March 14, 2014 11:13:01 AM
STARKVILLE -- The No. 24 Mississippi State baseball team has made a statement with its weekend rotation.
MSU announced Thursday that right-handers Ben Bracewell and Trevor Fitts will start the first two games of MSU's Southeastern Conference series at Georgia this weekend. Bracewell (2-1, 1.74 ERA) is scheduled to start Game 1 at 6 tonight at Foley Field, while Fitts (2-0, 3.92) is set to start Game 2 at 11 a.m. (Fox Sports Net).
The decision to go with Bracewell and Fitts in the first two games left junior Brandon Woodruff out of the mix. Woodruff, who was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the fifth round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft and turned down $500,000, is 1-2 with a 7.43 ERA in 13 1/3 innings (four games).
"My approach is different because I'm not trying to do too much because I don't need to be going out there thinking about 15 strikeouts or throwing 93-94 miles per hour," Bracewell said. "I need to spin the baseball, keep it moving, and get their bats out front."
In a smaller ballpark, similar to one MSU coach John Cohen coached in at Kentucky, Cohen has opted to go with pitchers who can induce ground balls.
"We felt like the evaluation over the first two months of the season that Benny deserved that opportunity," Cohen said. "That's why we were playing four-game weekend. I feel very comfortable with Ben."
Through the first 10 games, MSU (13-7) made 10 errors. In the last 10 games, MSU has made two. The improvement is a big reason why MSU leads the SEC and is ninth nationally with a .984 fielding percentage.
Bracewell, a fifth-year senior, has dealt with several injuries in his career, but he was a highly touted high school prospect out of Birmingham, Ala. He said Thursday he takes pride in getting a chance to represent the staff against some of the league's best arms on Friday night.
"I'm thinking about (Tyler) Beede over at Vandy and (Aaron) Nola at LSU are guys that throwing extremely well," Bracewell said. "Fun would be the word I would use. In reality, nobody is giving you anything on that deal. Everybody assumes they're going to win, so it allows you to sneak up and do something nobody thought you could do."
Short of his last outing in Arizona, Fitts has provided the consistency MSU has needed to replace the innings the pitching staff lost with the graduation of Kendall Graveman. MSU starting pitchers have surrendered less than two earned runs in 17 of 20 starts. MSU is 11-2 when it scores first.
First-year Georgia coach Scott Stricklin has announced sophomore left-hander Ryan Lawlor (1-1, 6.61 ERA) will start tonight. Freshman right-hander Robert Tyler (0-1, 0.93) and senior left-hander Patrick Boling (2-1, 2.57) will pitch Saturday and Sunday.
"Every Division I team in the state of Georgia is good," Cohen said. "They have won 10 games in a row and scored a bunch of runs in the midweek (vs. Western Kentucky). It is almost impossible to represent the state of Georgia and not have a great team because there are so many great players in the state."
Cohen said Thursday it would really depend on how the weekend results go before he determines a starter for Sunday's game at noon. He said who will start Sunday will depend on how much MSU has used its bullpen in the first two games. Freshman right-handers Dakota Hudson and Austin Sexton are candidates to start.
"If a Jonathan Holder doesn't pitch yet, he could be a long guy on that day. You've got lefty options out of the pen in Lindgren and Ross Mitchell as well," Cohen said. "We have to account for our bullpen because that's our identity along with defense."
In 68 percent of games since 2012, MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson's staff has given up four runs or less 106 times. It has won 85 percent of the time (90-16) when it does that.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.