March 21, 2014 11:53:23 AM
STARKVILLE -- John Cohen believes Preston Brown is ready for the challenge.
If the coach of the No. 21 Mississippi State baseball team didn't, he would have picked someone else to pitch at 6:30 tonight in Game 1 of his squad's Southeastern Conference weekend series against No. 6 Vanderbilt at Dudy Noble Field.
As it stands, Brown (2-0, 0.75 ERA) will make his first SEC start against the defending regular-season champions in the first SEC home series for the Bulldogs (15-8, 2-1 SEC). He is scheduled to pitch against junior right-hander Tyler Beede (4-1, 0.84), a projected first-round pick in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft.
"When our coaches are willing to send me out there, I look at it like this: It's a confidence builder toward me. It's that simple really," Brown said.
MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson believes Brown has the personality to block out the distractions to focus on the Commodores (19-3, 2-1).
Brown would've started last Sunday against Georgia, but weather forced the teams to play a doubleheader Saturday at Foley Field. Without a midweek game, picking a starting pitcher for Game 1 of the Vanderbilt series became more about the traditional routine a pitcher usually enjoys.
"We kept thinking about Preston on Sunday (this week), but the more days (of rest) you add for him, it's worse for him," Cohen said.
In his victories, Brown has allowed six hits and no runs in 14 innings. Brown is known as a ground ball specialist because of his changeup and ability to locate his fastball down in the strike zone. However, the 21-year-old had pitched only eight innings and had made only one appearance in the SEC before this season, so this is his first big test.
"I feel I'm a completely different pitcher than I was last year because last year I was in a different arm slot and threw a fastball and slider," Brown said. "Now I'm throwing two fastballs to both sides of the plate with a changeup and sinker that have been game-changers. I've got a new game."
Cohen and Thompson also considered starting junior left-hander Ross Mitchell (3-1, 1.50) tonight. However, with Mitchell having thrown 128 pitches Saturday against Georgia, MSU wanted to give the preseason All-American an extra day of rest before getting a start. Mitchell will start Game 2 at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU).
"Giving him the extra day is important," Cohen said. "I think we've been able to do that, so I didn't want to short him one day. We need to give him the full week to recover."
Junior right-hander Trevor Fitts (2-0, 3.55) will finish pitch at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, which means fifth-year senior Ben Bracewell has been bumped from the rotation for the first time this season.
"Just depends on the situation," Cohen said when asked if Bracewell was the first option out of the bullpen. "Could be Benny, could be (Jacob) Lindgren, but it depends on where we all with the lineup."
Vanderbilt will counter with Beede, one of the nation's most dominating pitchers. The Toronto Blue Jays used the No. 21 overall pick to select Beede in the first round of the 2011 MLB draft. He was the only first-round pick not to sign. Baseball America named Beede a second-team All-American. He is a projected to be a first-round pick in this year's draft.
"Tyler has a very good understanding of 'team' and the building of individual relationships," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. "He is very respected by his teammates for his servant behavior, the effort he puts toward other players, and his investment level into the game. He will have the opportunity to stay in this game for a while."
Vanderbilt will go with junior Jared Miller (5-0, 0.57) Saturday night and sophomore righty Tyler Ferguson (3-0, 1.63) Sunday.
"When guys like Beede, Jared Miller, and guys like that come into our park, we get excited," MSU junior closer Jonathan Holder said. "It's pretty nice to see them come in because we know how good they are and they're not top 10 in the country for no reason."
Cohen may have to reshuffle his outfield rotation. Senior center fielder C.T. Bradford is doubtful after suffering a setback with his hip injury. He is expected to be on the active roster, but he could be limited to designated hitter duty.
"It's a shame because he has been swinging it so well, but he re-injured his hip at Georgia, so we'll know how he's doing (Friday)," Cohen said.
If Bradford can't play center field, senior Derrick Armstrong and sophomore Jacob Robson could play there in his place. Armstrong is hitting .270 in 37 at-bats and has stolen eight bases. Robson is off to a 1-for-14 start, but he is considered a better defensive player.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.