March 25, 2013 9:08:24 PM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State University has decided to rework its weekend pitching rotation in the search of finding a third weekend option with better command.
Bulldogs coach John Cohen confirmed to The Dispatch in a phone interview Monday afternoon that junior right-handed pitcher Evan Mitchell will be headed to long relief duty in the bullpen after having another frustrating outing in Southeastern Conference play.
Cohen suggested the two primary options for MSU (21-6, 2-4) in the Sunday starting pitching role are senior Luis Pollorena (4-0, 2.77) and sophomore Will Cox (2-1, 1.93).
Mitchell, who has had the eye of several professional scouts this spring because of the velocity of his fastball and hard-breaking action of his breaking pitches, couldn't record an out in the second game of a doubleheader Saturday at the University of Kentucky. In a 4-3 loss, which clinched the series win for the No. 8 Wildcats, Mitchell allowed the first four batters to reach batters without recording a hit.
Mitchell hit Kentucky leadoff hitter Austin Cousino on the first pitch of the game and then proceeded to walk the next three hitters on just 16 pitches of his outing.
"He might just be the most talented arm we have in our staff but we obviously had no indication that he would go out there and do that Saturday," Cohen said. "We are at the point where we can't be in a 3- 0 hole to start a game anymore. In any league, but especially in the Southeastern Conference, that will most certainly get you beat."
Pollorena restored order in the second game of the doubleheader in Lexington by surrendering just one hit over 4 1/3 innings and allowing No. 25 MSU to have a chance at a comeback.
Cohen suggests that their advanced statistics say Pollorena, who has 11 previous starts in his career including two this season, is the only pitcher on the Bulldogs with higher ratio of fly balls than ground balls. This statistic suggests that with the new aluminum bats that limit power, Pollorena could be an asset in a large ballpark like Dudy Noble Field.
"We have a little but more latitude to play with in this spot with all the depth we feel like we have on the mound," Cohen said. "There's certain situations where Luis' fly ball tendency can be an advantage and we have to know where and when that is."
Cox started the first three weekends of the year when the Bulldogs were going with a four-man rotation due to the four-game series schedule throughout the first month of the season.
However, the right- hander from Amory was put in the bullpen to start SEC play in favor of a rotation of sophomore Jacob Lindgren, Mitchell and senior Kendall Graveman. The concern now for MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson is getting Cox warmed up again to pitch every week if need be in a SEC series after only working three innings since March 3.
"I think the maturity over the summer has really helped me out and grown into my body much better," Cox said on Feb. 24. "Losing the weight over the summer helped a lot to be a lot more athletic and feel better late in games."
Cox will get his fourth start of the season today when he faces Austin Peay State University in his third appearance in the last two weeks at Dudy Noble Field for a 6:30 p.m. first pitch today.
The Governors (19- 4, 4-1) currently lead the Ohio Valley Conference in batting average (.301), on-base percentage (.409) and stolen bases (31).
"Will Cox hasn't pitched in a while and we'd like for him to go shorter in case we decide to use him this weekend on Sunday but that likely will go to Pollorena," Cohen said. "After the way he started the season and his ability to keep the ball down for the most part, we feel he's earned a shot to compete."
Figuring out the final spot in the weekend pitching rotation could be critical as the Bulldogs travel to the No. 15 University of Arkansas for a series starting Friday night at 6:35 p.m. at Baum Stadium. The Razorbacks (17-7, 4-2) currently lead the SEC in earned run average and are led by projected 2013 MLB draft first round pick Ryne Stanek.
Stanek was named the SEC pitcher of the week Monday after turning in the second complete game of his collegiate career to lead Arkansas to a series-clinching win on Saturday at the University of South Carolina.
Cohen also mentioned that another quality arm that could make his way into the weekend rotation discussion is still right-hander Brandon Woodruff. The sophomore had been dealing with elbow tenderness since the beginning of of January and hasn't gotten three outs in any of his last three outings.
"I still believe even a month from now, two months from now he could be pitching on the weekends for us and doing really well," Cohen said Thursday. "There's two things that we really believe in, in our program (are) skill level, and two is, do you make people around you better? He does both those things."
While trying to work through injuries in the first months of the year, Woodruff was trying to make mid-week starts in temperatures under 40 degrees, something Cohen in hindsight doesn't think would be an accurate representation of his skill level.
"Brandon is a warm weather pitcher and when that happens, we think he'll be special," Cohen said.