March 26, 2010 9:01:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State baseball team''s goal this weekend against the University of Georgia will be to guard against the letdown.
Georgia (8-13, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) is at the bottom of the league standings and is in the middle of a six-game losing streak after falling Wednesday to Furman.
Georgia has battled injuries all season. It lost freshman infielder Chance Veazey for the season after he was injured in a car accident, and its projected starting infield has missed 37 games.
Georgia, which was swept last weekend by Auburn, also sports the league''s worst team ERA at 8.31, which is nearly four runs higher than Auburn, which is next to last in the league.
Georgia is experiencing tough times, and its struggles make MSU''s battle with youth and offense this season seem ordinary entering the second weekend of league play.
MSU (12-9, 0-3) is coming off a come-from-behind 7-6 win against Memphis on Wednesday, its 18th game in which it trailed this season.
Offense has been the Bulldogs'' Achilles'' heel this season. The team is 11th in the league with a .268 batting average and has a league-high 171 strikeouts.
MSU managed just nine hits through the first five innings of last Saturday and Sunday''s losses to Florida, and MSU coach John Cohen lamented the team''s lack of quality at-bats after its win against Memphis.
"We''re trying to do too much at the plate and we''re not doing a very good job with the strike zone," Cohen said. "We''ve got a stinking grease board in our dugout that defines great at-bats and we grade every single at-bat in the dugout as it''s happening for them to see. We''re trying to coach every single second of every single game and get the most out of our kids. We''ve just got to get better."
Statistically, MSU could see an improvement at the plate, as Georgia has allowed a league-high 250 hits and 183 runs.
All signs point to MSU winning its first league game and series this weekend, but Cohen said Georgia is "very capable" of breaking out of its slump as players return from injury.
"They''ve had some misfortune, but Georgia is Georgia," Cohen said. "That team is well coached and that state produces some of the more skilled high school players in the country. Anything is possible."
As a result of the team''s offensive woes, MSU has gone with a different starting lineup in 20 games. Cohen admits the shakeup, which has come mainly in the outfield, can jolt a player''s confidence.
The second-year coach said some of his players are "putting too much pressure on themselves," and that the challenge for the coaches is to get them to make better decisions at the plate.
Still, Cohen''s goal heading into this season was to shore up the team''s pitching and defense this season ahead of its offense.
"We''ve been successful in that area, and the part that''s suffered is offense," Cohen said. "One recruiting class isn''t going to solve all your issues. You show up in July and the program is damaged as far as pitching and defense is concerned, and we put together one recruiting class and it''s had a tremendous impact. We''ve just got to keep working at it. It will come."
MSU''s weekend rotation will be the same from the Florida series, as freshmen Kendall Graveman (1-1, 4.98 ERA) and Chris Stratton (2-2, 2.63) will start today and Saturday, respectively.
Sunday''s starter is undecided, as sophomore Nick Routt will be out for at least two weeks with a strained elbow ligament.
Routt, who has struggled to recapture his freshman All-America form, is 1-1 with a 6.52 ERA. He will be re-evaluated in two weeks. Routt left his last start Sunday against Florida with discomfort in the elbow, and Cohen said there''s no surgery required and team doctors have rehabilitation plans set up.
Cohen said Routt''s injury is unfortunate, but he said the opening should give the team''s other pitchers a chance to impress.
"You didn''t want that to happen to Routt, but we''ve got some other guys who are waiting for their opportunity and we''re excited about seeing them pitch," Cohen said. "Is it a (Chad) Girodo? A (Luke) Bole? Who is it? I don''t know.
"We haven''t seen the best out Luke Bole, and he''s going to be a great one before it''s done. If he could just put together what he''s doing in the bullpen, he''s going to be very successful."
n NOTES: Stratton is 10th in the SEC with a 2.63 ERA, while senior first baseman Connor Powers has an SEC-best 34 RBIs and is tied for the league lead with eight home runs.