My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· With a no-hitter, a 16-strikeout performance and the first two complete games of his major league career on his resume in the past 30 days, James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) should be a lock for American League Pitcher of the Month honours. In five starts for the Seattle Mariners this month, he has posted a 3-0 record with a 1.42 ERA and has 46 strikeouts in 38 innings to go with a .579 WHIP.
· On Thursday, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Mays, Ont., received the spikes that Calgary native Mike Soroka wore during his major league debut. On May 1, the 20-year-old Atlanta Braves right-hander held the New York Mets to one-run in six innings at Citi Field to record the win in his first big league start. The young Canuck had posted a 1-1 record and a 3.68 ERA in 14-2/3 innings in three starts before being placed on the disabled list with a shoulder strain on May 17. Tests showed no structural damage to his right shoulder and both Soroka and Braves manager Brian Snitker say the injury isn’t serious. He threw his first bullpen session since going on the DL on Friday and will require at least one rehab start before returning. A graduate of the Canadian Junior National Team, Soroka was a first-round pick (28th overall) of the Braves in the 2015 MLB draft. Prior to being promoted by the Braves this season, Soroka was 2-0 with a 1.99 ERA with 24 strikeouts in four starts with triple-A Gwinnett.
· Victoria, B.C, native Nick Pivetta had another excellent start on Monday, tossing seven shutout innings and limiting the Braves to four hits while striking out seven in picking up his fourth win of the season. The 25-year-old righty is now 4-2 with a 3.23 ERA with 60 strikeouts in 53 innings in 10 starts. This is a significant improvement from his rookie 2017 campaign in which he finished 8-10 with a 6.02 ERA in 133 innings in 26 starts. The Canuck hurler will make his first regular season start against the Toronto Blue Jays today.
· Speaking of Canadian pitchers, Chatham, Ont., native Fergie Jenkins is the greatest of all-time and his name appeared on the Rogers Centre Jumbotron this week when Angels’ two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani was batting. The graphic on the Jumbotron (Thank you to @Minor_Leaguer on Twitter for sharing this, shown below) indicated that, during this month, Ohtani became the fourth player of the modern era, and first since Jenkins in 1971, to record 25 strikeouts as a pitcher and four home runs as a hitter in the same month. Jenkins had his tremendous month in September 1971. The Canuck mound legend’s feat is all the more impressive when you consider he was not playing another position when he wasn’t pitching (like Ohtani is). For the record, Jenkins won the Cy Young Award that season and finished that campaign with six home runs, 20 RBI and a .478 slugging percentage.
· Please take a moment to remember Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and Duguayville, N.B., native Billy Harris who died seven years ago today at the age of 79. Harris caught the eye of big league scouts when he led the Dieppe Junior Cardinals to a Maritime championship in 1949 and the Moncton Legionnaires to a senior title the following year. Signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951, the Canuck hurler notched 18 wins and recorded a 2.19 ERA for the class-D Valdosta Dodgers in his inaugural professional campaign. He would top that the next season, when he won 25 games, tossed 12 shutouts and registered a miniscule 0.83 ERA for the class-B Miami Sun Sox. His success continued in 1953 when he authored a perfect game for the double-A Mobile Bears. In 1954, he debuted with the triple-A Montreal Royals. Trapped in the pitching-rich Dodgers system behind legends like Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Don Newcombe, Harris had little opportunity to shine at the major league level. After recording 16 wins with Montreal in 1957, the determined Maritimer was called up and made his first big league start on September 27 of that year. Throwing to the legendary Roy Campanella, Harris held the Phillies to three runs in seven innings but still recorded the loss. Harris would return to the minors in 1958 and for most of 1959, before making his second and final major league appearance with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In all, Harris pitched for 15 professional seasons and amassed 174 wins and 1,373 strikeouts. For his efforts, he was inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 1978 and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame 30 years later.
· Happy 50th Birthday to Hall of Famer and former Toronto Blue Jay Frank Thomas! Most Blue Jays fans don’t reminisce fondly about The Big Hurt’s tenure with the club, but in 2007, his sole full season in Toronto, he topped the team in home runs (26), RBI (95), walks (81) and on-base percentage (.377) as a 39-year-old. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound slugger also clubbed his 500th career home run – a bomb to left-centre field off of Twins right-hander Carlos Silva at the Metrodome on June 28 – that season. Nevertheless, when he slumped in spring training in 2008, Blue Jays fans began to boo him loudly. I can recall being in Dunedin that year and feeling ashamed at what I was hearing. Of course, many of the same fans that booed Thomas that spring also rushed down the right field line at Dunedin Stadium to get his autograph when he came out of the games after the fifth inning.
· A great tidbit from Bob Elliott in his excellent column about Shohei Ohtani this week. In this column, he notes that the only two Toronto Blue Jays players to win American League Rookie of the Year awards are now coaches with the Los Angeles Angels. Former shortstop Alfredo Griffin, a co-winner of the award in 1979, is the first base coach, while Eric Hinske, who captured the honour in 2002, is the hitting coach.
· Happy 84th Birthday to Montreal, Que, native Ray Daviault who pitched in 36 games for the hapless New York Mets in their inaugural 1962 season. That would be his only big league action, but the 6-foot-1 right-hander did appear in 348 games in parts of 11 seasons in the Dodgers, Giants and Mets systems from 1953 to 1963. His stretch in the minors included two brief stints with his hometown International League Montreal Royals in 1957 and 1958. He was forced to retire due to an elbow injury in 1963. He now resides in Notre-Dame-de-la-Merci, Que.
· This week’s trivia question. Who is the other Canadian to have pitched for the New York Mets during their inaugural 1962 campaign? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1979 Topps Steve Carlton card, a 1986 Fleer George Brett card, a 1986 Topps Traded Jose Canseco rookie card and a 1993 Topps Gold Jeff Bagwell card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Who is the last player other than Joey Votto to win the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Tip O’Neill Award?) was Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.) in 2014.