February 15, 2013 4:21:53 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Three words from Mississippi State University pitching coach Butch Thompson describe the reasoning behind the opening weekend rotation.
"They earned it," Thompson said while leaning back in the chair of his office.
MSU will enter its 123rd season of baseball with a four-game series over the next three games with three hurlers Thompson and the rest of the team and coaching more than feel comfortable with to start the 2013 campaign.
MSU coach John Cohen confirmed Tuesday the selection of the sophomore left-handed starting pitcher for today's opener against the University of Portland in a 4 p.m. start time at Dudy Noble Field.
Lindgren's performances in three preseason scrimmages, where he showed improved control and velocity from his freshman season, showcased his ability to possibly earn the coveted Friday night role when Southeastern Conference play begins next month.
"It's always been my dream to start on Friday night at a big time school and Mississippi State is certainly one them so I'm excited and ready to go," Lindgren said.
The southpaw from St. Stanislaus High School will start the first game in 2013 after getting a start on the mound in the Bulldogs 2012 season finale. In a 3-2 loss to Samford University in a NCAA Regional at Florida State University, Lindgren allowed just one run over eight hits in four innings.
"Lindgren is the guy that has stood out to everybody in the fall and early spring no question about it," MSU first baseman Wes Rea said. "He's just a good to right-handed bats like me as he is to lefties because he has big league stuff."
Lindgren told The Dispatch last year he turned down a high six-figure offer to attend MSU after being drafted in the 12th round out of high school by the Chicago Cubs two years ago. As a senior in high school, the Bay St. Louis native was 8-0 with a 1.09 ERA and collected 128 strikeouts.
"Coming out of high school there's just no question I was a thrower and it took me coming here and working with Coach Thompson to realize how to pitch," Lindgren said. "I needed to be here to learn and get better every day."
Lindgren will be followed by the pitcher he has faced each week in preseason spring scrimmages in junior Evan Mitchell. The right-handed power arm from Marietta, Ga., has been impressive in the preseason by reaching consistently in the 93 to 95 miles-per-hour range on his fastball but has been more impressive limiting his walks and high pitch counts.
"You kind of hope he makes the same jump that certainly Chris Stratton made," Cohen said. "He has eliminated a lot of what I call BM - big miss. When you miss big, it causes a whole variety of problems for you on the mound, and he's really eliminated a lot of that, and I think he's got a chance to be one of those three (weekend) guys."
Like Lindgren last season, Mitchell emerged on the scene late as a freshman two seasons ago after tossing eight innings in the NCAA Atlanta Regional win over Austin Peay less than a hour from his high school. Mitchell finished the regional win allowing just three earned runs over five hits including eight strikeouts in 128 pitches.
"A scouting friend of mine from the Chicago Cubs was here tonight and one of the guys with Toronto also," former Wheeler High baseball coach David McDonald said after that 2011 win. "They both came up to me and said 'Why didn't you tell me about Evan Mitchell? I said 'I did but you weren't paying attention'."
The final assured piece of this weekend's puzzle against Portland, who is projected by Baseball America to finish seventh in the West Coast Conference, is surely a familiar one. Kendall Graveman is slated to make his 30th career start in the opener of what has been rescheduled as a Sunday doubleheader starting at 1 p.m.
Graveman, a senior right-hander from Alexander City, Ala., is coming off sports hernia surgery from this summer and has struggled to find consistency against familiar MSU batters in preseason scrimmages but those performances aren't what Thompson are worried about with his veteran presence.
"There's just certain people that are better when the season starts and I have so much faith Kendall Graveman will find his groove on that mound," Thompson said. "Just like anybody else, he's earned the trust I have in him. Don't forget about him just yet."
It would be hard to forget a returning weekend rotation pitcher in the Southeastern Conference that drew a staff-leading 16 starts including all 10 games while compiling a 4-4 record with a 2.81 ERA.
"I remember winning six SEC games my freshman year and now to look back and win an SEC Tournament and go to a Super Regional has been great," Graveman said. "It was a good year last year and a good year before, but this year I think we have something else to prove and something else to try to work toward."
The evening version of the doubleheader could possibly involve the choice or combination of sophomore right handers Will Cox and Trevor Fitts. Cox, an Amory native, has been impressive in preseason scrimmages after just seven appearances in his first college season.
Thompson also said this week he expects sophomore right-hander Brandon Woodruff to draw the start 4 p.m. Tuesday vs. Grambling State University and would like highly-touted freshman John Marc Shelly to make his college debut in relief.
Woodruff has been fighting elbow tenderness in the preseason but threw two innings last week in a scrimmage and had the normal velocity on the fastball along with spin on his power slider. Shelly was a first-team all-state, all-Metro Memphis, and Rawlings Southeast All-Region selection as a senior in high school. He finished his prep career with a 7-1 record with 91 strikeouts and a 1.78 ERA in 58 1/3 innings.
"(Woodruff) not back to being fully healthy yet but that's what this first month is for I think," MSU catcher Nick Ammirati said. "He'll be a major factor for us come SEC time, there's no doubt about that."