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By Scott Barancik, Editor

The St. Louis Cardinals called up 27-year-old southpaw Ryan Sherriff today for the first time in his 7-year professional career. The Triple-A reliever will fill in a roster opening left by Trevor Rosenthal, who was placed on the 60-day disabled list. (For those wondering: Rosenthal is not Jewish.)

Sherriff

Sherriff

A 28th-round pick in the 2011 amateur draft, Sherriff — who played for Team Israel in the 2017 World Baseball Classic — has had a stellar season so far with the Cardinals’ Triple-A club, going 5-1 with a 3.19 ERA and 6 saves in 7 chances. The Culver City has given up an average of 0.99 walks and hits per innings, the 4th lowest among Pacific Coast League pitchers with 50+ innings.

“Thank you for the opportunity!” Sherriff wrote on Twitter today. “Its been one hell of a journey for me and i know my dad is watching over me.”

Sherriff will be the third Jewish prospect to make his Major League debut so far in 2017, after Chicago White Sox reliever Brad Goldberg and Atlanta Braves reliever Max Fried. By unhappy coincidence, Goldberg was optioned back to Triple-A yesterday, and Fried — who came to Atlanta straight from Double-A earlier this month — reportedly is being sent to Triple-A today.

The Cardinals (63-62) play the San Diego Padres tonight at 8:15pm ET.

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By Scott Barancik, Editor

Three days after his improbable call-up from Double-A, Atlanta Braves prospect Max Fried made his MLB debut tonight, pitching two scoreless innings of relief in a 5-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies (see game stream). In so doing, he became the 12th Jewish player in the Majors this season and only the second rookie to be promoted to the big leagues, after Brad Goldberg of the Chicago White Sox.

Fried walked the first man he faced but retired the next three batters on a total of 12 pitches, recording one strikeout and inducing two infield groundouts to close out the 8th inning.

The 9th inning was a little dicier. After retiring the first two batters, the 23-year-old southpaw gave up a double and intentionally walked the next batter. Philadelphia RF Nick Williams then hit an infield grounder that could have scored a run, but Atlanta 1B Freddie Freeman alertly tossed home to nail the runner at the plate.

All told, the 6’4″ Fried tossed 15 fastballs — the fastest at 94.9 MPH — nine curveballs, one changeup and one slider.

Max Fried awaits the return of his first Major League pitch, a 93.5 MPH fastball to Cameron Rupp

A 1st-round pick (#7 overall) by the San Diego Padres out of high school in 2012, the California native sat out most of 2014 and all of 2015 with injuries and Tommy John surgery. Although he was just 2-11 with a 5.92 ERA at Double-A this season, Fried held opponents scoreless in his last three starts and impressed management with his maturity on the field.

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By Scott Barancik, Editor

Max Fried, a 23-year-old pitcher picked 7th overall in the 2012 draft, was called up today by the Atlanta Braves.

Fried

Fried

Fried’s call-up is nothing less than surprising. The 6’4″ southpaw missed most of 2014 and all of 2015 with injuries and Tommy John surgery, and he didn’t exceed Single-A ball until this season, when Atlanta skipped him past High-A and straight to Double-A. Moreover, Fried has struggled at Double-A, striking out a batter per inning but earning a 2-11 record with a 5.92 ERA.

Fried recently has had more success by pitching shorter stints, however. Historically a starter, he will join Atlanta’s bullpen.

Fried reportedly will make his Major League debut tonight against Miami. Doing so would make him the 12th Jewish player in the Majors this season.

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By Ethel Hilsenroth, contributor

It’s August, and Richard Bleier‘s ERA this season is 1.56.

That’s after pitching in 31 games for the Baltimore Orioles. A total of 40.1 innings.

How special is that? Well, to put it in perspective, not one other American League pitcher who has pitched 40 or more innings this season has as low an Earned Run Average.

bleier orioles mugNot Craig Kimbrel up in Boston (1.61 ERA, with 25 saves). Not Andrew Miller in Cleveland (1.67 ERA). Not four-time All Star Dellin Betances of the Yankees (2.48 ERA).

Having an exceptionally low ERA is not remarkable for Bleier. After all, as a junior at Florida Gulf Coast University (which has also turned out pitcher Chris Sale), he led the Atlantic Sun Conference with a 2.09 ERA. And in 2015, Bleier had the lowest ERA (2.57) of all minor league pitchers in the Washington Nationals’ minor-league system. As a rookie with the New York Yankees last season, he had a 1.96 ERA in 23 appearances.

But what’s striking about his low ERA, in this age of focus on strikeouts, is how Bleier achieves it. In contrast to Bleier, so far this season Kimbrel has led the AL in strikeouts per 9 innings (among all pitchers who have pitched 40 innings), with an average of 16.32. Betances is second in the league, at 16.20. Miller is a few paces behind, with an average of 13.0.

Bleier? So far this season he has averaged 4.02 strikeouts per 9 innings. That is the absolute worst, dead last, of all pitchers in the AL who have pitched at least 40 innings. And yet when it comes to ERA, Bleier is at the other end of the spectrum.

How does he do it? Pitching to contact. Bleier doesn’t throw the ball past the batter. He throws it to the batter, more or less, encouraging the hitter to take a whack at it. With his excellent control and ball movement, Bleier entices the batter to hit a pitch he expects the batter to go after, but which he has placed where the hitter has the lowest probability of causing damage.

And he serves up his enticing offerings right away. This season, batters he has faced have averaged 3.39 pitches per plate appearance. That’s the second-lowest average among all AL pitchers with at least 40 innings under their belt. At the other end of the spectrum? Kimbrel, with 4.50 pitches per plate appearance.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that in his 2016 MLB debut with the New York Yankees, Bleier retired two Toronto Blue Jays batters on a total of 3 pitches.

Bleier also tricks batters into hitting an abundance of ground balls. For every fly ball hit off him, there are 2.16 grounders. That’s the third-highest grounder rate among A.L. pitchers with 40+ innings recorded.

So for Bleier, when it comes to ERA, these are the best of times. Strikeouts? The worst of times. But at the end of the day, all that matters is how many runners cross the plate, and Bleier is quietly living up to the adage attributed to four-time Cy Young Award-winner Greg Maddux.

“The key to pitching is to have the ability to throw a strike when they’re taking,” Maddux once said, “and throw a ball when the hitter is swinging.”

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Note: “Ethel Hilsenroth” is the pen name of an attorney who writes for Jewish Baseball News.

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Lavarnway

Lavarnway

By Scott Barancik, Editor

Ryan Lavarnway, a 29-year-old catcher who last played Major League ball in 2015, was called-up by the Oakland Athletics today.

Lavarnway was hitting .274 with 4 HRs, 20 RBIs and a .362 on-base percentage at Triple-A when he got the news. He is replacing C Josh Phegley, who took a three-day paternity leave, so it’s quite possible his stay will be brief. Lavarnway is the 11th Jewish athlete to appear on an MLB roster in 2017.

A graduate of Yale University, he was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 6th round of the 2008 draft, made his Major League debut with the Red Sox in a swift three years, and also had stints with the Baltimore Orioles and the Atlanta Braves.

Lavarnway starred for Team Israel during the 2017 World Baseball Classic, hitting .444 (8-for-18) with a home run, 2 doubles, 6 RBIs and a .565 on-base percentage. He was the MVP of Pool A.

Lavarnway did not play in Oakland’s 7-4 win over the White Sox today.

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