May 10, 2011 7:50:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Coming off its first Southeastern Conference sweep of the season, the Mississippi State baseball team can attribute much of its results against the University of Tennessee to its pitching staff.
Reshuffled for the third time this season, the Bulldogs (29-18, 11-13) staff gave up just 3.1 runs per game in the series, their best weekend performance against a SEC team this season.
MSU received five innings or more out of starters Luis Pollorena -- who made his first start of the season Friday -- Nick Routt, and Chris Stratton. MSU''s sweep marked the first time the group of weekend starters, which has seen four combinations, logged five innings or more in a SEC series this season.
With two weekends remaining in the SEC regular season schedule and a pivotal three-game series against the University of Mississippi set to begin Thursday in Oxford, the Bulldogs will keep the rotation intact, coach John Cohen said Monday.
Pollorena, who''d been MSU''s top matchup left-hander out of the bullpen, gave up five earned runs on 11 hits -- both season-highs. It wasn''t his best performance of the season, but as Cohen has stressed in the past, Pollorena''s impact is greater than his statistics.
"He''s just an incredibly competitive kid," Cohen said. "Sometimes his stuff is better than other times, but he''s always just gonna compete, and our kids just really rally around him. He''s so hard to bunt against and he''s so hard to run against. And with the new bats -- that''s such a big part of the game -- all those little pieces of the puzzle really add up for you Friday night."
While Pollorena got the weekend started with a win, his role as the Friday starter allowed former Saturday and Friday starter Chris Stratton to have two days to watch Tennessee''s lineup before pitching Sunday.
Stratton responded with 5 2/3 innings and nine strikeouts. He gave up two earned runs on six hits to help secure the 5-2 win. It was Stratton''s most efficient outing of the season, as he didn''t walk a batter and recorded his most strikeouts since striking out 13 against Belmont on Feb. 26. Had it not been for two hit batters Sunday, Stratton might have pitched another inning, Cohen said.
"We were bussing home, and just watching his delivery from behind, it''s even better than what I saw from the dugout," Cohen said. "He just really finished pitches, and he just had great, confident body language. His breaking ball was outstanding. I really believe he could have beaten anybody in our league, or gotten us deep into a game with anybody in our league on Sunday (the way he pitched)."
Junior Nick Routt reached a milestone Saturday, registering a season-high 124 pitches Saturday. He allowed two earned runs on five hits in six innings.
Cohen felt confident Routt, who had been limited earlier in the season after returning from elbow surgery, had the ability to pitch that deep into the game because he''s throwing his fastball 85 percent of the time.
Though Routt waked five and averaged 21 pitches an inning, Cohen believes Routt can become more efficient working primarily with his fastball.
"I think that''s really where kids wear down is when there''s a lot of secondary stuff, especially slider or curveball," Cohen said. "If that light switch of economy (comes on), throwing that fastball to both sides of the plate, he''s so close. If he can do that, I think he can race through innings because he can really pitch off his fastball."
MSU will face Mississippi Valley State at 6:30 tonight in a game that was originally scheduled as a doubleheader.
Sophomore right-hander Kendall Graveman (4-0, 3.67 ERA) will make his eighth start of the season.
Cohen said he''d prefer to use multiple pitchers out of the bullpen ahead before facing the Rebels.
Bulldogs nursing minor injuries
Jonathan Ogden wants to play every inning of every game.
But there was a noticeable difference Sunday after the MSU shortstop rested Saturday in a win against Tennessee.
Ogden, who is battling an abdominal injury, snapped a three-game hitless streak and drove in a pair of runs. He also had two putouts and two assists. His offense was a welcome sight, but his movement in the field signaled a possible weekend strategy of resting the standout defender for a game.
"He went out there yesterday and just was on a mission," Cohen said. "He made two big-league plays: He came and got a ball that was an unbelievable play. The diving play he made in the outfield is one of the best I''ve ever seen, really saving runs in both cases. I think his health is important to our ballclub."
Junior outfielder Brent Brownlee, who went 2-for-14 on the weekend, twisted his knee Sunday making a defensive play in the gap. Cohen said Brownlee would be evaluated Monday to gauge the level of soreness in his knee.
Junior Devin Jones surrendered three hits in two scoreless innings Friday but did so while experiencing "severe cramps" from what team trainers thought was food poisoning, Cohen said.
"I think he is beyond that," Cohen said.