May 21, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Some Canadian baseball news and notes from the past week:
–Edouard Julien (Quebec City, Que.) was recalled by the Minnesota Twins yesterday. The Canadian infielder was batting .287 with a .442 on-base percentage with four home runs in 31 games for the triple-A St. Paul Saints. Julien, who impressed with Canada at the World Baseball Classic, made his major league debut with the Twins in April, going 6-for-29 (.207 batting average) with two home runs in nine games. In May, the left-handed hitting infielder registered a hit in 13 of 16 games with the Saints and was 18-for-54 (.333 batting average). Seven of those hits – two home runs and five doubles – went for extra bases.
-When healthy, Cleveland Guardians slugger Josh Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.) has been swinging a hot bat over the past nine days. Last weekend, the Ontario Blue Jays and Junior National Team alum belted go-ahead home runs in the eighth inning in three consecutive games for the Guardians to become the first player in the expansion era (1961 to present) to hit go-ahead homers in the eighth inning or later in three straight contests. He then went 1-for-2 on Tuesday before being removed with leg tightness. He then missed two games before returning to the lineup with a splash on Friday, going three-for-five with a home run and five RBIs in a 10-9 Guardians’ loss to the New York Mets. Since May 12, Naylor’s batting average has risen from .195 to .233 and his on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) has jumped from .588 to .707. He has also homered in four of his last five games.
-Left-hander Rob Zastryzny (Edmonton, Alta.) was activated by the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday. The veteran southpaw had been sidelined since April 16 with left ulnar neuritis. Zastryzny 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 and earned the win in relief on Opening Day. 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.
-St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.) has been on the 10-day injured list since May 5 with a lower back strain, but he is not ready to begin a rehab assignment, Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol told the media on Thursday. O’Neill was scheduled to meet with doctors to try to understand why he’s still experiencing discomfort. In 29 games this season, the Canuck slugger has batted .228 with two home runs and six RBIs. A two-time Gold Glove Award winner in left field who starred for Canada at the World Baseball Classic in March, O’Neill had moved to centre field to start this season. He is coming off an injury-riddled 2022 campaign that saw him miss time due to hamstring issues, neck stiffness, a wrist injury and shoulder soreness. In all, in 96 games, he batted .228 with 14 home runs and 58 RBIs.
-Boston Red Sox right-hander Nick Pivetta (Victoria, B.C.) has been moved to the bullpen by the club. Red Sox manager Alex Cora informed reporters of this decision on Wednesday. The 30-year-old righty has struggled to a 3-3 record and a 6.30 ERA in eight starts this season. In 40 innings, he has struck out 43 batters. Pivetta 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.
-One of the reasons Pivetta was sent to the Red Sox bullpen was the return of left-hander James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.). On Friday, in his second start with the Red Sox, Paxton allowed just one run in six innings to lead the Sox to a 6-1 win over the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. It was Paxton’s first regular season big league win since August 15, 2020. Paxton’s two starts with the Red Sox this season are his first in the regular season since April 6, 2021 with the Seattle Mariners. Since that time, Paxton has endured his second Tommy John surgery, a grade 2 lat tear and, most recently, a hamstring injury. The 6-foot-4 lefty, who had signed with the Red Sox prior to the 2022 season, exercised his $4-million option with the team in November. 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.
-Blue Jays right-hander Zach Pop (Brampton, Ont.) has started throwing from a mound as he works his way back from a hamstring strain. He was placed on the 15-day injured list on May 5. Pop had been hit hard in his two appearances in May after a strong April that saw batters hit just .167 against him. After the Blue Jays acquired him from the Miami Marlins on August 2, 2022, the Junior National Team grad developed into a reliable middle reliever for the club, posting a 2-0 record and a 1.89 ERA in 17 appearances. In a combined 35 regular season games between the Blue Jays and the Marlins in 2022, he went 4-0 with a 2.77 ERA and fanned 25 in 39 innings.
-Happy 55th Birthday to former Florida Marlins catcher and veteran baseball coach Greg O’Halloran! Selected by the Blue Jays in the 32nd round of the 1988 MLB draft, the left-handed hitting backstop would play five seasons in the Blue Jays organization before he was purchased by the Marlins on November 12, 1993. After beginning the 1994 campaign with the double-A Portland Sea Dogs, O’Halloran was called up by the Marlins and he’d suit up in 12 games for the big league club. He started the ensuing season in triple-A in the Chicago Cubs organization before finishing his professional career in the Mexican League in 1996. O’Halloran later served as a scout and as the bullpen catcher for the Canadian World Baseball Classic teams in 2006 and 2009. He has also been a highly regarded coach in the Ontario Terriers organization.
-Twenty-seven years ago today, Maple Ridge, B.C., native and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Larry Walker recorded 13 total bases in the Colorado Rockies’ 12-10 win over the Pirates at Coors Field to set a franchise record. In that contest, Walker blasted two, three-run home runs, a double and a triple and drove in six runs.
-Right-hander Noah Skirrow (Cambridge, Ont.) continues to make a strong case to be called by the Philadelphia Phillies this season. The 24-year-old Canuck is 4-1 with a 4.46 ERA in seven appearances (six starts) for the triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs. He has struck out 26 batters in 34 1/3 innings. Coming off an excellent start in which he tossed five scoreless innings for Canada against Colombia in the World Baseball Classic, Skirrow has put himself on the big league Phillies’ radar. The Great Lake Canadians and Ontario Blue Jays alum honed his skills with the Liberty University Flames before signing with the Phillies as a free agent in June 2020. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound right-hander is now in his third professional season. He split his first campaign between Rookie Ball, High A and double-A and posted a 4.34 ERA, while collecting 60 strikeouts in 58 innings, in 18 appearances (including 10 starts). He spent 2022 with the double-A Reading Fightin’ Phils and went 5-8 with a 4.65 ERA and struck out 115 batters in 98 2/3 innings in 21 starts.
-It was 30 years ago today that Montreal native and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Jim McKean ejected BJ Birdy from a Blue Jays game at SkyDome. In the first inning, Blue Jays second baseman Roberto Alomar socked a ball to left field that was trapped by Minnesota Twins outfielder Dave McCarty. Thinking that McKean, who was umpiring second base that day, had called it a catch, BJ Birdy began to encourage the home crowd of 50,000-plus to boo McKean. McKean had, in fact, ruled that the ball was trapped and Alomar landed on second base with a double. Angered by the mascot’s actions, McKean ejected the costumed bird from the game.
-The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame has opened for its 26th season in St. Marys, Ont. You can visit them today. For more information, you can visit their website.
-This week’s trivia question: Who was the first Toronto Blue Jays pitcher to be selected to the American League team for the MLB All-Star Game? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
-The answer to last week’s trivia question (Who was the Montreal Expos all-time leader in sacrifice hits? (Hint: It was a pitcher)) was Steve Rogers.