March 11, 2011 8:40:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State baseball team will look to rebound from two losses last week, and back-to-back rain-affected games, when it plays host to Sacred Heart this weekend.
MSU (10-3) lost two games to Iowa in a four-game homestand last weekend before having its game Tuesday against Mississippi Valley State canceled and its road game Wednesday at the University of Alabama-Birmingham suspended in the sixth inning.
With clear skies expected for this weekend''s three-game series, which begins at 5 p.m. today, the Bulldogs will try get their offense started. On Wednesday, MSU had just two hits, both from senior third baseman Jarrod Parks.
"I think when you really look at it and you judge the level of our at-bats, they were pretty good," MSU coach John Cohen said of his team''s effort against UAB. "We get bases loaded, and (catcher Cody) Freeman hits a missile to center field that if it goes a few feet further leaves the park. Even when the game was halted, we''re (at) first and second with nobody out. We were really starting to put together some solid ABs (at-bats) after starting slowly."
MSU stranded 23 runners in its losses to Iowa, though they fell by a combined three runs.
Despite the perceived dip in run production in the past two weeks, Cohen said his team is swinging the bat well.
"We''ve hit the ball hard and we''ve put the ball in play," Cohen said. "Getting runners on base is the most difficult thing. They say stats don''t lie, but I think that''s one of them. We''ve played 13 games and hit six line drives off the pitcher. I think we can get more runners across with a little bit of good fortune. We''ve got a lot of games left to play."
MSU will face a pitching staff that has an ERA above seven. The Pioneers'' No. 1 pitcher, Troy Scribner, who''ll start tonight, enters the weekend with a 4.50 ERA. Senior starter Matt Fitton enters the weekend with an 11.17 ERA.
Though the Pioneers (4-4) took two of four from Southeast Louisiana, a team Cohen considers to be a contender for the Southland Conference title, their pitching struggles to start the season could be an opening for the Bulldogs to get their offense back on track.
MSU will stick with its weekend rotation, which will see Devin Jones pitch tonight, Chris Stratton start Saturday, and Evan Mitchell start Sunday. However, Cohen has been impressed enough by freshman C.T. Bradford, sophomore Andrew Busby, and freshman Daryl Norris that one of the three could start Sunday.
MSU also anticipates the long-awaited return of junior left-hander Nick Routt, who has been sidelined since last season due to elbow surgery. Routt was scheduled to start against Mississippi Valley State, but he will be featured this weekend in a relief role.
Cohen said he was impressed with the former Freshman All-SEC pick in a bullpen session this week.
Now all that''s left is for Routt to get game repetitions.
While he was supposed to be the centerpiece of last season''s staff, Cohen said there''s enough depth on the team to help bring back Routt slowly.
"We''d love to have him kind of back where he was freshman year, but I don''t think Nick or any of us look at his return as a deal-breaker," Cohen said. "We have a a lot of really solid arms, and we hope he can make progress. We''re not quite viewing it the same way everyone outside the program is as Nick''s the most important cog in our machine. But we''re thrilled with the progress he''s made."
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