April 30, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Some Canadian baseball news and notes from the past week:
-Right-hander Michael Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) threw six scoreless innings against the Omaha Storm Chasers in his third start with the Atlanta Braves’ triple-A Gwinnett Stripers on April 18. He allowed just four hits and struck out five in the contest. He was scheduled to make his fourth triple-A start this past Tuesday, but it was moved back until today, but David O’Brien, of The Athletic, reported on Monday that we shouldn’t be concerned. The Braves didn’t push Soroka’s start back for “health reasons” but because they are are closely monitoring the number of innings the 25-year-old righty tosses. Soroka was sidelined for much of this spring with tightness in his left hamstring. After initially tearing his right Achilles tendon on August 3, 2020, Soroka then re-tore it the following June. After two years of recovery and rehabilitation, Soroka returned to game action in August last year and posted a 5.40 ERA in six late-season starts between class-A and triple-A before being shut down with elbow inflammation. A graduate of the Junior National Team, Soroka was a first-round pick (28th overall) of the Braves in 2015. In 2019, he went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 29 starts and finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
-Right-hander Matt Brash (Kingston, Ont.) pitched a scoreless seventh inning for the Seattle Mariners against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday and then struck out Daulton Varsho, the only batter he faced, to close out the seventh on Saturday. He has made an American League-leading 15 appearances for the Mariners this season. It’s been a good news/bad news campaign for Brash so far. The good news is he has struck out a whopping 24 batters in 12 innings, good for an 18 strikeouts per nine innings clip. The bad news is his ERA is 5.25 and he has allowed 13 hits. Chosen in the fourth round of the 2019 MLB draft by the San Diego Padres, the Kingston Thunder alum made his national team debut in March at the World Baseball Classic. Brash made just five appearances in the Padres’ organization before he was dealt to the Mariners on September 17, 2020 to complete a transaction for reliever Taylor Williams. He made the M’s roster out of spring training in 2022 but after beginning the season in the rotation, the 6-foot-1 righty was successfully converted into a reliever. In total, after joining the M’s bullpen on July 9, the 24-year-old Canuck registered a 2.35 ERA in 34 appearances and struck out 43 batters in 30 2/3 innings. In a combined 39 major league appearances (including five starts) in 2022, he posted a 4-4 record with a 4.44 ERA and struck out 62 batters in 50 2/3 innings. He also tossed 3 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason.
-Left-hander James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) is still struggling as he attempts to work his way back to the majors with the Boston Red Sox triple-A Worcester Red Sox. After being hit hard by the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in a relief appearance on April 19, allowing seven runs in 2/3 of an inning, he followed that up with a shaky start on Tuesday. In 4 1/3 innings, he gave up five runs and walked four against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. In his four appearances in triple-A this season, Paxton is now 0-3 with a 10.32 ERA. The veteran lefty has not taken the mound in a major league game since exiting his spring training start on March 3 with a hamstring injury. Paxton, who had signed with the Red Sox prior to the 2022 season, exercised his $4-million option with the club in November. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in April 2021, Paxton had been working his way back in the Sox system when he suffered a grade 2 lat tear in late August 2022 that shut him down for the season. A North Delta Blue Jays and Junior National Team alum, the 34-year-old southpaw has pitched in parts of nine major league campaigns and owns a 57-33 record and a 3.59 ERA in 137 starts.
-Former Toronto Blue Jays left-hander and broadcaster John Cerutti would’ve turned 63 on Friday. He died suddenly of a heart arrythmia in his hotel room at SkyDome on October 3, 2004 when he was just 44. Scott Carson, the longtime Blue Jays statistician who worked in the broadcast booth with Cerutti, sent me a very moving memory about Cerutti on Friday and said it was OK to share it. “Here’s my fondest memory of John, the friend, that I can pass along,” wrote Carson. “One day we were sitting in the booth talking baseball, a daily occurrence, and he asked me who my favourite player was as a kid. I told him Johnny Bench. A week or so later, John walked into the booth and handed me a ball autographed by Johnny Bench. I said, ‘What’s this?’ He told me he wanted me to have it. He said he had played golf (John was a scratch golfer) with Mr. Bench a couple years earlier and he signed the ball for him after the round. I told John, ‘I can’t accept this.’ He said yes I can because after listening to me and how much Johnny Bench meant to me as kid, that this ball would mean way more to me than him. That perfectly describes John Cerutti the man. Selfless and thoughtful.”
-Somehow I missed this last week, but Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander Rob Zastryzny (Edmonton, Alta.) has been shut down for seven-to-10 weeks with left ulnar neuritis, according to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Canuck southpaw had posted a 7.94 ERA and had struck out six batters in 5 2/3 innings in seven appearances for the Pirates this season. Earlier in March, Zastryzny started for Canada against Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. The 6-foot-3 lefty was a second-round pick of the Chicago Cubs in 2013. He recorded a 4.41 ERA in 18 relief appearances with the Cubs from 2016 to 2018 and earned a World Series ring in 2016. From 2019 to 2022, he pitched in the Los Angeles Dodgers, Baltimore Orioles, Miami Marlins, New York Mets and Los Angeles Angels organizations. In December, he signed a minor league deal with the Pirates.
-It was six years ago today that Nick Pivetta (Victoria, B.C.) made his major league debut with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Junior National Team alum allowed two runs in five innings to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Dodgers’ eventual 5-3 win at Dodger Stadium. Now with the Red Sox, Pivetta has had a tough start to the 2023 regular season, going 1-2 with a 5.11 ERA in five starts. The Canuck righty was a workhorse for the Red Sox in 2022, starting 33 games, which was tied for the most in the American League. He also set career bests in wins (10) and innings pitched (179 2/3) and registered 175 strikeouts. In all, Pivetta has pitched parts of seven big league seasons for the Phillies and Red Sox.
-I’d like to send my condolences to former Montreal Expos pitcher and Baseball Canada alum Mike Johnson (Edmonton, Alta.) on the passing of his grandmother, Betty Gallagher. She died on April 19 in Drumheller, Alta. at the age of 96. You can read more about Betty here. She sounds like a wonderful mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great grandmother.
-Seventy-one years ago today, right-hander Johnny Rutherford (Belleville, Ont.) made his major league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He pitched three scoreless innings in relief against the St. Louis Cardinals in the Dodgers’ 14-2 loss at Sportsman’s Park. That was his first of 22 appearances (11 starts) with the Dodgers that season. He finished with a 7-7 record and a 4.25 ERA in 97 1/3 innings. Later that year, he became the first Canadian to pitch in the major league post-season when he hurled an inning in relief for the Dodgers’ in their 2-0 loss to the New York Yankees in Game 4 of the 1952 World Series. And talk about baptism by fire. The first batter Rutherford faced was Mickey Mantle who promptly drilled a triple to deep centre field and then scored when Pee Wee Reese threw the ball wildly trying to gun him down at third base. Rutherford then walked Hall of Famer Johnny Mize, before settling down to retire Yogi Berra, Gene Woodling and Hank Bauer.
-Thank you to Lloyd Osten for sending me several photos (one of which is below) of a tribute to former All-American Girls Professional Baseball League star Mary “Bonnie” Baker that is in Central Park in Regina, Sask. Baker, a Regina native, was the first Canadian woman signed by the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). Baker was a catcher who is believed to have inspired Geena Davis’s character in A League of Their Own. In total, she played nine seasons in the AAGPBL, including seven with the South Bend Blue Sox from 1943 to 1949 and two with the Kalamazoo Lassies (1950, 1952). Baker was selected to two All-Star teams (1943 and 1946) and her 930 games are an AAGPBL record. She one of 68 Canadian AAGPBL who were elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998. She passed away in 2003.
-Twenty nine years ago, Toronto Blue Jays slugger Joe Carter belted a solo home run against the Minnesota Twins at the Metrodome to finish the month of April with a then major league record 31 RBIs. He also batted .312 with 29 hits – including nine home runs in 24 games that month. Texas Rangers slugger Juan Gonzalez broke Carter’s RBI record for the month of April in 1998 when he collected 36 RBIs.
– Few things are as painful to me as listening to my own voice, but I also love to talk about Canadian baseball history. I was recently interviewed by Matt Betts for the Canadian Baseball Network podcast. I listened to it. I cringed at some of my answers, but overall I’m not completely embarrassed. If you want to listen to me, here’s the link.
-The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame is set to open for its 26th season in St. Marys, Ont., on Wednesday at 10 a.m. For more information, you can read my blog entry from yesterday.
-This week’s trivia question: The great Felipe Alou managed the Montreal Expos from 1992 to May 30, 2001. Who took over for Alou as Expos manager in 2001? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
-The answer to last week’s trivia question (The Blue Jays have had two interim managers during their history — one managed during the 1991 season (while Cito Gaston was sidelined with a back issue) and one managed at the end of the 1997 (after Gaston was fired)) was Gene Tenace in 1991 and Mel Queen in 1997.