April 11, 2014 11:32:58 AM
STARKVILLE -- In a game dominated by statistics and analysis, Mississippi State baseball coach John Cohen is turning to his artist on the mound.
Left-hander Ross Mitchell, who doesn't dazzle a radar gun or capture the wonder of professional scouts, Bulldogs abstract painting that has been appreciated with a overall perceptive on what is important.
"I say this a lot, and I don't say this lightly, he's an artist," Cohen said Thursday. "He's just in his own little world out there on that mound painting a picture of what a game should look like."
The junior All-American is 21-2 in 68 appearances, including a 7-1 mark with a 1.63 career ERA against Southeastern Conference competition. Last season, Mitchell (5-2, 1.54 ERA) was the only pitcher in the country with 13-plus wins and zero losses as a reliever, which earned him preseason All-America status from multiple publications.
At 6:30 tonight, Mitchell will have a different perceptive when he makes his first Friday night start in a SEC series when No. 17 MSU (21-13, 6-6 SEC) plays host to No. 19 Ole Miss (27-8, 7-5) at Dudy Noble Field in Game 1 of a three-game SEC weekend series.
"We had to use a lot more of our bullpen than we expected (Tuesday against Southern Mississippi at Pearl) and some key players like Holder and Lindgren," Mitchell said. "They just think it's best for relievers' arms for me to go (today)."
On March 15 at Georgia, Mitchell became the first Bulldog to throw a complete game since Kendall Graveman threw one April 13, 2013, at Texas A&M. In 58 1/3 innings, Mitchell has allowed 40 hits and 14 walks. He has struck out 28. Opponents are hitting .198 against him.
"I just don't think Ross Mitchell is the kind of guy that will feel the pressure of a situation and try to throw too hard and do too much," Cohen said. "He's had four really good starts in a row, and he's probably one ground ball away from winning a game at LSU 1-0 last weekend."
A shoulder injury will keep third-year sophomore Preston Brown from pitching this weekend. Without Brown, Cohen opted to promote Mitchell to the coveted role of Friday night starter against Ole Miss ace Chris Ellis (4-0, 1.88). Ellis has settled in as the anchor for the Rebels' weekend rotation. The right-hander has three quality starts, including two shutouts and a complete game vs. Georgia State. Ellis has allowed 16 walks and has struck out 33. Opponents are hitting .235 against him.
Mitchell has allowed more than two earned runs in one of his 68 appearances. That stretch includes two complete-game victories in the SEC this season. In his last start at LSU, Mitchell took the loss despite allowing one earned run in an 85-pitch, six-inning effort.
"We had so much confidence in Preston. It hurts to see him out," Mitchell said. "Hopefully I can bring that same confidence he was bringing the team early in the series and get us going, try to get a series win."
Mitchell admitted Thursday afternoon he hadn't started to prepare for Ole Miss, which is second in the SEC in batting average (.303), second in slugging percentage (.417), third in on-base percentage (.372), and first in hits (375). Will Allen and Auston Bousfield lead the squad in multiple-hit games. Austin Anderson (14) Braxton Lee (11), and Sikes Orvis (11) also have had 10 or more multi-hit games.
"We'll watch video today and I can make a better assessment of Ole Miss, but right now I don't know anything about them," Mitchell said.
Ole Miss is 19-4 when it scores first and 11-3 when it scores in the first inning. The Rebels outscore opponents 64-25 in the first three innings. They have scored 33 runs in the first and 25 in the third.
MSU starting pitchers have surrendered less than two earned runs in 27 of 33 starts. MSU is 16-3 when it scores first.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.