June 1, 2011 8:55:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Luis Pollorena has the hot hand.
The sophomore left-hander, who has shined out of the bullpen and as a starter, will start Friday for the Mississippi State baseball team against Southern Mississippi in the first game of the NCAA tournament''s Atlanta Regional.
MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson said Pollorena''s one-hit, 5 2/3-inning outing in the Bulldogs'' 5-4 win against the Golden Eagles on April 5 played a role in selecting him for the start.
Pollorena (6-5, 4.44 ERA) struck out six and didn''t surrender a run or walk against USM at Trustmark Park.
"It''s a lineup that''s left, right, left, right throughout, so you can''t just throw the one-sided pitcher that matches up right or left," Thompson said. "Hopefully that''s the right route."
Pollorena''s first two starts of the season resulted in wins against the University of Tennessee and Ole Miss, but the Texas native has seen his ERA rise from 1.65 to 4.44 in the past four games, which includes three starts.
He also allowed a grand slam in the Southeastern Conference tournament that helped Florida rally for a 7-5 victory. Pollorena inherited two baserunners before giving up the home run.
"We were 7-13 at one point in this league, trying to get in with our season staring us in the face and Pollo gave us an unbelievable two outings and put it out there and hadn''t started a game," Thompson said. "So off of those two tough starts, maybe it was a lot of innings at one time for him. There''s been some adjustments, (and) I think he''s better than he''s been in the last two weeks. Hopefully, he''ll cycle back around."
With the Bulldogs going 0-2 in the SEC tournament, their pitching staff has reaped the benefit of more rest. Players are still lifting weights and running, but scaled back bullpen sessions will be more beneficial than extending innings, especially for an overworked bullpen.
Catcher Wes Thigpen said Pollorena hasn''t shown signs of fatigue in recent bullpen work since returning from Hoover, Ala. He said Pollorena''s fastball is "live" again.
"He''s got his cutter going well, and we''re still developing that changeup," Thompson said. "I think he has more a live arm with the rest."
Thompson believes Pollorena has to keep the ball down in the strike zone and to regain the energy he had coming out of the bullpen to return to form. He has thrown 32 2/3 innings and has a 5-3 record out of the bullpen in his first season in Starkville.
"I think he''s a guy that can grab quick outs, one- or two-pitch at-bats," Thompson said. "I think any pitcher in our league, if you''re not one of the top five or six pitchers in our league, if you let guys have six- or seven-pitch at-bats against us, you''re easier to hit. His stuff is not off the charts, but we got to get back to our fastball, our cutter with him, get to the bottom of the strike zone and create the activity early."
USM will counter with senior right-hander Todd McInnis (8-2, 2.61).
MSU hasn''t announced a starter for Game 2, which will be Saturday against Georgia Tech or Austin Peay.
Thompson said the matchup will influence the decision, but freshman Evan Mitchell, who pitched five innings in a start against Florida at the SEC tournament, is the leading candidate.
---Thompson lauds USM''s balanced production
Southern Miss'' lineup is more than just Ferriss Trophy winner Tyler Koelling.
The junior has a team-best .367 average and 46 RBIs, but he''s one of six starters batting above .300 and with 30 or more RBIs.
The Golden Eagles'' senior-led group doesn''t present an easy out for the Bulldogs, Thompson said.
"The value (in USM''s lineup) is you have to approach each hitter with a lot of respect," Thompson said. "I see some physical kids through the lineup. (Ashley) Greater is one of the toughest guys to strike out in the two hole. (B.A.) Vollmuth can lose the ball, but I don''t think it stops there."
Southern Miss'' offense resembles MSU''s in that it relies on putting the ball in play and utilizing the running game, Thigpen said.
But the Golden Eagles can hit for power, too. They have 41 home runs entering Friday''s game against the Bulldogs. The home run could be a factor this weekend, as balls tend to carry better to right-center field in Georgia Tech''s Russ Chandler Stadium. Depending on the wind, there''s a chance for balls to carry out to left-center field.
Thompson is familiar with the venue from his time as an assistant coach at the University of Georgia.
Still, Koelling is a key element to USM''s lineup. Koelling is coming back from a hamstring injury that forced him to miss the Conference USA tournament -- where USM went 1-2. MSU players expect him to be the catalyst he has been all season.
"His strength is definitely his ability not to strike out," Thigpen said. "He''s always gonna find a way to put the ball in play. His weakness is probably being too aggressive at times, if I had a guess. He''s a good hitter and we respect him a lot.
"Maybe we need to do some more stuff on him, make him run out some more balls."
---Comcast to televise Atlanta regional games
Comcast Sports Southeast (CSS) will provide live TV coverage of all of the games at the Atlanta Regional.
MSU will take on Southern Miss at 2 p.m. Friday in the opening game of the double-elimination regional tournament. Georgia Tech will meet Austin Peay at 6 p.m. Friday. Games will follow at the same times Saturday and Sunday, with the "if necessary" Monday game set for 6 p.m.