February 27, 2013 9:37:35 AM
STARKVILLE -- Your eyes aren't deceiving you when you see Mississippi State University senior left-handed pitcher Chad Girodo.
The reason Girodo looks different on the mound in his final season is because nearly everything has changed. He still throws from the left side, but his arm slot has changed and he has gone to a three-quarter delivery that has given new life to his slider and a changeup. The change has given Girodo a new-found confidence to attack hitters.
"What (MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson) has enabled him to do with that lower arm slot is allow him to get down the mound a lot better," MSU coach John Cohen said. "What that does is make deception and movement that's already there even more dangerous."
Girodo worked allowed one hit and struck out six in three innings Tuesday night to earn his second victory of the season while in a 13-2 victory against the University of Rhode Island at Dudy Noble Field.
"With the wind blowing out of the ballpark, I really had to focus on getting to the bottom of the strike zone and was really proud of myself for being able to do that so many times in a row," Girodo said.
MSU's victory and the University of Mississippi's loss to the University of Memphis less than a hour later leaves Cohen's club as the only undefeated team left in the Southeastern Conference. MSU is one of 12 unbeaten teams remaining in Division I.
Girodo (2-0) spent the summer working out his issues as a member of the San Luis Obispo Blues' bullpen in the California Collegiate League. The 6-foot-1, 195-prospect, who was named to the Collegiate Baseball/Louisville Slugger High School All-America team as a senior at Hartselle (Ala.) High School, went 1-0 with a team-best 0.99 ERA and one save. He struck out 44 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings.
"I had the freedom to find myself as a pitcher and really figured some stuff out," Girodo said. "I needed to get better against righties and that new arm slot worked for that. Once that happened, everything started clicking perfectly and I was better than fine."
Girodo can mix a 90 mph fastball with a curveball and a slider, which makes him even more effective against batters from either side. With left-hander Luis Pollorena and starting center fielder C.T. Bradford, Girodo is expected to be a key set-up option to help MSU get to sophomore closer Jonathan Holder.
"It's one thing for coach Thompson to say, 'Here's what we want to do', and it's quite another for the kid to accept it and want to do it," Cohen said. "That's what Chad did."
Girodo is part of a bullpen that has allowed four earned runs in 40 2/3 innings this season. On Tuesday, he teamed with Pollorena to allow six hits and strike out nine and drop Rhode Island to 0-7. On a day temperatures didn't reach 40 degrees, Girodo and Pollorena allowed the Bulldogs (10-0) to save the bullpen for the weekend.
Cohen said Pollorena made his first start of the season (10th of his career) a day ahead of sophomore right-hander Brandon Woodruff due to the cold weather. The strategy that suggests Pollorena could be available for relief duty Saturday when St. Joseph's University comes to Dudy Noble Field.
MSU used a seven-run first inning to make things miserable for starting pitcher Milan Mantle (0-1). The first seven batters had hits as MSU sent 10 to the plate. Mantle, a junior right-hander, started the day with an ERA of 27.00. He allowed eight runs on eight hits in 2 2/3 innings.
URI opened the season at Florida State University, which is ranked No. 19 in this week's Baseball America poll, and the University of Mississippi (No. 8) before coming to Starkville.
After a game that included three errors and eight scoreless innings, Rhode Island coach Jim Foster talked to his players for nearly an hour after the loss.
"Rhode Island is a good club that finished second in their league last year, and our kids understand they've opened up with Florida State, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State," Cohen said. "I don't know anybody in the country that would want to start off a season with Florida State, Ole Miss,and us. That tells me Jim thinks highly of his team by doing that."
Alex Detz continued to make up for the absence of sophomore co-captain Wes Rea at first base in middle of the lineup. Detz, who is from California, said it's unlikely he has played in temperatures as cold as Tuesday with the 20 mph winds. The conditions didn't prevent Detz from going 2-for-3 with three RBIs and a run scored.
"We had a lot of guys play first base in the fall and he was not one of them," Cohen said. "Afterward, we decided we needed a left-handed option at first base. Basically (MSU assistant coach Nick Mingione) did first-base lessons with him every day for a month."
Detz is hitting .381 (8-for-21) with 10 RBIs and seven walks since taking over at first base for Rea, who has a nagging quad injury.
"I was really surprised to see more fastballs today because with the success I've been having I keep waiting and preparing for people to try to go off-speed on me," Detz said. "I try not think about playing time, but I was hoping to get opportunities, and that's just what happened."
Both teams will meet again at 4 p.m. today at Dudy Noble Field. Woodruff is expected to make his second start of the season.
NOTE: Due to forecasts for cold temperatures, MSU has moved up the start time for its game Friday against Saint Joseph's to 4 p.m. It had been set for a 6:30 p.m. start.
The teams meet in at noon Saturday for a doubleheader and for a single game at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.