My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· According to Sportsnet Stats, Calgary native Mike Soroka is the first pitcher in major league history to allow one earned run or less in nine of their first 11 major league starts. The Atlanta Braves right-hander tossed seven shutout innings against the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday to earn his fourth win of the season and lower his 2019 ERA to 0.98 in six starts. Soroka made his big league debut with the Braves in 2018 and went 2-1 with a 3.51 ERA in five starts before being sidelined with a shoulder injury. In total, in his 11 big league starts, he is 6-2 with a 2.02 ERA in 62 1/3 innings. A graduate of the Canadian Junior National Team, Soroka was a first-round pick (28th overall) of the Braves in the 2015 MLB draft.
· Soroka’s early career success got me wondering how Canadian baseball legend Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) fared in his first 11 major league starts. The answer is Jenkins went 4-2 with a 2.75 ERA in 85 innings. Jenkins averaged close to eight innings per start and three of his starts were complete games.
· After making his first home start for the San Diego Padres on May 7, Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) was sent back down to the triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas. In two big league starts, Quantrill posted a respectable 3.60 ERA in 10 innings. An interesting piece of trivia that I missed in my last column was that second baseman Robinson Cano recorded his 2,500th career hit against Quantrill on May 7 and Cano (as noted on the scoreboard at Petco Park below) was also teammates with Quantrill’s father, Paul, when he notched his first big league hit on May 4, 2005. The senior Quantrill also pitched 2 1/3 innings in that contest.
· Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr. became the youngest Toronto Blue Jays player to homer in a major league game when he socked his first two big league homers on Tuesday at the age of 20 years and 59 days old. Baseball player turned hoops star Danny Ainge held the previous record at 20 years 77 days, but as a Canadian baseball history buff, I appreciated the graphic below that appeared on the Blue Jays’ telecast. In that graphic, you can see that Marysville, N.B., native Paul Hodgson homered when he was 20 years and 168 days old, which makes him the third youngest Jay to homer.
· When Edwin Jackson toed the rubber for the Blue Jays on Wednesday, he broke former Blue Jay Octavio Dotel’s record by appearing in a game with his 14th different major league team. But what non-pitcher has appeared for the most different major league teams? The answer is Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B.) who wore 13 different major league uniforms (for 12 different franchises) during his career. Stairs played for the Montreal Expos, Boston Red Sox, Oakland A’s, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays, Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres and Washington Nationals.
· Soroka’s success got me thinking about Victoria, B.C., native Rich Harden. He’s the last Canadian pitcher I remember watching and thinking could be truly dominant on any given day. Unfortunately, despite some flashes of brilliance (He went 10-2 with a 2.07 ERA with 181 strikeouts in 148 innings in 2008), Harden was sidelined by a series of injuries. His nine-year baseball career ended with a stint with the Oakland A’s in 2012. After a short comeback attempt with the Minnesota Twins in the spring of 2013, Harden retired and hasn’t been heard from. Last fall, I reported that he was being inducted into the Victoria Sports Hall of Fame and I should’ve followed that up by sharing a link to this video. Harden is now living in Arizona with his wife, but last fall he was also serving as a pitching coach for a “tournament team” from Minnesota, where is wife is from.
· One pitcher to keep an eye on in the Blue Jays’ organization is Andrew Sopko, who is the 24-year-old right-hander the club acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Montreal native Russell Martin in January. In six starts for the double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats this season, he posted a 2.34 ERA in 34 2/3 innings. This earned this 6-foot-2 right-hander a promotion to triple-A Buffalo. In his first start with the Bisons, Sopko didn’t allow an earned run in 5 2/3 innings. A seventh-round pick by the Dodgers in 2015, Sopko spent four seasons in the Dodgers organization, making it as high as double-A before being acquired by the Blue Jays.
· This week’s trivia question: Calgary, Alta., native Mike Soroka has four wins for the Atlanta Braves this season. Name another pitcher born in Alberta that has registered a major league win? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win an autographed Jimmy Key card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Felipe Alou was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015. Who is the only other former Montreal Expos manager inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame?) is Jim Fanning.