He”s at the point in his career that he risks being tagged a Triple-A lifer or 4-A player, but 28-year-old outfielder Garrett Jones arrived in Pittsburgh on the final day of June and has erupted for a major league-leading 10 home runs in July.
The left-handed hitter, who signed a minor league deal with the Pirates this spring after spending a decade in the Atlanta and Minnesota organizations, has already tied a franchise mark for July home runs. The rookie still has Friday night”s showdown with Washington to secure the record he currently shares with Donn Clendenon (1966).
Arguably Jones” biggest day in baseball was July 17, the first game following the All-Star break, when he accounted for both runs in Pittsburgh”s 2-1 win over San Francisco. In the first inning, he stroked a 3-1 pitch from Giants ace Tim Lincecum into the center-field seats at PNC Park. It was only the fifth home run the right-hander had given up all season. Then Jones delivered a walk-off game-winner in the 14th frame, powering a down-and-in changeup from Bobby Howry into the Allegheny River.
“I didn”t know very much about him and it was the first time I”ve got to see him,” Lincecum said of Jones after the game. “He”s obviously got a hell of a swing.” Such a compliment from the National League”s 2008 Cy Young Award winner is another keeper for the lifetime memory bank.
The two bombs gave Jones home runs in four consecutive games, and his power surge came in the midst of a 10-game hitting streak that stalled two days later. He followed up with a five-game run last week, during which he was 11-for-21 with three doubles and two longballs before he went hitless Monday night in San Francisco.
For the season, which means July, Jones is batting .323 with seven doubles, those 10 homers, 16 RBIs and five stolen bases in 24 games. His .729 slugging percentage is the highest among players with at least 50 plate appearances in July.
Those are Player of the Month numbers. Already his home-run total is only one shy of the 2009 leader among rookies, Colby Rasmus of the Cardinals, who has 11 in 94 games.
Other Top July Performers
May and June were forgettable months for St. Louis right fielder Ryan Ludwick. After a breakout 2008 season in which he hit .299-37-113, the right-handed hitter seemed to have lost his way for most of the first half of 2009. He batted .195 and drove in just 19 runs in May and June combined, but has rediscovered his stroke in a red-hot July. Ludwick is batting .358 and leads all major leaguers with 28 RBIs this month. He”s hit safely in 21 of 25 July contests and has multiple hits in 11 of them.
The Cubs” Derrek Lee stroked more than 30 home runs in three consecutive seasons, culminating in a career high of 46 in 2005. Since then the power has dropped off markedly. It looked like more of the same in 2009, as Lee batted .189 with four doubles and a single home run in April. He”s batted .320 since then, and more recently he”s reincorporated the longball into his routine. He has nine homers in July — only Jones has more — and has pushed his total to 20 for the season. Lee, who had 20 all of last season in 155 games, also has 27 RBIs in 23 games this month.
Another player showing less power these days is Bobby Abreu, though the 35-year-old veteran remains a productive hitter and has been a solid addition to the Angels lineup this season. With his .317 average and .414 OBP, he”s been a terrific No. 2-type hitter. Abreu has been a big run producer in July, batting .368 with an American League-leading 24 RBIs in 25 games. He”s also scored 24 runs, which tie him with teammateÂ Chone Figgins for the most runs scored in the majors this month. Abreu takes a six-game hitting streak into the Angels” weekend series in Minnesota, a run in which the right-handed batter is 11-for-19 (.579).
Other Angels have been at their best in July, as well. Erick Aybar is batting .439 (36-for-82) in 21 games this month, the highest average among all big leaguers with at least 50 plate appearances. His average has jumped to .318. Although he”s stroked just one home run in July, he”s scored 16 runs and driven in 17. Howie Kendrick endured a rough first half in which he batted .239 with a .290 OBP, but he”s a .421 hitter since the All-Star break. He”s hit safely in eight of 11 second-half games, and he has multiple hits in six of them.
Oakland”s Orlando Cabrera has been rumored to be on the trading block, with interest reportedly coming from Boston and Minnesota. The veteran shortstop may be bolstering his trade value with a strong July performance. He”s batting .377 in July and .390 since the All-Star break. Cabrera has tallied six doubles and 10 RBIs in 14 second-half games, plus he”s 8-for-8 in stolen bases this month after swiping only two bags over the first three months of the season. He”s averaged nearly 22 steals a year over the previous four seasons, so his recent string of stolen bases has him back on course to approach 20 in 2009.
Arguably the most dominant pitcher in July has been the Dodgers” Clayton Kershaw, who posted a 0.71 ERA and .167 opponent batting average in six starts. Those numbers are the lowest among pitchers who have made at least four starts this month. The 21-year-old lefty has moved near the top of the National League ERA leader board with a strong July performance in which he didn”t allow a run in four outings. In all, he gave up just four runs over 38 innings, and posted a 1.03 WHIP and 34 strikeouts. He managed just three July victories, however, as the Dodgers lost one of his scoreless performances and didn”t score for him in another.
Another hurler who made his move on the NL ERA leaders this month is Houston”s Wandy Rodriguez, who worked two scoreless outings and allowed a single run in his other three July starts. For the month, the southpaw was 4-0 with a 0.75 ERA and .211 OBA. He fanned 34 and gave up just 27 hits and seven walks in 36 innings, good for 0.94 WHIP. His stellar month included a five-hit shutout of the Pirates on July 8, when he struck out a career-high 11 batters in a 5-0 victory. Rodriguez has been instrumental in keeping the Astros in the NL Central race.
The NL ERA leader hasn”t been too shabby, either. The Giants”Â Matt Cain lowered his ERA to 2.12 in July by posting a 0.94 mark in six starts. He gave up just four earned runs for the month, and closed it out by blanking Pittsburgh through nine innings Wednesday night. He didn”t get the win, though, as his teammates waited until the 10th to secure a 1-0 victory. Cain took a liner off his pitching elbow in his last start before the All-Star break, but didn”t miss a turn and has allowed just two runs in three post-break starts.
Seattle”sÂ Jarrod Washburn hasn”t finished with a sub-4.00 ERA since 2005, but he”s made himself a valuable trade commodity this week with a strong July performance. After going 4-0 with a 0.74 ERA in his last five starts — giving up a total of three runs — the 34-year-old lefty has improved to 8-6 with a 2.64 ERA. His impressive run began with a one-hit shutout of Baltimore on July 6. He said “it”s the best stuff I”ve ever had” after facing just one batter over the minimum and allowing only a fourth-inning single to Nick Markakis. On July 23, he gave up just two hits over seven scoreless for a 2-1 win in Detroit.
Angels aceÂ John Lackey was roughed up by a red-hot Texas club on July 7, but since then he”s allowed a total of five runs and won all four of his starts. The right-hander has a 1.47 ERA and .154 OBA in this stretch, during which he”s given up just 16 hits over 30.2 innings, and it includes a three-hit shutout of Oakland on July 19. Lackey started slowly after missing the first six weeks of the season with elbow inflammation. He recorded a 6.05 ERA and .329 OBA in four May outings, and was 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA and .311 OBA in June. He”s found his groove in July.
On the Run
Pittsburgh dealt outfielder Nyjer Morgan to Washington on June 30, and the new lease on life has worked wonders. He”s 13-for-14 in stolen bases in July, and he”s hit .389 in 23 games for the Nationals. Morgan has had three or more hits in seven games, including a four-hit performance in a 13-1 romp over San Diego on Saturday. Going into Thursday afternoon”s showdown with Milwaukee, he has a seven-game hitting streak in which he”s batting .517 (15-for-29) and has scored seven runs.
Morgan”s 13 steals in July tie him for the major league lead with Boston”s Jacoby Ellsbury. The Red Sox leadoff man has been on the run, swiping five bags in his last six games. He now has 46 steals on the season, and has moved within two of the American League leader, Carl Crawford. Like Morgan, Ellsbury has a modest hitting streak going into Thursday”s action. He”s hit safely in six straight games, with at least two hits in each. The left-handed hitter is 13-for-28 during his run (.464), with three doubles and two triples. And those five steals.
Three others have double-digit steals this month. Houston”s Michael Bourn has stolen 12 bases in 14 attempts, boosting his National League-leading total to 37. Colorado rookieÂ Dexter Fowler has swiped 10 bags in July. After stealing just five bases in May and June combined, his recent surge has pushed his total to 24 for the season. Fowler ranks third in the NL behind Bourn (37) and Morgan (31).
Rule 5 pickup Everth Cabrera has struggled through much of July as a regular for the Padres. He”s hitting just .247, though his running game has picked up, as the rookie has stolen 10 bases in 11 attempts in July. After a 6-for-52 skid (.115) in the middle of the month, he has hit safely in his last five games, going 11-for-19 with four doubles, a triple, a homer and four steals. The 22-year-old Cabrera, who missed two months with a broken hand and returned in late June, is hitting .267/.352/.404 in 43 games.