April 21, 2011 9:13:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Luis Pollorena has been overlooked since he first stepped foot on a baseball diamond.
Never the tallest nor strongest pitcher, the Laredo, Texas, native was told by University of Texas coach Augie Garrido he didn''t have the body of a Division I player and would struggle to compete in the Big 12.
The University of Miami coaching staff echoed the same thing: Pollorena''s 5-foot-6 frame wouldn''t handle all the rigors of pitching in a major conference.
"It''s just another chip on my shoulder," Pollorena said.
Even after having an all-conference freshman season at Marion Military Institute in Alabama, Pollorena''s recruitment wasn''t where he thought it would be.
Defending national champion University of South Carolina offered him a 30-percent scholarship, while Alabama and South Alabama showed mild interest.
Pollorena committed to Troy, but a visit to Mississippi State changed everything.
Pollorena fell in love with the tradition-rich program and its passionate fans. He also had a chance to make an immediate impact on a rebuilt pitching staff in the most competitive league in the country.
Mississippi State head coach John Cohen offered Pollorena the scholarship percentage he wanted, but it was the confidence Cohen conveyed in Pollorena that convinced him to de-commit from Troy.
"As a player, all you ever want is for your coach to have 100 percent faith in your ability to get it done," Pollorena said. "Coach Cohen and (pitching coach) Butch Thompson saw what the other coaches didn''t."
Pollorena has been MSU''s most effective bullpen pitcher since his first appearance on Feb. 19, when he threw 3 1/3 hitless and scoreless innings to earn his first career win against Akron.
Pollorena has been the Bulldogs'' go-to setup man on Sundays, sporting a 1.69 ERA and a 4-2 record in 26 2/3 innings.
"This kid competes harder than anybody," MSU coach John Cohen said. "He pitches with great tempo and wills his club to win."
Pollorena is an emotional leader and a constant source of motivation in the dugout. Though he isn''t a senior and has yet to play a full season in maroon and white, MSU''s players feed off his energy.
His enthusiasm and excitement to compete is a major sticking point for Cohen. Pollorena has different handshakes with teammates and is the first dugout player waving a towel to get the crowd involved in the game.
Being a dynamic and engaging teammate is a trait Pollorena shares with closer Caleb Reed. It''s no coincidence Reed and Pollorena are workout partners and warm up together before games.
"Caleb took me under his wing about how to pitch at this level," Pollorena said. "He likes the game to be fun. He''s intense. I know I can give my best for as many innings as I can because I know Caleb is gonna come in and be lights out. We have a great chemistry and we feed off each other."
The lifelong knock about Pollorena''s height initially was a concern for Cohen and Thompson until they saw him play in the Alabama junior college playoffs. Pollorena pitched, played the field, and hit in a game Cohen and Thompson watched on the Internet. Even though he didn''t pitch particularly well in the game, Cohen was impressed with how Pollorena battled adversity.
"It''s pretty evident the pitching when we first got here wasn''t what we wanted it to be," Cohen said. "We needed as many guys like Pollorena that had unbelievable competitive spirit -- somebody who could fill different roles; not somebody who was just a starter or a reliever."
Pollorena''s versatility has provided MSU with an equalizer to control the running game in late-inning situations -- now a premium after the NCAA''s new bat regulations that lessen exit velocity. Though he isn''t a physically imposing pitcher, Pollorena is a quick-twitched athlete who plays bunts well.
Pollorena said his pickoff move was developed by watching his dad, who coached him in Little League and travel ball. His dad was right-handed, so as a left-hander he had to overcome the awkward mechanics while trying to imitate it. That''s why he has what he calls a "herky jerky" motion toward first base.
Pollorena currently leads MSU''s bullpen pitchers with nine assists and hasn''t had a player attempt to steal a base against him.
"It''s awkward but it works," Pollorena said of his pickoff move. "It''s just one of the many lessons I learned from him. He told me I''m one of the nine defenders on the field and I have to have that in mind whenever that ball leaves my hand. I''ve always taken that to heart, and my defense is something I take pride in."
When Pollorena arrived at MSU, he had just a fastball and curveball in his arsenal. Needing another pitch to be more effective, he and Thompson worked on a changeup but had little success. Next was the cutter, which he now throws with confidence.
While at Marion, Pollorena played center field two games a week and started on the mound in the third. Despite being a starting pitcher all his life, adjusting to a bullpen role has been exciting for Pollorena, who said he relishes the spotlight in pressure situations.
Outside of a few minor mechanical tweaks and a adjusting to a bullpen role, Pollorena''s transition to SEC ball has been smooth for a player none of the other big-time coaches wanted.
"It''s just been about changing colors and continuing to get better," Pollorena said. "You''ve got to find the strike zone no matter what league you''re in."