April 26, 2014 11:09:27 PM
STARKVILLE -- The series finale blues continued for Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs coaches and players all insisted the return of sophomore right-hander Preston Brown would solve their problem in closing out series against quality teams. Brown was completely ineffective as Texas A&M jumped all over him and reliever Ben Bracewell in a 6-4 win to take the weekend series at Dudy Noble Field.
Now what? MSU coach John Cohen didn't have too many answers Saturday.
"I felt like we just got off to a horrendous start," Cohen said. "With Preston it was obviously command and in retrospect maybe it wasn't his time to pitch."
In a similar fashion to the Sunday loss vs. Ole Miss, Cohen took the entire MSU team into the locker room for a post-game talk away from fans and media that lasted at least 30 minutes.
"They outhustled us, outplayed us although we struck out 13 guys in their 37 at-bats," Cohen said. "We were just a step slow on the infield and pretty much a step slow everywhere on the field."
Brown hadn't pitched since March 29 due to shoulder soreness and after taking an injection to help the injured area. In just 30 pitches, Brown allowed four hits, a walk and only threw 15 strikes. By the bottom of the second inning, Texas A&M (27-18, 10-11 in Southeastern Conference) was playing defense with a 3-0 lead.
"Anytime you take time off it's just so hard to be sharp but we all thought he competed with the best he had," MSU junior shortstop Seth Heck said.
The best Brown and Bracewell (3-4), who allowed two runs in just 2 1/3 innings, had to offer Saturday wasn't nearly good enough against an A&M lineup where eight of the nine starters earned a hit. The 1-4 spots of the Aggies lineup finished 7 of 13 with 6 RBIs and half of the team's runs scored. A&M's Cole Lankford and Nick Banks had four runs driven in in the middle of the Aggies lineup.
"Our offense has been pretty consistent but we got some pop out of the middle of the order and that's maybe been our inconsistent element," Texas A&M coach Rob Childress said. "We felt like we could score runs against them and that's wasn't our concern this weekend."
After a 6-3 win Saturday to even the weekend series, Childress said he was going to need "somebody to step up" in the Aggies bullpen and got those answers in form of A.J. Minter, Corey Ray and closer Ty Schlottmann.
Minter, a hard-throwing lefty that registered consistent 95-96 miles per hour on his fastball, blew it by MSU hitters for two strikeouts of his four registered outs.
A&M's relievers allowed just three hits in the final four innings after Grayson Long (6-1) lasted 90 pitches.
Schlottmann got his second consecutive save and might be the way Childress can build his bullpen from the back to the front after being a situational left-hander in 13 previous appearances.
"Our bullpen has been the major reason we haven't performed on the weekend like we had hoped," Childress said. "We knew coming into this weekend our record and rankings weren't very impressive and in order to change that, we had to pick up some big weekend wins. This is certainly big."
In a reverse of roles from a majority of the 2014 season, MSU's offense tried to rally the team to what would've been a critical weekend series victory.
Alex Detz, who came to the ballpark hitting just .233 provided a run-scoring single to tie the game in the second inning but from that moment on, MSU left nine runners on base.
"You see their guy hit a two hopper that gets through the six-hole and they score runs," Cohen said. "We hit that same ball and the guy steps to his left and makes the out. That's baseball. That's why they play 162 games in the big leagues to even these things out."
MSU (28-17, 11-10) lost its third weekend series finale since the beginning of April and in each of those four games the starting pitcher has failed to get out of the fifth inning.
With the regular season approaching its final month, MSU continues to hover around 40th in the latest Ratings Percentage Index rankings and slowly playing its way onto the bubble for a NCAA Regional selection.
"We got three big weekends left and I'm hoping our kids are a little bit better then than they were in this weekend," Cohen said.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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