April 9, 2010 11:31:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Fueled by a mid-week offensive uprising, the Mississippi State baseball team will yet again have another first when it plays host to Arkansas this weekend.
New faces, new positions, new lessons learned and another new attempt by MSU coach John Cohen hope to provide a spark for the Bulldogs.
But make no mistake, Caleb Reed''s first career start scheduled for today''s 6:30 p.m. opener against the Razorbacks isn''t just a shot in the dark to get longer innings out of starters.
Reed, a sophomore, leads the team in innings pitched with 40 2/3.
After Kendall Graveman struggled and didn''t make it out of the first innings of last Friday''s game at South Carolina, it was Reed who pitched eight innings to finish the game.
A three-run eighth inning against the Gamecocks overshadowed a solid stretch that showed Cohen he needed to give Reed the ball in the series opener against Arkansas.
Reed enters tonight''s game with a 4.20 ERA, which is fifth on the team.
Reed has 35 strikeouts to just 10 walks this season, too, but more than his statistics Cohen''s chief concern is to get a longer outing from the starter.
Cohen pointed to Trey Johnson''s four strikeouts in two innings of scoreless relief Sunday as an example of the team getting solid work from the bullpen, but struggling from the first pitch.
"The strange thing about it is most of these guys are pitching really well in middle relief, but like when we gave Trey a chance to start earlier in the week it just wasn''t happening," Cohen said. "It''s a trend we''ve seen, but we need some guys who can get us four or five innings into a game."
Graveman''s shot at being in the weekend rotation isn''t done as nine pitchers have tossed 14 or more innings this season.
As MSU (13-16, 3-6 Southeastern Conference) has proven, the next game can be someone''s first start especially with Cohen heading into each of the team''s SEC series with a Sunday starter listed as "TBA."
Cohen said he wanted to reward Reed for showing stamina throughout the season. He''ll get that shot against the No. 9 Razorbacks.
Arkansas (23-6, 6-3) scored 32 runs in its midweek smashing of Saint Louis, coming off a nine-game homestand in which it went 9-1.
Cohen categorized the matchup as "another typical weekend in the SEC," as yet another ranked team to pop up on the schedule.
But there''s energy that can be channeled from the beginning of what will be a nine-game home stand, which comes in a crucial part of the Bulldogs'' league slate.
Despite being at home and knowing this stretch of games would be major for the Bulldogs climbing out of the bottom of the SEC West standings, Cohen said he didn''t look ahead on the schedule and pinpoint the next two weeks as the time of year where things would start to solidify.
"Quite frankly, a coach wants to be hitting stride at the beginning, the middle and the end," Cohen said. "But when you take the field in an SEC game and your catcher, shortstop, second baseman and at least one of your outfielders hasn''t played an SEC game you just don''t want to be in that situation again. Again, it''s all about experience at this point and we''re working our way there."
Mississippi State''s 18-2 win against Jackson State on Tuesday produced three Ryan Duffy home runs, but it was the Bulldogs'' early start Saturday against South Carolina that provided a league win.
Crucial to a starting pitcher''s confidence, early run support for freshman arms seeing a dearth of new hitters for the first time around seems like a focus area. But as Mississippi State sends young players to the mound, there''s young players at the plate who are seeing certain SEC pitchers for the first time.
To Cohen, focusing on particular innings isn''t paramount when you''re aiming for a clutch moment at different times of the game.
"You emphasize having great at-bat after great at-bat," Cohen said. "Our kids are doing that, but we just don''t get the absolute big swing at the ideal time. It just hasn''t happened for us the way we wanted to.
"In terms of manipulating at-bats and trying to get runners going, we''ve been able to do that. When those at-bats start happening for us, like seeing what Duffy did on Tuesday, you know it''s starting to come around."
Mississippi State will look to keep the pop going against one of the SEC''s most dominant starters in Drew Smyly (3-0, 1.60 ERA).
As has been the norm, Chris Stratton (3-3, 3.75) will start Saturday''s game.
Mississippi State sophomore left-hander Nick Routt will miss the weekend as he continues to recover from an elbow injury that''s already cost him two weeks. Cohen said Routt had an MRI Monday and that the team "feels like it was positive."
Still, some doubt about the starter who was supposed to lead the weekend rotation.
"We start a throwing program and we''ll see where it leads us," Cohen said. "We''d like to have him back in a couple of weeks but we just don''t know."
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