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MSU's revamped rotation set for first test

 

David Miller

 

STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State baseball''s new weekend rotation will have its first go this weekend, and coach John Cohen isn''t second-guessing the decision.  

 

The Bulldogs, coming off a 6-4 loss to the University of Alabama-Birmingham on Wednesday, will kick off a three-game Southeastern Conference series at 7 tonight at the University of Arkansas (24-8, 6-6 SEC). 

 

MSU (21-12, 5-7) hopes bumping Chris Stratton and Nick Routt from their respective Saturday and Sunday roles to Friday and Saturday will help it achieve the dominant start that has eluded it in key SEC series. 

 

In his last four starts, former Friday starter Devin Jones is 0-2 in 14 1/3 innings. He has allowed 16 runs and 27 hits. 

 

"(Pitching) coach (Butch) Thompson and I sat down with him and told him what we wanted to do," Cohen said Thursday. "Devin handled it like we thought he would. He just wants to help our team in any way he can. I think he is disappointed in his starts, but I''ve said this many times, he''s a talented young man." 

 

Jones'' role in the pitching staff is undetermined, as Cohen said he''s debating between the junior right-hander and right-hander Evan Mitchell, who was the Bulldogs'' Sunday starter prior to Routt''s return to the rotation.  

 

If Jones looks to lock down the Sunday role, he''ll have to improve on his sub-10 ERA in league play. In SEC games, he has lasted past the fourth inning just once.  

 

While Jones has struggled, Routt has been strong. He has a team-best ERA of any starter at 2.35, with 14 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings.  

 

"I think a year ago his fastball, even though it had more velocity probably than it did right now, he was much more hittable," Cohen said. "There are a lot of studies and things done about velocity, and then there''s what the hitter sees. When he''s throwing his fastball the way he is right now, and it''s about 88, 90 (mph), but it''s really hard to see." 

 

Cohen made the rotation switch in hopes of protecting the bullpen, which pitched six or more innings last Friday and Saturday.  

 

Two games under .500 and with back-to-back series against top-25 teams, the margin for error is thin, especially with MSU''s diminishing run support in the last two weeks. The Bulldogs are 47-for-199 at the plate in their past two SEC series.  

 

Against Florida last Sunday, the Bulldogs loaded the bases with just one out in the bottom of the ninth before losing 3-1 on two routine fly balls.  

 

Cohen insists his team is doing everything the right way at the plate, looking for line-drive hits and ground balls. But he feels misfortune has been the difference in a hit or two reaching the gaps.  

 

Arkansas has won six straight, including a series sweep against LSU last weekend. The Razorbacks haven''t given up more than five runs since falling to Auburn 8-7 on March 20, a span of 14 games. 

 

Arkansas will start freshman right-hander pitcher Brandon Moore (2-1, 3.40 ERA) tonight.  

 

 

 

 

 

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