April 4, 2014 11:07:39 AM
STARKVILLE -- The No. 9 Mississippi State baseball team and LSU could feature a matchup of aces tonight.
After a week that included news about injuries and talk about how weather could play a role this weekend, MSU coach John Cohen and LSU coach Paul Mainieri shuffled their pitching rotations to set up a potential matchup of one of the Southeastern Conference's most consistent left-handers (MSU's Ross Mitchell) against the league's best right-handed power arm (LSU's Aaron Nola) at 6:30 tonight at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. Mother Nature could spoil the pairing, or another last-minute change by Cohen or Mainieri could alter those plans.
Earlier in the week, MSU redshirt sophomore Preston Brown told pitching coach Butch Thompson he experienced right shoulder soreness during his bullpen session. The soreness caused Brown to stop his bullpen session and forced him to be scratched from his scheduled start tonight. The right-hander will be re-evaluated Saturday and could start the third and final game of the series at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
"He threw a bullpen earlier in the week and had a little bit of a shoulder issue, so we're going to have to adjust to that," Cohen said Thursday.
It is unclear if Brown's soreness will affect his ability to pitch this weekend or if it will be a long-term issue. MSU already has lost pitchers Paul Young, John Marc Shelly, and Will Cox to season-ending surgeries.
Mitchell (5-1, 1.55 ERA), a junior and preseason All-American, likely will start tonight against LSU Nola (5-1, 0.55). Mitchell has had quality starts in each of his SEC outings since being inserted into the rotation in the first league weekend at Georgia.
"Ross really wants to pitch Friday night after talking with him (Wednesday), but we'll see how he feels Friday," said Cohen, whose team is 20-10 and 6-3 in the SEC. "Whenever you're moving guys around, you're going to be in the position of trying to find out what's best for that young man and how he feels."
Nola was scheduled to pitch Saturday so he could have six days of rest in between starts. LSU's series against Florida last weekend started on Saturday. However, Mainieri decided late Thursday night to move into the Friday night role because he said he'd like the matchup between Nola and Mitchell.
"After the game (Wednesday against McNeese State), I went in and had an email from (sports information director) Bill (Franques) announcing Mississippi State's rotation, and they had their No. 1 guy going on Saturday, Ross Mitchell, so I liked the matchup," Mainieri said to the Baton Rouge (La.) Advocate. "I wanted to match Nola up against Mitchell. After I sent the rotation to Bill, Mississippi State changed the rotation. Now Mitchell's throwing on Friday night. It's OK."
Perfect Game named Nola the Midseason National Pitcher of the Year. In seven starts, Nola has 61 strikeouts and has walked only nine. Opponents are hitting .151 against him.
"He's truly good as a strike thrower with really good stuff, and he'll be a great draft pick," Cohen said. "Somebody has to get that HBP or walk so somebody will have to make a mistake to beat Nola."
On Saturday, the pitching matchup apparently will include MSU junior right-hander Trevor Fitts (2-1, 3.09) and LSU freshman Jared Poche' (5-2, 2.61), the 2013 Louisiana Mr. Baseball and Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year. With severe weather scheduled to move into Baton Rouge, the teams could play a doubleheader Saturday, which would further complicate matters.
The pitching matchup for Sunday remains undecided. Both programs have had seven pitchers start for them this season. LSU (21-8-1, 3-5-1) is expected to decide between Cody Glenn, Kurt McCune, Zac Person, and Kyle Bouman for Game 3.
Cohen also said Thursday senior outfielder C.T. Bradford is moving better than he was last week, but he wouldn't say if Bradford would be in the lineup this weekend. Derrick Armstrong has made 12 starts in center field and is hitting .328, which is second on the team to Demarcus Henderson. Armstrong and Henderson are tied for the team lead with nine stolen bases.
"We're going to have to get him running around out there and see how that (hip) is reacting," Cohen said. "Is he going to play (Friday) night? You just don't know. Hopefully we can have him on the field at some point this weekend."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.