Two teams – and several Mississippians — celebrated playoff-clinching victories on Thursday. The Chicago White Sox, with Magnolia State juco products Tim Anderson and Jarrod Dyson in the lineup, rallied past Minnesota, and Tampa Bay, getting big hits from Mississippi State alums Hunter Renfroe and Nate Lowe, completed a twinbill sweep of Baltimore. Anderson, out of East Central CC, was 0-for-4 Thursday but is batting .365. Ex-Southwest Mississippi CC star Dyson (.190) made a rare start and went 2-for-4, with a key steal and a game-tying run in the seventh inning of a 4-3 win. The Rays clinched with a 10-6 Game 2 win vs. the Orioles as Renfroe hit his eighth homer and Lowe went 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run. Renfroe is batting just .163 but has 21 RBIs. Lowe, a recent call-up, is hitting .278 with three homers, nine RBIs and seven runs in 13 games. Northwest CC product Cody Reed, a lefty reliever, is on the Rays’ injured list (finger) and has been moved from the 10-day to the 60-day. … St. Louis’ playoff hopes took a double blow on Thursday as they lost to lowly Pittsburgh and saw former MSU standout Dakota Hudson depart his start early with an elbow problem that has landed him on the 10-day IL. Hudson, 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA, had won three straight starts. P.S. The White Sox summoned former Ocean Springs High standout Garret Crochet from their alternate camp today. The left-hander was the 11th overall pick in the June draft out of Tennessee.
Mississippi State alumnus Nate Lowe took part in an historic event on Friday night, and he took advantage of the opportunity to have one of the best games of his young MLB career. Lowe was part of Tampa Bay’s all-left-handed hitting lineup — the first in big league history — and delivered two homers and four RBIs in an 11-1 rout of Boston. Lowe, who batted .263 with seven homers as a rookie in 2019, was 1-for-14 since being recalled by the Rays on Sept. 1. “I’m pretty thankful for the opportunity and I hope (the bat) gets hot from here. Like, super hot from here,” he told mlb.com. Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash, who’ll seemingly try anything, went with all lefties to try to snap the first-place Rays out of an offensive funk. … Ex-Bulldogs star Brandon Woodruff stepped up in a time of need for Milwaukee (see previous post), throwing seven shutout innings at the Chicago Cubs. He yielded one hit, no walks and fanned 12. The Brewers won 1-0 on a walk-off sac fly. … Austin Riley’s bat has cooled off after a recent surge. The former DeSoto Central star is 5-for-29 (.174) in his last seven games for Atlanta and went 1-for-7, leaving nine runners on base, in Friday’s loss to Washington. The Braves left 22 on base as a team in the 8-7, 12-inning defeat. … Ole Miss product Jacob Waguespack was recalled from Toronto’s alternate site on Friday, but his return didn’t go well. The right-hander allowed six runs on seven hits in 2 2/3 innings in an 18-1 loss to the New York Mets.
As the Milwaukee Brewers chased down a playoff berth in 2019, Brandon Woodruff became the ace of the pitching staff. The Brewers desperately need the former Mississippi State standout to reprise that role, starting tonight. Woodruff, 11-3 last year, has struggled in 2020, as have the Brewers, who are 19-22 and currently out of the National League playoff picture with less than three weeks to go. Woodruff (2-3, 3.91 ERA) takes the mound in a very meaningful game against the first-place Chicago Cubs at Miller Park. “These last few weeks are going to be a telltale sign of, are we going to do this thing or not?” Woodruff said in an mlb.com piece. “It’s going to be fun.” Well, maybe. Woodruff’s ERA has been climbing steadily over his last six starts. In only one of those starts has he gone more than five innings. He called his most recent outing, a 4 1/3-inning, 3-run stint in a no-decision against Cleveland, “a disgrace.” He could be positioned for a feel-good result against the Cubs. Collectively, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo are just 9-for-48 (.188) with no homers against Woodruff. P.S. Cody Reed, the Northwest Mississippi Community College alum from Horn Lake, went on the 10-day injured list for Tampa Bay with “left pinky finger irritation.” The left-hander has made two scoreless relief appearances since the Rays got him in a trade with Cincinnati.
With a boatload of makeup games ahead for the St. Louis Cardinals in September, the durability of their pitchers will be tested as they try to make a playoff push. Ex-Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson gave them some length on Monday, working seven innings in a 7-5 win against Cincinnati that got the Cardinals to 13-13. The 25-year-old right-hander (1-2, 2.77 ERA in five starts) allowed just one earned run on four hits at the Reds’ so-called Great American Small Park. He struck out seven and walked none. While winning 16 games for St. Louis as a rookie in 2019, he led the majors in total walks (86 or 4.4 per nine innings), a stat that needs to improve. Through 26 innings in 2020, he has seven walks (2.4 per nine). He is reportedly throwing more curveballs and fewer sinkers this year. Hudson got a final swinging strike from three Reds batters on a different type of pitch in one inning. “It’s just me recognizing quality hitters that I’m facing and having a complete arsenal as a starter, rather than just being out there trying to overpower guys,” Hudson said in an mlb.com piece. P.S. Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of Hattiesburg native and longtime big leaguer Charlie Hayes, is slated for his big league debut tonight for Pittsburgh. The younger Hayes, one of the Pirates’ top prospects, is in the lineup at third base, batting seventh, against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park. … Tampa Bay has recalled ex-MSU standout Nate Lowe from its alternate camp. Lowe batted .263 with seven homers as a rookie for the Rays in 2019. … Olive Branch native Kendall Williams, a second-round pick out of IMG Academy in Florida last year, has been traded from Toronto to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The right-hander was in the Blue Jays’ alternate camp.
One of the ironies of Tampa Bay’s strong start – the Rays (12-8) just put up 42 runs in a four-game sweep at Boston – is that Hunter Renfroe, acquired for his power, hadn’t provided a whole lot before flexing some on Thursday. The former Mississippi State star hit two bombs in the 17-8 rout, his first homers since July 27. After going 4-for-11 in two starts at Fenway Park, Renfroe is batting .200 with four homers and 14 RBIs on the season. He picked up five of his RBIs in the Red Sox series. Both of Renfroe’s homers on Thursday were impressive, one to right-center, the other yanked way over the Green Monster in left. “It’s pretty cool,” Renfroe said, in an mlb.com story, about clearing the Monster. “Obviously this is a historic field and a beautiful field, just to kind of check that off my home run list of stadiums to hit one (in) is pretty cool.” He hit 89 homers in three-plus years with San Diego. He’s about due to go off. The Rays play Toronto in Buffalo this weekend. There were eight homers at Sahlen Field, the converted minor league facility, on Wednesday. P.S. Chad Smith, drafted by Miami out of Ole Miss in 2016, has been traded to Colorado and will move from the Marlins’ alternate training site to the Rockies’. He’s not going on the 40-man roster. Smith, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, went 4-4 with a 4.22 ERA in his one year in Oxford after transferring from an Alabama juco. He has a 4.46 ERA in four minor league seasons, reaching Double-A Jacksonville of the Southern League last year.
Hunter Renfroe took some batting practice cuts Sunday in his new home park, Tropicana Field, and put on a show of power, according to an mlb.com account. Former Mississippi State star Renfroe, acquired by Tampa Bay from San Diego in the off-season, hit a pair of balls off the indoor stadium’s catwalks, considered quite a poke. “Renfroe was playing pepper with the back wall,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “That’s not something you see a lot of guys do.” Renfroe averaged 28 homers over the past three seasons with the Padres. … Spencer Turnbull, the Madison Central High alumnus now with Detroit, spent time during MLB’s shutdown back in Mississippi throwing to dad Jim, who, per an mlb.com report, wore full catcher’s gear as his son worked on his complete arsenal of pitches. “He’s caught me my whole life,” Spencer said. “Anytime I go home in the off-season, I’ll throw to him. He’s not usually in full gear, but I’m throwing flat grounds to him all the time.” … Ex-State star Mitch Moreland drew praise from Boston manager Ron Roenicke following his BP session at Fenway Park on Sunday. “When we have him out there on the field, hopefully he can start like he did last year,” Roenicke told mlb.com. “We know how important starting well is this year. Today is about as good a day as you can have for him.” Moreland, typically a fast starter, hit 13 homers in his first 46 games in 2019 and 10 homers in his first 44 games in 2018. … MSU product Dakota Hudson threw live BP in St. Louis’ camp on Saturday and said afterward he is pleased with how efforts to smooth out his delivery have gone. “I feel comfortable with what I’m doing,” Hudson said in an mlb.com article. “I was trying to mess with some stuff at the end of last year, and going into spring this year, I was able to show it off a little bit.” Hudson, 16-7 with a 3.35 ERA in 2019, is seeking to cut down on walks this season; he led the majors with 86 a year ago. … On the local front, there was some actual baseball in Vicksburg over the holiday weekend, with the Hattiesburg Black Sox semi-pro team taking on the US Military Baseball Team in a three-game series at Sports Force Parks on the Mississippi. The US Military team, a touring independent club, is not affiliated with the Department of Defense but plays in honor of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Ran across an interesting old scoresheet while missing baseball and rummaging through some folders of baseball stuff. It’s from April 30, 2009, a game at Trustmark Park between the Mississippi Braves and the Montgomery Biscuits. It’s memorable not for any particular milestone but because it turned into a sort of showcase for Mississippi junior college baseball. The Biscuits, a Tampa Bay affiliate, won the game 9-2, fueled by the offensive exploits of state juco products Desmond Jennings, Rhyne Hughes and J.T. Hall. They combined to reach base 11 times, score five runs and drive in five runs. Collectively, they hit for the cycle. Leadoff batter Jennings, drafted by the Rays out of Itawamba Community College in 2006, went 2-for-3 with a walk and a double. He was on his way to Southern League MVP honors and a seven-year major league career with the Rays. No. 3 hitter Hughes, a 2004 Rays draftee out of Pearl River CC, went 3-for-5 with a homer off M-Braves starter Ryne Reynoso. Hughes made The Show in 2010, playing 14 games for Baltimore. Hall, drafted by Tampa Bay in 2004 (41st round) out of Southwest Mississippi CC, was the 6-hole hitter that day and went 3-for-3 with two walks, a triple, a homer (off Reynoso), a stolen base and three RBIs. The 2009 season was the last in affiliated ball for the 6-foot-3, 210-pound outfielder, who batted .253 with 43 homers in six minor league seasons. April 30, 2009, might’ve been Hall’s best day in pro ball. Bottom line: You never know what treasure you’ll find in an old scoresheet.
There are no big league games today, which might make the memory a tad bittersweet for Nate Lowe. On April 29 of last year, ex-Mississippi State standout Lowe made his MLB debut, going 1-for-4 with a double for Tampa Bay in a win at Kansas City. Lowe became the 60th Bulldogs alumnus to make the majors and the second of five Mississippi-connected players (the others: Chris Ellis, Austin Riley, Jacob Waguespack and Bobby Bradley) to debut in 2019. Lowe, who batted .263 with seven homers in 50 games as a first baseman/DH last season, reported for spring training this year about 20 pounds lighter. He was getting more work at third base, versatility that likely would help him contribute more on a Rays team expected to contend – again — in the American League East. “It took a lot of spiritual maturation and physical maturation to kind of start over (this) off-season to get to be the player and the person that I need to be,” he told draysbay.com in February, shortly before baseball shut down. A 13th-round pick out of State in 2016, the lefty-hitting Lowe made some adjustments in his swing after his second pro season and rolled through three levels of the Rays’ system in 2018. He batted .330 with 27 homers, went to the All-Star Futures Game and was named the organization’s minor league player of the year. … Coincidentally, on this date in 2012, another former State first baseman, Tyler Moore, made his big league debut, going 1-for-3 for Washington. Brandon native Moore, who slugged 30 homers over parts of five MLB seasons, is no longer in the game.
The San Diego Padres were never a contender during Hunter Renfroe’s three-plus seasons there. He’s in a different place now. Tampa Bay was a postseason team in 2019 and is expected to battle for a playoff berth again this year. Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs, is expected to contribute to the charge. Acquired by the Rays in an off-season trade, Renfroe hit 33 home runs last season and has 89 in 390 MLB games in his career. “Obviously, (there’s) the numbers he put up last year, but I think he’s just getting better and better,” Rays catcher Mike Zunino told mlb.com. “That power is going to be big in our lineup.” Renfroe has yet to homer for the Rays this spring but has made an impression with the bat just the same. “Hunter has unbelievable power,” outfielder Austin Meadows said. “His batting practice is ridiculous.” Renfroe is just a .235 career hitter (.294 on-base percentage) with high strikeout numbers, but his defensive ability is another plus. A Gold Glove finalist in 2019, he is projected to start in left field, though there is a crowd in the Rays’ outfield. Nevertheless, Renfroe is happy with the change of scene. “It’s a win-win situation for me,” he told Tampa’s Fox 13 News. “I have a chance to do something special here with these guys — going to the World Series and stuff like that, so I look forward to it, and I look forward to the season.”
If the rumored San Diego-Tampa Bay trade goes down, it’ll be a big change for Hunter Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State standout who is a key piece in the deal. The power-hitting outfielder would go to the Rays along with a top prospect for outfielder Tommy Pham and a prospect. For Renfroe, that’d be a change not only of time zones and leagues but also of expectations. Tampa Bay, in the dog-eat-dog American League East, won 96 games and a wild card playoff berth in 2019 and won 90 games in 2018. The Padres finished 70-92, last in the National League West, in 2019. The Padres have finished fourth, fifth and fifth in Renfroe’s three full seasons with the club. They’ve already made a couple of big trades this off-season. Renfroe, a corner outfielder with a big arm, hit 33 homers last season but batted just .216; he was a Gold Glove finalist in left field. Pham, the Rays’ left fielder, hit .273 (.369 on-base percentage) with 21 homers and batted .360 in the postseason. Tampa Bay’s right fielder last year was rookie Austin Meadows.