May 28, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Some Canadian baseball news and notes from the past week:
– Right-hander Michael Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) had one of his best starts of the season with the triple-A Gwinnett Braves on Tuesday, allowing just one run on two hits, while striking out eight, in six innings against the Durham Bulls to earn the win. It was the 25-year-old righty’s eighth start for the Stripers in 2023. He now owns a 4.33 ERA in 35 1/3 innings in those starts. While many Braves fans have been anxiously anticipating Soroka’s promotion, the Braves are taking a cautious approach with the Canadian right-hander who has not pitched in a regular season big league game in nearly three years. 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.
–Edouard Julien (Quebec City, Que.) had three extra-base hits, including his fourth home run of the season for the Minnesota Twins in their 9-7 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday. The national team alum has started both games at second base for the Twins in their series against the Blue Jays. He is now 11-for-46 (.239 batting average) in 15 big league games. Prior to his most recent call-up on May 19, Julien was batting .287 with a .442 on-base percentage (OBP) 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 on April 12 but was returned to the minors after initially playing eight games with the club.
-Nine years ago today, Jamie Romak (London, Ont.) made his major league debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers against the Cincinnati Reds at Dodger Stadium. He pinch-hit for Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw in the bottom of the seventh inning and grounded out to second base against Reds starter Homer Bailey. Romak, a London Badgers grad and now the Great Lake Canadians director of player performance, would play 14 more games with the Dodgers and 12 with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2015 before signing with the SK Wyverns of the Korean Baseball Organization. In Korea, he’d blossom into a superstar, belting at least 20 home runs in five consecutive seasons.
-Left-hander Rob Zastryzny (Edmonton, Alta.) made his ninth appearance of the season for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday. That is the most appearances he has made during a major league regular season, surpassing the eight he made with the Chicago Cubs in 2016. The veteran southpaw was activated by the Pirates on May 19 after missing more than a month with left ulnar neuritis. Zastryzny also pitched 2/3 of an inning for the Pirates on Saturday in his 10th appearance of the campaign. He has posted a 6.48 ERA and struck out seven batters in 8 1/3 innings this season. He earned the win in relief for the Pirates on Opening Day. 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 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. John Denton, of MLB.com, reported that O’Neill started hitting off a tee on Wednesday but is not yet ready to begin a rehab assignment. 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 begin 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.
-Right-hander Zach Pop (Brampton, Ont.) was scheduled to throw live batting practice at the Blue Jays’ minor league complex in Dunedin yesterday as he attempts to work 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.
-You couldn’t have written a better script for the Blue Jays’ final game at Exhibition Stadium that was played 34 years ago today. Blue Jays slugger George Bell strolled to the plate in the bottom of the 10th inning with the Blue Jays deadlocked in a 5-5 tie with the Chicago White Sox. He promptly belted a walk-off, two-run home run off White Sox closer Bobby Thigpen. You can watch the home run below. For more details about the game, you can read my blog entry about it.
-Thanks to Michael Sloniker, a baseball fan and researcher, for this reminder (below) about how great of a hitter John Olerud was. Olerud, who will be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame on June 17, not only owns the best single-season batting average in Blue Jays’ history (.363 in 1993), but he also has the top single-season batting average in New York Mets’ history (.354 in 1998).
-On this date 84 years ago, New York Yankees outfielder and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee George Selkirk (Huntsville, Ont.) belted two home runs off Philadelphia A’s reliever Bob Joyce. He had done the same in his last two at bats against Joyce the previous day, when the A’s righty was starting. That meant that Selkirk took Joyce deep in four consecutive at bats over two days. It’s not clear if any other player has hit four home runs against the same pitcher in two consecutive days, but David Vincent of SABR shared back in 2014 that six other players have hit four consecutive home runs in their career off the same pitcher (but not on consecutive days).
-Cincinnati Reds slugger Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) was moved from the 10-day injured list to the 60-day injured list on May 15. Votto’s progress from his shoulder surgery last August has been understandably slow, but the Canadian first baseman took living batting practice and fielded ground balls with the Reds earlier this week. But there is still no timetable for him to begin another minor league rehab assignment. “I will continue to take live BP,” Votto told Mark Sheldon, of MLB.com, when asked if he might start another rehab assignment at triple-A Louisville soon. “I’m healthier, stronger and moving towards what I think is a repeatable [feeling] — just generally feeling healthier.” Earlier this season, Votto cut his first rehab assignment short when he felt he wasn’t progressing sufficiently enough from the shoulder surgery. He batted .184 in 10 games with Louisville. “I’m not quite game-ready yet, but I’m going to continue to take [live BPs], and that will help move me in that direction,” Votto told Sheldon.
-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 Montreal Expos player to be selected to participate in 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 first Toronto Blue Jays pitcher to be selected to the American League team for the MLB All-Star Game?) was Dave Lemanczyk in 1979.