March 5, 2013 11:12:12 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State University pitching coach Butch Thompson's pet project for the past six months has been a little-known freshman right-hander.
The development of Myles Gentry started the minute he arrived from Gulfport High School as more of a thrower than a pitcher. Thompson also had to deal with the fact Gentry's pitching mechanics needed some fine tuning.
Thompson's work in progress is going just fine, as is MSU's start to the 2013 season.
Gentry pitched 2 2/3 scoreless and hitless innings Sunday to help No. 5 MSU beat Saint Joseph's 3-2 and 2-0 Sunday at Dudy Noble Field. The victories helped MSU sweep the four-game series and extend its season-opening winning streak to 15 games.
"A lot of people would be worried when you see starting pitcher go five or six innings," MSU coach John Cohen said. "However, we have a lot of hot arms in the bullpen and we are going to use them. We will pitch it based on matchups. We really like our starters, but we also really like what we have coming out of the bullpen."
In the opener, Kendall Graveman, Luis Pollorena, Gentry, and Ben Bracewell combined to hold the Hawks to six hits and one earned run. In the nightcap, Will Cox, Preston Brown, Chad Girodo, Gentry, and Jonathan Holder combined on the squad's fourth shutout.
Gentry has played a key role in that start with the help of Thompson, who is noted by several publications, including Baseball America and Perfect Game, as one of the nation's best college pitching coaches. Thompson was determined to help Gentry become a factor in the bullpen from the first day of fall camp. Step one was the changing of Gentry's arm slot, where the ball comes out of his hand, from completely over the top, like at peak of a clock, to throw a ¾-motion for the first time in his career. Gentry now bends down and delivers the ball from a 9 o'clock position. The change gives him a consistent routine that helps limit the wildness freshman typically face against more experienced hitters.
"That's is Butch Thompson at his best because this is a guy with a high arm slot when he gets here," Cohen said of Gentry's motion. "He's a guy that made a lot of noise as a ninth-and 10th-grader and really didn't have as much output the last two years. The minute he got here and Butch got him to drop the arm, he became a different guy."
MSU continued to follow Gentry after his first two seasons at Gulfport High, and maintained its scholarship offer to him. Gentry was 8-3 with a 1.50 ERA in 11 starts as a senior in 2012. He threw six complete games and had 79 strikeouts in 65 1/3 innings.
"I still had an idea I would get an opportunity to play right away here at Mississippi State even with all this depth," Gentry said. "The key is understanding my role early on and working as hard as I can to helping this team in my spot get to the College World Series in Omaha."
Gentry has a team-high eight appearances in MSU's undefeated start. Cohen is convinced the 182-pound prospect likely will be inserted in key situations in Southeastern Conference action.
Gentry found a role in both games of the sweep Sunday. He didn't allow a hit in 1 2/3 innings in the opener. In the nightcap, he recorded a strikeout and retired sophomore catcher Brian O'Keefe on a double play ball. He was the only MSU pitcher to see action in both games. The Bulldogs used seven pitchers in the sweep.
"If I keep the ball down and get ground balls, I could see myself working in the relief role all season," Gentry said. "I know the minute that I didn't hit my spots, it would result in a hit."
Despite his success in six innings, Gentry's 3.00 ERA is the highest on the team, even though opponents are hitting .118 against him. He has allowed two hits and two walks and has struck out four.
Saint Joseph's had just 12 total hits Sunday. MSU is second in the country in runs allowed per game (1.6) and has an ERA of 1.27. With MSU starting pitchers averaging only five innings, the bullpen has played a key role, allowing six earned runs.
"I feel like our starting pitchers could get deeper in the ball game but the reason we're not letting them is we don't think we have to," Cohen said. "We have the luxury of having a bullpen that has bought into their roles and gosh, I don't know if there's a school in the country that has as many little tiny pieces coming out the bullpen as we do."
In the nightcap, MSU got all the offense it needed in the third. A hit batsman, two fielding errors, and a passed ball led to the scores. A single by Alex Detz was the lone hit.
MSU finished with five hits, including the fifth multiple hit game for Detz.
Cox (2-0) allowed four hits and walked one in five-plus innings. Brown relieved Cox and recorded two critical outs with two runners on base. Girodo and Gentry held things before Holder struck out the side in the ninth inning for his fifth save.
Graveman pitched into the sixth in the opener. Pollorena (2-0) earned the victory as the Bulldogs rallied from a 2-1 deficit with two runs in the sixth. A single by Detz tied the game. A single by Hunter Renfroe gave MSU the lead.
MSU had nine hits, including three by Detz and two each by C.T. Bradford and Renfroe.
MSU will play host to Mississippi Valley State University at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.