FILE - Mississippi State junior right-handed pitcher became the first 10-game winner in the Southeastern Conference Thursday night in a 3-1 win over Kentucky Photo by: MSU athletics
May 18, 2012 10:15:00 AM
STARKVILLE - In what was in all likelihood his final start and appearance at Dudy Noble Field Thursday night, the junior right-handed pitcher turned in another near perfect performance leaving to a standing ovation during Mississippi State University's 3-1 upset win over No. 6 University of Kentucky.
"Gosh we have an awfully high standard we have set for that young man because he's one of the premier guys in this country," MSU coach John Cohen said. "I told our players before this game that I think we have the best Friday night guy in America today and there's times he looks mortal. But not very often."
Stratton did for MSU (32-21, 14-14 in Southeastern Conference) what he's done nearly every series opener this season - give the Bulldogs a legitimate opportunity to win the first baseball game of a weekend series. With what he and his coaches considered less-than extraordinary life to his four-pitch repertoire, Stratton (10-1) still did enough to become the Southeastern Conference's first 10-game winner in his ninth quality start of the 2012 season.
Stratton, who uncharacteristically gave up a pair of hits on two-strike counts in the only inning Kentucky scored, actually went to the weapon that most scouts consider his fourth-best pitch. The 6-foot-4 prospect turned to his constantly developing changeup to gets outs especially against the Wildcats five left-handed batters to survive 6 1/3 innings for the victory.
"In my start at Florida they had a good number of left-handed hitters and again tonight it was the same plan to go with the changeup again," Stratton said. "It's been working with some great success lately and just adds to keeping them off balance."
One of the ways hitters are trying to attack Stratton is by swinging at fastballs early in the counts as Kentucky (41-13, 18-10 in SEC play) had three hits off the first pitch of at-bats.
"They know that I'm pound the strike zone so they're trying to get the early stuff and see if that works," Stratton said. "It's not like I'm not aware that's what they're trying to do that from the start."
Stratton's 10 wins this season is the most in school history since former left-handed ace Paul Maholm went 10-3 in 2002. The irony with that specific statistic is what will likely join those two men in professional baseball by both being first round draft picks out of the MSU program. Maholm was the eighth overall selection in the 2002 Major League Baseball Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"There's no doubt that all the outside distractions would've affected Chris earlier in his career," Cohen said. "That's why I've said it before and I'll say it again tonight that Chris Stratton is a completely different young man physically, mentally and emotionally from last year."
Cohen mentioned Thursday the mentality difference in his ace pitcher as he was personally angry with himself for not being able to throw his second complete game effort this season.
"One of the reasons I'm so darn proud of him this year is when he came off that mound tonight he was really upset," Cohen said. "He wanted to finish that sucker and we felt like in that situation that we had the right guys in pen. I just love the fact that guy wants to be on the mound all the time. That's thrilling to me as a coach."
Here's a breakdown of Stratton's numbers:
- 267 career strikeouts, which is 6th all-time in MSU history.
- Stratton has recorded a strikeout in 79 of the 97 innings he's thrown a pitch in this season and 39 of those frames have been of the perfect three-up, three out variety.
- In the last 38 1/3 innings over the past six games, Stratton has only allowed four runs while striking out 37 and walking just three.
- The 3-1 victory gave Stratton a .909 winning per¬centage, which ties Don Mundie's 1979 mark for highest single-season winning percentage.
- Stratton ended Thursday with eight strikeouts over the Wildcats for the league-leading mark of 115 this season. The strikeout total ties him for seventh place with former MLB veteran Jeff Brantley's 1984 season in Starkville.
When reminded of the pro players Stratton matched or passed Thursday night in the MSU record book, the junior simply shrugged as if the numbers hadn't occurred to him before.
"I'm not paying attention to any of the outside stuff at all," Stratton said. "I just want to come out here and have fun with my friends. I just love to compete and that's it."
Stratton did leave the possibility of him returning to pitch in Starkville again - if the Bulldogs can earn an unlikely NCAA Regional host assignment in two weeks.
"Maybe we can host a Regional," Stratton said. "I don't know why that's still not in the picture as long we take care of business this weekend and then make some noise in Hoover during the SEC Tournament."
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