pitched a scoreless seventh inning in Pittsburgh’s 2-1 win against Atlanta. But the score was tied when Stratton worked – so, no hold. He has four on the year, along with a 2.96 ERA and a save in 35 appearances. P.S. If there was a bright spot in the Braves’ second straight lackluster performance against the lowly Pirates, it was the hitting of Orlando Arcia. Arcia, the second Biloxi Shuckers alum (after Jed Bradley) to play for Atlanta, went 2-for-3 and homered for the Braves’ lone run. He is 4-for-11 with two RBIs, two runs and a steal in three games since being called up from Triple-A Gwinnett, where he was batting .303 with 13 homers. He was Milwaukee’s starting shortstop the previous five years. … To the long list of great catches by Billy Hamilton, make room for the one he made Tuesday. The Taylorsville High product, playing center field in the ninth inning for the Chicago White Sox, ran full speed and laid out for the acrobatic snag, then slid across the rain-soaked warning track to complete the play. “I think that’s the top one, to be honest with you,” Hamilton said in an mlb.com story.
Mississippi will be represented by at least one state college product in the MLB All-Star Game for the sixth straight time. Adam Frazier, the Mississippi State alumnus now with Pittsburgh, was the winner in fan balloting to start at second base for the National League. It’ll be his first trip to the Midsummer Classic, and he is very deserving of the honor. The lefty-hitting Frazier, in his sixth MLB season, is batting .326 with 101 hits, four homers, 28 RBIs and 50 runs. “I don’t really love the spotlight itself. I just try to go about my business and take care of what I need to take care of,” Frazier said in an mlb.com article. “It’s pretty cool to have the support, and I’m happy for that.” This is also pretty cool: The last Pirates second baseman to start an All-Star Game was Bill Mazeroski in 1967. More Mississippians could be headed for Colorado for the July 13 game when pitchers and reserves are announced Sunday. In 2019, the last time there was an All-Star Game, Brandon Woodruff, the ex-State standout from Wheeler, went as a replacement to the National League pitching staff. He followed Mitch Moreland (2018), Zack Cozart and Corey Dickerson (2017), Drew Pomeranz (2016) and Brian Dozier and Jonathan Papelbon (2015) as recent All-Stars out of Magnolia State schools. … Former Mississippi Braves Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna also were voted in, as announced by MLB on Thursday. P.S. The all-Mississippi home run chase in MLB is proving to be quite interesting. DeSoto Central product Austin Riley belted his 14th on Thursday (off Jacob deGrom, no less), moving two ahead of ex-MSU star Hunter Renfroe and Bulldogs alum Nate Lowe, who hit two on Thursday to get to 12. Gulfport’s Bobby Bradley, who has only been up since June 5, has eight. Still waiting for former State standout Moreland to get it going; he’s at six. … Down in the minors, Houlka’s Tyreque Reed hit two bombs for High-A Greenville (Boston) and has 12 on the season.
As a middle reliever on a bad team, Chris Stratton isn’t going to get many headlines. The Mississippi State alum from Tupelo deserved one on Friday, though a couple of other players with Mississippi connections likely stole them. Stratton retired all 11 batters he faced in Pittsburgh’s 9-2 win over Miami and earned his first save of the season, second career. The veteran right-hander, a converted starter, has a 2.90 ERA, a win and five holds in 22 games for the Pirates, who are 22-34. Don’t blame Adam Frazier for that poor record. Frazier, a teammate of Stratton’s at MSU years ago, went 2-for-3 with two walks, three runs and two RBIs on Friday. Bidding for the All-Star Game, he has 22 multi-hit games and is batting .338 (.402 OBP) with 21 RBIs as the Pirates’ leadoff batter. Even Frazier’s big night might have been overshadowed by Ke’Bryan Hayes’. With his father Charlie, the Hattiesburg native and former big leaguer, in the house at PNC Park, the younger Hayes went 2-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs in his second game since coming off the 60-day injured list. The rookie third baseman is 5-for-13 with two homers on the season. His dad got to see him homer in the majors in person for the first time. P.S. Down in Triple-A, ex-Petal High star Anthony Alford, who opened 2021 as the Bucs’ center fielder, enjoyed a good night: 4-for-5 with his third homer of the year in Indianapolis’ twinbill sweep against Columbus. Alford, hoping for a return to The Show, is hitting .226 for the Indianapolis club. He was batting .083 when the Pirates designated him for assignment and sent him down.
The MLB All-Star Game is some two months away, but it’s not too early to start projecting that Adam Frazier will make the National League team. The former Mississippi State and current Pittsburgh Pirates standout leads the league in hits (51) and tops NL second basemen in batting average (.323) and OPS. Frazier, a lefty bat, had something of a down year in 2020 – like many others – but is a .277 career hitter with both pop and speed. In 2021, he has one homer, three triples, 13 doubles, three steals, 13 RBIs and 20 runs over 39 games. Oddly enough, the sixth-year big leaguer wasn’t assured a starting job entering spring training and was the subject of trade rumors. But after raking at a .488 clip in the Grapefruit League, he has been entrenched at second base since Day 1. His defense? He occasionally shifts to left field late in games because the Pirates are short-handed out there, not because he’s lacking at second base. He is a two-time Gold Glove finalist. “(H)e’s doing an unbelievable job at second. We’d prefer to keep him there and plan on keeping him there,” Bucs manager Derek Shelton told triblive.com. Don’t be surprised to see Frazier in Colorado with the other All-Stars in July.