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MSU baseball team dealing with pitching injuries


Matthew Stevens



STARKVILLE -- When asked which pitchers he wouldn't have for the start of fall scrimmages, Mississippi State pitching coach Butch Thompson could only joke.  


"How about an entire starting rotation?" Thompson said. "I think that would be a pretty important place to start." 


Thompson and the MSU baseball program were without three starting pitchers Friday when they started intra-squad scrimmages. Those pitchers are expected to compete for roles in the weekend rotation this season.  


Junior Brandon Woodruff isn't expected to take the mound for another two weeks -- if at all -- after a surgical procedure on his right elbow in May. Woodruff struggled with shoulder problems throughout the 2013 season and had to have season-ending surgery performed by Dr. Rusty Linton, the team surgeon in Columbus, after feeling tenderness in the elbow joint following a start against Ole Miss in Pearl. Woodruff was 1-1 with a 4.34 ERA in 18 2/3 innings in eight games. The former fifth-round pick out of high school by the Texas Rangers in the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year-Player draft failed to get out of the second inning in three of his six starts. 


MSU coach John Cohen said the surgery Woodruff had wasn't Tommy John surgery, a common ligament replacement procedure, and that it didn't have anything to do with a ligament problem in the elbow. 


"We feel like it was something that's really going to enhance his career both at Mississippi State and professionally," Cohen said. 


In his last start against Ole Miss at Trustmark Park in Pearl, Woodruff lasted just 1 1/3 innings and allowed one run on three hits in 21 pitches. In that outing on April 9, Woodruff's fastball didn't register higher than 85 mph on the radar gun. 


Woodruff has impressed the coaching staff with his conditioning and early bullpen work this fall, but he won't face hitters until he is medically cleared. 


"Brandon is doing wonderful, and the ball is coming out of his hand so freely and naturally that as a coach you want to be able to see more," Thompson said. "But we've done such a good job being patient. There's no sense in rushing this thing when we can see the finish line." 


Fifth-year senior Ben Bracewell is coming off a foot injury last season that required two pins to be inserted into this right foot. Those pins haven't been removed. The right-hander won't be allowed to throw off a mound until they aren't an issue.  


In 21 appearances last season Bracewell had a 1.76 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings. The Chelsea, Ala., native had Tommy John surgery performed by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., as a sophomore after being named MSU's opening-day starter in 2011. 


"I feel fine and the most healthy my arm has ever been going into a fall season, but all I need is this foot thing to be cleared so I can get back to work," Bracewell said. "What I'm really tired of in is people having to ask me about my health every year instead of talking to me about baseball." 


Bracewell is the oldest member of the 2014 MSU roster. He was part of the MSU program when it was 6-24 in the Southeastern Conference. Now the Bulldogs are coming off a national runner-up showing at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.  


"Benny has been here as long as I've been here and he's about as mature as I am now, so I have no concerns about his ability to handle this foot deal and be ready for the spring," Thompson said.  


Junior college transfer Paul Young is expected to compete for a weekend spot after choosing MSU over offers from Florida, Florida State, Missouri, Ole Miss, and LSU. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound right-hander pitched a complete game in Central Alabama Community College's victory in the NJCAA Division I championship game. The Cleveland Indians selected him in the 21st round of the 2013 Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft. MSU is limiting his action this fall. 


"Paul had a really difficult decision of whether to go to college or sign a professional contract," Cohen said. "We are very pleased he chose Mississippi State. He is a very talented young man with a great arm." 


Left-handed specialist Ross Mitchell also won't be allowed to throw off a mound after having hip surgery in the summer. Mitchell, an All-America selection by Perfect Game and Baseball America last season, won't begin a throwing program until late December or early January to prepare for the season.  


"We're able to do some creative things with him this fall, whether it's tossing off of one knee or both knees to strengthen his shoulder muscles or working with our holds and running game work this fall," Thompson said. "We knew after his surgery he wouldn't be with us this fall, so we have to keep him in a very individualistic program to maximize the time and what we can do with him." 


Mitchell was 13-0 in 94 innings (34 appearances) last season. Opponents hit just .214 against him. 


"Besides supporting my teammates and just learning what I can from the guys that can go out there on the mound, I'm not sure what else I can do," Mitchell said. "I have such a unique way of getting people out. I really think I just need to focus on getting healthy and making sure I'm 100 percent for the spring." 


Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.



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