April 12, 2011 8:57:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Changes are on the horizon for the Mississippi State baseball team''s pitching rotation.
MSU coach John Cohen has been encouraged by the solid innings junior Nick Routt has provided since sliding into the Sunday role, but ultra-talented junior Devin Jones has faltered as the Friday starter in league play.
Cohen said Monday he and his staff have discussed the possibility of bumping Routt to Saturday and current Saturday starter Chris Stratton to Friday. The moves are being contemplated in an effort to protect the bullpen, which is lauded as the strength of the team.
Cohen is expected to make a decision today before MSU (21-11, 5-7 Southeastern Conference) completes a rain-shortened game at the University of Alabama at Birmingham on Wednesday. But Cohen said the five-day discussion he has had with his staff about how to address the rotation hinges on game-planning.
If Routt and Stratton are bumped up, Jones and Evan Mitchell would be candidates for the Sunday job. Then again, Cohen admits the Sunday options could be used as relievers Friday and Saturday.
"We''ll just have to wait and see and evaluate," Cohen said Monday in his weekly teleconference.
Jones'' dip in conference play has seen him pitch more than 3 1/3 innings just once in four starts. He pitched seven innings or more in four of his five non-conference starts. While he was solid at the University of Georgia with two earned runs and three hits in five innings, his conference ERA is 10.05.
The up-and-down form is puzzling to Cohen, who said Jones has all the tools needed to be an ace and a high ceiling in terms of pro potential. He likens his development to that of former MSU pitcher and current Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who put up solid numbers in relief at MSU but didn''t become a star until he joined the Red Sox.
"I think every coach in our league really has a Devin Jones guy: A guy who is super talented, works really hard at it, and you''re just waiting for it to show up with that consistency," Cohen said. "Devin is special, and you''d love to just pinpoint one thing but you can''t. His preparation and his bullpens are just masterful; you keep going, ''Wow, if this happens in a game he''s gonna blow people away.'' For whatever reason, in conference play, it just hasn''t happened as much as we''ve wanted it to."
Routt threw a season-high 88 pitches and gave up just one earned run Sunday in a loss to No. 4 Florida. He didn''t show any ill effects from his surgically repaired left elbow, and is likely to have his previous pitch limit scrapped.
Routt, like Stratton, must become more economical with his pitches because the potential moves in the rotation leave unanswered questions at the end of the weekend.
However, Routt''s command of his fastball and the ability to locate all over the strike zone were encouraging signs for Cohen.
"Even with these (reduced exit velocity) aluminum bats, they''re still aluminum bats," Cohen said. "When you throw fastballs that are getting past really good hitters, it makes your secondary stuff that much more effective."
Stratton (4-3, 4.22 ERA) gave up seven earned runs and was lifted in the second inning Saturday, the worst performance of his career. But he has been MSU''s most consistent and effective pitcher the past two seasons. He''s a high-strikeout pitcher, which means his pitch count tends to run higher. To protect the bullpen Friday, should Stratton indeed take over that role, he''d need to give MSU more innings than Jones has done the past four weeks.
"He isn''t as economic as some other guys, but he can give you 110, 120 pitches once a week, too," Cohen said. "At Vanderbilt, the first couple of innings it was very similar to how he pitched Saturday, and all of a sudden he just found it.
"We all know it''s there, and I think pitching him Friday is something we probably need to do at this point. But again, there''s gonna be some factors this afternoon and tomorrow morning we''re gonna need to take into account before we do that officially."
Brownlee expected back for Arkansas series
Injured outfielder Brent Brownlee''s brief appearance against Florida on Sunday was a positive sign.
After suffering a stress fracture in his foot in the league-opening series against Vanderbilt, the junior outfielder hadn''t played until Sunday.
Cohen said he''s "very optimistic" to have Brownlee return to the lineup Friday at Arkansas.
His presence in the outfield has been missed, as the Bulldogs have played infielder Nick Vickerson, freshman Taylor Stark, and bench player Trey Johnson in his place.
His absence also has created a headache of where to play fellow starting outfielders CT Bradford and Jaron Shepherd.
Brownlee is noted as MSU''s best defensive outfielder and most experienced glove.
"There''s a lot of balls, especially early on Sunday, some average, not hit very well fly balls by Florida that are falling in," Cohen said. "Brent Brownlee''s gonna get to those. That''s not a knock on Trey Johnson, or Stark or Nick Vickerson, but they just don''t have as much experience in that area as a Brent Brownlee does."