April 6, 2013 11:15:09 PM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- At first glance, Mississippi State University pitchers Kendall Graveman and Luis Pollorena wouldn't be seen as similar at all.
They throw a baseball with the opposite hand. The duo is at least five inches different in height.
Graveman was a highly coveted prospect out of Alexander City, Ala., and Pollorena was a unknown arm coming from the border of Texas and Mexico through a military school in Alabama. It even took a bizarre injury to MSU ace Jacob Lindgren for the Pollorena-Graveman duo to go back-to-back in a Southeastern Conference weekend rotation. However, nobody around the MSU program cares how the bond or success between the two has come about because it's working.
Pollorena and Graveman led MSU (25-8, 5-6 in SEC) to its first league series victory of the 2013 season with wins over the University of Florida Friday and Saturday. The victories marked MSU's first series win in five weekends and has helped propel a pitching staff that has been besieged by injury and inability at times to find the strike zone.
"I told Luis this is our opportunity to prove we can do this and lead this ball club and that's exactly what he and I have done this weekend," Graveman said.
Graveman had the University of Florida baseball team and coaches just shaking their head Saturday afternoon after pitching a five-hit, complete game shutout in a 2-0 series clinching win for the Bulldogs.
"Real leaders aren't ones who talk all the time but they're people that do and Kendall had done," MSU coach John Cohen said. "I don't remember two starts like that by anybody in a long time that has played for me."
Graveman completed his second straight complete game thanks to his power sinker inducing 19 ground ball outs, three double plays and the senior only got to a three-ball count three times against Florida.
The right-hander allowed just one run over nine innings last week at the University of Arkansas to take MSU's only victory in Fayetteville, Ark., against a projected a projected first round draft pick in Razorbacks junior starting pitcher Ryan Stanek.
"I want to take nothing away from Mr. Kendall Graveman today," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "He's going to do that vs. lots of SEC teams before this year is over. You can just tell that he has a great understanding of what he is doing out there all the time. John and MSU has a special one there in Graveman."
The last MSU pitcher to throw back-to-back complete games was Chris Stratton last season as the junior went on to be named Southeastern Conference pitcher of the year and was selected in the first round of the 2012 MLB draft by San Francisco. It is the fourth career nine-inning effort for Graveman and two of those outings have come against Florida.
"The fastball movement was so good today and that's what led to all those ground ball outs," Graveman said. "I had to work harder today (than last weekend) but it still was good enough stuff for Butch Thompson to have faith in sending me out there for that ninth inning."
Pollorena got his first quality start in nearly two years in a 7-3 victory over the Gators on Friday night. MSU won its first Friday night home game in league play since the 2012 season finale sweep of the University of Kentucky on May 17, 2012 thanks to six solid innings from their 5-foot-9 southpaw.
"They were patient and after the first time through the order, we got a lot of first-pitch strikes that paid off for us in the long run," Pollorena said. "That's all (MSU catcher Mitch) Slauter, (MSU pitching coach Butch) Thompson and myself talked about in the dugout is getting ahead in the count. We must have said it over and over."
By the time Pollorena (5-1) was getting handshakes and pats on the bat from his teammates along with Thompson, he had gone six innings for only the third time in his college career allowing just two runs on six hits in 79 pitches. The quality start was Pollorena's first since pitching six shutout innings in a 3-0 victory in the 2011 NCAA Regional opener against the University of Southern Mississippi at Georgia Tech University.
"Pollo is going to fight and you just have no idea what it does for a team when you know every time a guy is going to go out to that mound and give you a chance to win," Slauter said. "He doesn't have electric Friday night stuff but that's not what matters. What matters is at the end of a Friday night, he's the reason we won or lost, period."
Pollorena and Graveman consider themselves best friends and are roommates during MSU road trips during the season. Pollorena, who struggled in his first fall camp two years ago upon arriving at MSU from Marian (Ala.) Military Institute, credits going to Graveman for not only encouragement but helpful criticism on his pitching mechanics.
"Kendall and I talk almost everyday because even though he's a righty and I'm a lefty, our approaches to the game and to pitching are almost identical," Pollorena said. "We try to work down in the zone and constantly talk about how to change speeds to create deception. We just so similar in styles, personality and competitiveness it's scary."
Graveman as a veteran of a MSU pitching staff that won just six conference games was more than willing to share his expertise with a teammate if it meant a trip to the postseason. Once Pollorena arrived on campus and Graveman became a consistent member of the weekend rotation, MSU has made it back-to-back NCAA Regional appearances and have goals for a much deeper run in 2013.
"The first thing Kendall told me was about how he dealt with failure after the team went 6-24 in league play his first year," Pollorena said. "As a person that's fought through Leukemia and people always doubting my size and stuff, he knew I had the will to get through anything in this game."
SEC coaches have already begun to take notice they're in for a battle on Friday and Saturday by seeing Pollorena and Graveman on the first days of a weekend. After losing its first series to MSU since 2007, the Gators are currently hitting .207 over the past two days with only four extra-base hits.
There's a reason why they have faith to pitch Pollorena on Friday nights and that's because he battles, throws strikes & is a quality pitcher," O'Sullivan said.
MSU will go for its first series sweep of Florida since 1989 and the news from the MSU bullpen may get even more pleasant for Bulldogs fans as Cohen stated Lindgren may start today for the first time in two weeks. After feeling soreness in his left elbow last week, Lindgren was shut down for his scheduled start last week but Thompson confirmed he was solid in his bullpen session Thursday and told The Dispatch the sophomore left-hander was "very, very probable" to get his sixth start of the season.
"His Thursday bullpen looked absolutely great and there's two things I need to see: complete health and I need to see that slider be completely effective," Thompson said. "I would say it's likely he will want the baseball and will get the ball sure (Sunday)."
After completing the Florida series today, MSU travels to Pearl for the annual Governor's Cup matchup with Ole Miss at Trustmark Park.
SEC play resumes next weekend at Texas A&M.