February 1, 2013 11:57:52 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- It may be impossible to fathom, but nearly everybody associated with the Mississippi State University baseball program has forgotten junior right-hander Ben Bracewell was the team's opening-day starter last season.
But MSU coach John Cohen hasn't forgotten.
Cohen watched the 6-foot right-hander command all three of his pitches with velocity and accuracy last weekend in a scrimmage at Dudy Noble Field.
"If we can get two solid outings of Ben Bracewell in a weekend where he has his best stuff, that's something we didn't have last season," Cohen said.
Bracewell has returned from labrum surgery, which forced him to miss the 2011 season, to pitch in relief Friday and Sunday without giving up a run in either intra-squad scrimmage.
Cohen has said provided Bracewell remains healthy the entire spring, the 205-pounder could be an essential cog to the MSU bullpen effort that loses the reliability of Caleb Reed to graduation.
Bracewell had surgery performed by Dr. James Andrews in the summer of 2011 to correct a labrum injury in his pitching shoulder. The rehabilitation kept him off the active roster and prevented him from joining his teammates on the field at the Gainesville Super Regional. The injury involved damage to the front part near the biceps tendon, but unlike most injuries like it, MSU officials said the right shoulder remained strong physically.
In 2012, Bracewell went 4 1/3 innings in MSU's season-opening victory against Washington State University in Starkville. Bracewell allowed three hits and two runs (zero earned), while striking out five and walking one. Chris Stratton came on in relief to pitch the final four innings to get the victory. MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson paired Bracewell with Stratton, who went on to win the Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year award, Chris Stratton to get through seven or eight innings early in the season.
However, in a 5-4 victory against the University of Connecticut in late February, Bracewell was removed from the game due to soreness in his right pitching elbow. He was unable to throw more than 60 pitches in any of his first three starts in 2012, and then found himself getting just 1 2/3 innings in SEC play.
On Friday, when temperatures dipped below 40 degrees, Bracewell's fastball was clocked between 91-93 mph, which leads MSU's coaches to believe Bracewell still has a strong right arm.
"I think our bullpen could be a situation where we can match up with anybody in our league with any left-right or specific pitch we need this season, and that will be so key for us," Cohen said.
MSU using Bradford-Frazier at top of scrimmage order
MSU used sophomore center fielder C.T. Bradford and junior shortstop Adam Frazier at the top of the batting order for the maroon team in the team's split-squad lineup. Both players reached base Saturday, as Frazier scored a run on a two-out, RBI single through the hole at second base.
"I think we're going to be a better offensive because we have more options," Cohen said. "There's a lot of good situational stuff we're doing that I like seeing this early in the season."
Bradford, who is coming off shoulder surgery for an injury he suffered twice last season, looked more physical and stronger than his listed weight of 170 pounds. He proved speed is still his primary weapon Tuesday with a lead-off triple against senior Kendall Graveman.
Frazier, a Bishop, Ga., native, was one of 14 SEC players who earned first-, second- or third-team honors on the Baseball America 2013 Preseason All-America Team. Frazier was a third-team selection on the squad compiled in a poll of Major League Baseball scouting directors. It's the fifth preseason All-America team honor for Frazier, the MVP of MSU's championship run in last year's SEC tournament and a member of the 2012 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team. Frazier was third in the league with 91 hits and a .371 batting average.