My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· After consulting with my friends at Alberta Dugout Stories (@ABDugoutStories) and with Alberta baseball expert Ruben Lipszyc, I believe I can safely say that when Calgary native Mike Soroka started against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday that he became the first pitcher born in Alberta to start a game against the Blue Jays. Mike Johnson (Edmonton, Alta.) and Chris Reitsma (born in Minneapolis, but raised in Calgary) had previously made relief appearances against the Blue Jays. Soroka allowed four runs in 4 2/3 innings and came within one out of qualifying for the win in the Braves’ 11-4 victory. Unfortunately, Soroka was placed on the 10-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation on Friday. It’s his second stint on the disabled list this season.
· Speaking of talented young Canadian right-handers, Nick Pivetta struck out a career-high 13 for the Philadelphia Phillies in his start on Monday. The 25-year-old Victoria, B.C., native allowed just two runs in 7 1/3 innings against the St. Louis Cardinals but did not receive a decision in the Phils’ 6-5 triumph. Pivetta heads into his start today with 4-6 record and a 4.08 ERA with 94 strikeouts in 79 1/3 innings this season.
· With Soroka and Pivetta pitching well, and James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) establishing himself as the Seattle Mariners ace, it got me thinking about 2021 World Baseball Classic. Due to a poor showing in 2017, Canada first has to qualify for the tournament, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Traditionally their weakness at this event has been starting pitching. Well, what if the Baseball Canada brass could convince Paxton, Soroka and Pivetta to toe the rubber for them in the tournament? That’s a big “if,”, but if they could make that happen, starting pitching would be a strength for Canada for the first time in the tournament’s history.
· In case you missed it, Victoria, B.C. native Michael Saunders was released by the Chicago White Sox on Thursday. The left-handed hitting outfielder had been toiling for their triple-A Charlotte Knights, but batted just .152 in 51 plate appearances. His release comes a month after he was let go following a triple-A stint with the Baltimore Orioles that saw him hit .161 in 103 plate appearances. The 31-year-old Saunders has struggled since his all-star campaign with the Blue Jays in 2016. He split 2017 between the Philadelphia Phillies and Blue Jays, where he hit a combined .202 with six home runs in 73 games. Saunders spent most of this spring with the Kansas City Royals before he was released on March 24. The Canuck veteran has socked 81 home runs in parts of nine big league seasons with the Seattle Mariners, Blue Jays and Phillies.
· Ladner, B.C., native Tom Robson has reportedly retired at the age of 23. The news was first reported by Jay Blue, from Blue Jays from Away, on Thursday. Selected in the fourth round of the 2011 MLB Draft by the Blue Jays, the 6-foot-4 right-hander pitched parts of six seasons in the organization, making it as high as double-A. After a promising 2013 season that saw him post a 1.12 ERA in 12 starts at the Rookie Ball and class-A Short-Season levels, Robson underwent Tommy John surgery the following campaign. He struggled when he returned late in the 2015 season and in 2016, but seem to rediscover his form last season when he registered a 3.12 ERA in 27 combined relief appearances between class-A Advanced Dunedin and double-A New Hampshire. He finishes his pro career with a 4.45 ERA and 194 strikeouts in 252 1/3 innings in 92 games.
· Happy 45th Birthday to Baseball Canada alum, longtime pro and East York, Ont., native Todd Betts! Betts was a star on the Junior National Team that won gold at the World Youth Baseball Championships in Brandon, Man.; in 1991 (That team has been inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame). After a short U.S. collegiate career, the left-handed hitting infielder was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 14th round of the 1993 MLB draft, he’d spend parts of seven seasons in the Indians organization, making it to triple-A before enjoying triple-A tenures in the Marlins, Mariners, Red Sox and Yankees organizations. He also played the 2003 season in the Japan Central League with the Yakult Swallows and spent 2006 with the La New Bears of the Chinese Professional Baseball League before returning to Canada to play with the Edmonton Cracker-Cats of the independent Northern League. Along the way, he also found time to suit up for Canada in several international competitions, including at the 2004 Olympics. Betts finished his 14-year professional career with 126 home runs and a .390 on-base percentage (OBP).
· On Saturday, Etobicoke, Ont., native Joey Votto clubbed his 265th major league home run to move into a tie for second among Canadians with Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B.). On the heels of that accomplishment, here’s another in a long list of impressive Votto stats, courtesy of Hot Stove Stats (@HotStoveStats) on Twitter.
· If someone were to ask me for a Canadian major league feat that will never be duplicated, this one would be near the top of my list: Wednesday represented the 40th anniversary of the Toronto Blue Jays losing its third consecutive game to another team in which the opposing winning pitcher was a Canadian. First Texas Rangers hurlers Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) and Reggie Cleveland (Swift Current, Sask.) picked up victories on June 17 and June 18, 1978 respectively, then Detroit Tigers reliever John Hiller (Toronto, Ont.) followed by tossing 4 2/3 shutout innings in relief to earn the win in Tigers’ 4-3, 13-inning victory.
· This week’s trivia question: In the first point above, I named two major league pitchers (Soroka and Johnson) that were born in Alberta. There have been a few other big league pitchers from Alberta. Can you name one? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1973 Topps Tommy John card, a 1984 O-Pee-Chee Fergie Jenkins card, a 1985 Donruss Leaf Orel Hershiser rookie card and a 1987 Topps Bo Jackson rookie card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (There have been two Blue Jays managers (one managed for only five games) who had fathers that played in the major leagues. Who are they?) was Bobby Mattick (father Wally) and Mel Queen (father also named Mel).