My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· Calgary, Alta., native Mike Soroka made his regular start for the Atlanta Braves on Friday despite being hit in the right forearm by a pitch from Washington Nationals right-hander Austin Voth in the second inning of a game last Sunday. The Braves removed him from that contest for precautionary measures, but his x-rays were negative. On Friday, he started and allowed just two runs in 6 1/3 innings to lead the Braves to a 6-2 win over the New York Mets. That win moved his record to 9-1 and he now owns a tidy 2.13 ERA in 82 2/3 innings in 14 starts this season.
· Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) recorded his 1,800th major league hit in his 4-for-4 performance against the Chicago Cubs on Friday. Votto is just the second Canadian to amass 1,800 hits in their major league career. Maple Ridge, B.C. native Larry Walker is the all-time leader with 2,160 hits. By Votto’s lofty standards, 2019 has been a down season for him, he’s batting .271 with eight home runs in 74 games, but his on-base percentage is still a strong .365.
· Port Hope, Ont., native Cal Quantrill has been temporarily moved to the San Diego Padres bullpen. Padres manager Andy Green explained to reporters that this was done because the Padres had three of the last 11 days off in June and they didn’t need Quantrill in the rotation. The 24-year-old Canadian had been used exclusively as a starter in the Padres minor league system before his call-up. “I think we definitely see him as a starter long run, but we see him as a versatile guy,” Green told Jake Crouse of MLB.com. “I think [if] you look across the league, the teams that are able to add good arms to their bullpens tend to be better teams. Sometimes that’s starters going to the ‘pen, sometimes that’s guys getting called up and going straight to the ‘pen. For us right now, in this short-term period, we’ve told him we’re going to take him back to a starting role at some point in time, but right now, this makes some sense for us.” For his part, Quantrill is willing to do anything to help the Padres. “Long term, I still view myself as a starter,” Quantrill told Crouse, “but right now, it seems like the best way I can help the team is out of the ‘pen, and that’s what I’ll do.” The young Canadian has looked good in three relief appearances so far, allowing just one run in 4 2/3 innings.
· Happy 57th Birthday (or 58th according to his Facebook page) to Toronto Blue Jays legend and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Tony Fernandez! Signed by the Blue Jays in 1979, Fernandez played 12 memorable seasons in Toronto, winning the hearts of fans with his patented submarine-style throws, unparalleled range and clutch hitting. In 1985, his first year as an everyday shortstop, Fernandez hit .289 to help propel the Blue Jays to their first American League East title. Over the next five seasons, Fernandez established himself as one of baseball’s best all-around shortstops, leading the Blue Jays in batting average twice (1986, 1987), hits three times (1986, 1988, 1990) and triples four times (1986, 1987, 1989, 1990). He was also a three-time all-star and four-time Gold Glove Award winner during that stretch. After two seasons in the National League with the Padres and Mets, Fernandez was dealt back to the Blue Jays in June 1993. He proceeded to hit .306 in 94 games and play an integral role on the World Series-winning squad. Following one-year stints with the Cincinnati Reds, New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians, Fernandez returned to Toronto to hit .321 and drive in 72 runs in 1998 and he followed that up with a .328 batting average in 1999, the fifth best single-season average in Blue Jays history. He retired as the club’s all-time leader in hits (1,583). For his efforts, his name was added to the Blue Jays Level of Excellence in 2001 and he was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.
· Congratulations to Montreal Expos legend and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Claude Raymond who was one of the 57 people appointed a member of the Order of Canada on Thursday. He’ll attend a formal ceremony at the Governor General’s Office to accept the honour at a date to be announced. The St. Jean, Que., native made his major league debut with the Chicago White Sox on April 15, 1959. From 1961 to 1971, while playing with the Milwaukee Braves, Houston Astros, Atlanta Braves and Montreal Expos, Raymond evolved into one of the National League’s premier relief pitchers. He finished in the top 10 in saves four times (1962, 1966, 1967, 1970) and earned an all-star selection in 1966. When he was sold to the Expos on August 19, 1969, he became the first Canadian to play for a Canadian major league team. In his second season in Montreal, he registered a career-high 23 saves and cemented his legacy as the greatest big leaguer ever to come out of the province of Quebec. Following his playing career, Raymond became a well-known TV and radio analyst for the Montreal Expos. Now 82, he remains a passionate and highly respected ambassador for baseball in his home province.
· It was 22 years ago today that the first regular season, interleague game was played between the Expos and the Blue Jays. The Expos won 2-1 at SkyDome. Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductees Pedro Martinez and Pat Hentgen faced off against each other on the mound and both threw complete games. Martinez allowed just three hits and struck out 10, while Hentgen was the tough-luck losing pitcher, despite only allowing two runs on six hits. Canadian Baseball Hall of Famers Vladimir Guerrero and Carlos Delgado also homered for their respective teams. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame has Hentgen’s jersey from this game in their collection.
· The first player to walk to the plate in that historic interleague game between the Expos and the Blue Jays was Expos shortstop Mark Grudzielanek and he did so on his 27th birthday (which makes today his 49th birthday). Grudzielanek grounded out to Blue Jays shortstop Alex Gonzalez to begin the game. Grudzielanek played his first four major league seasons with the Expos, before enjoying tenures with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals. He very quietly amassed 2,040 hits and hit a solid .289 in his 15-year big league career.
· Happy 62nd Birthday to former Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays left-hander and current Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black! Both of Black’s parents are Canadian. His father was born in Calgary and raised in Edmonton, while his mother was born in Melville, Sask., which is also the birthplace of Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Terry Puhl. All of this would’ve made Black, who won 121 major league games and a World Series ring with the Royals in 1985, eligible to pitch for Canada in the World Baseball Classic if it had been around when he played.
· This week’s trivia question: Both Joey Votto and Larry Walker have more than 1,800 major league hits, who is the only other Canadian with more than 1,500 major league hits? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 2019 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction program.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (There have been three other Canadians that have finished in the top 10 in National League Rookie of the Year voting since Jason Bay (Trail, B.C.) won the award in 2004. Can you name one of them?) was any one of Jeff Francis (North Delta, B.C.), Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.) or Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.).