Just three weeks ago, Sam Howard's ERA sat at 6.04 for the Albuquerque Isotopes following a short, scoreless appearance on May 27. The former Cartersville High pitcher has since reeled off seven more outings with no earned runs allowed.
He's lowered his ERA to 4.59 in that span, which is pretty decent for someone pitching in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. More than that, Howard has shown he can be an asset to the bullpen of the Colorado Rockies, who selected him in the third round in 2014 out of Georgia Southern.
One of the most encouraging things has been his uptick in strikeouts. Howard has 11 strikeouts over his past eight innings, including striking out the side in last Monday's brief showing.
A starter for most of his minor league career, Howard had two stints in the Rockies bullpen last year, leading to him pitching exclusively in relief this season for the Isotopes. He seems almost certain to rejoin his parent club in September, when rosters expand, but if he keeps putting up zeros, there could be an opportunity for him to make the jump during the middle of the summer.
Elsewhere, Anthony Seigler had a hot start to his time at Class-A ball. After finishing 0-for-3 against former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel in his Charleston RiverDogs debut, Seigler went 7-for-16 the rest of the week with six walks to four strikeouts.
He's drawn a walk in every game since his first appearance last Monday in Rome. Seigler had three multi-hit games during his first four-game homestand. It's still an extremely small sample size, but the former first-round draft pick of the New York Yankees seems comfortable in the South Atlantic League.
At the collegiate level, the Auburn baseball team, which boasts former Canes Elliott Anderson and Devin Warner, dropped a gut-wrenching game against Mississippi State in the opening round of the College World Series Sunday. The Tigers took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning, only to see defensive miscues allow the Bulldogs to rally for the walk-off win.
Anderson pitched to two batters in the sixth inning, coaxing a potential double-play ball that saw one out recorded and giving up an RBI single, before being replaced.
Competing in its first CWS in more than 20 years, Auburn will look to stave off elimination Tuesday against Louisville.
Sam Howard (Albuquerque Isotopes, Colorado Rockies organization; Cartersville) — Howard had one of his best weeks of the year with three appearances on the road at the Iowa Cubs and at home against the Oklahoma City Dodgers and New Orleans Baby Cakes. Last Monday at Iowa, Howard struck out the side in a one-inning, seventh-inning appearance, but the Isotopes were on the short end of a 13-4 loss. Thursday at home against Oklahoma City, he entered with two outs in the seventh and the bases loaded, retiring four of the five batters he faced without allowing a run. Howard got a groundout in the seventh to end the Dodgers’ threat, and then he allowed a single in the eighth before retiring the next three batters. The 26-year-old southpaw also worked a spotless eighth inning at home Saturday against New Orleans in a 4-1 loss. For the season, Howard has a 1-0 record in 25 relief appearances. He has a 4.59 ERA in 33 1/3 innings pitched with 41 strikeouts. Opponents are batting .266 against him.
Connor Justus (Mobile BayBears, L.A. Angels organization; Cartersville) — Justus was 4-for-22 at the plate last week as the BayBears finished up the Southern League’s first-half schedule with eight games over six days. He finished the first half with a .189 batting average that included one home run, 12 RBIs and eight extra-base hits in 175 at-bats across 60 games. Defensively, Justus has a .944 fielding percentage in 215 total chances, splitting time at three infield positions — shortstop, second base and third base. Mobile (27-41) finished last in the Southern League’s South Division first half. The standings reset for the schedule’s 70-game second half, starting Thursday.
Anthony Seigler (Charleston RiverDogs, N.Y. Yankees organization; Cartersville) — Seigler has now played six games with his new club and is 7-for-19 at the plate, typically batting in the No. 2 spot in the order whether catching or contributing as the team’s designated hitter. He has a pair of doubles and one RBI along with six walks for a .368 average, .520 on-base percentage and .474 slugging percentage. The RiverDogs went 3-3 in those six games but missed securing a postseason berth by one-half game. In three starts at catcher, Seigler has a 1.000 fielding percentage with no passed balls. He has thrown out one of two steal attempts against him. Charleston finished tied for second place with Augusta, as Lexington won the first half division title. The standings will be reset Thursday for the second half of the season following the league’s All-Star break. For local fans, the RiverDogs return to Rome for a three-game series, beginning next Monday, June 24.
Elliott Anderson (Auburn Jr., Cartersville) — Anderson made a brief sixth-inning appearance Sunday night in the Tigers’ opening game at the College World Series in Omaha. Anderson entered for starting pitcher Jack Owen with runners on first and second and no outs. He got a ground ball force play at third for the first out of the inning, but the left-hander allowed a groundball single through the right side by the next batter to plate Mississippi State’s first run of the game and make the score 3-1. Anderson was then lifted for pitcher Cody Greenhill, who is typically the Auburn closer. Auburn (38-27) went on to lose a 4-1 lead in the ninth inning and fall 5-4, dropping them to the elimination portion of the bracket. The Tigers, in the College World Series for the first time since 1997, face Louisville at 2 p.m. Tuesday.
Devin Warner (Auburn Fr., Cartersville) — Warner was not utilized in the Tigers’ Super Regional win over North Carolina the week before nor their first game Sunday at the College World Series in Omaha.
— Charles Wilson of Bartow Sports Zone contributed to this report.