May 17, 2019 10:34:20 AM
Redshirt junior pitcher Ethan Small hasn't faced much adversity this season.
At 8-1, Small boasts a 1.94 ERA in 88 innings pitched. But Thursday against South Carolina, a handful of hiccups tested him in the early stages of his start.
After striking out the Gamecocks' leadoff man, TJ Hopkins notched a double to left center before Andrew Eyster scored him with a double of his own to put the Gamecocks up, 1-0.
Part of the issue was short rest. Small's normal rotation grants him six days between starts. That said, with this weekend's series beginning Thursday his rest was cut by a day after pitching last Friday at No. 15 Ole Miss.
"The routine this week was a little bit shaken up," Small said. "I left my bullpen (session) out to try and recover on that short rest."
The third inning brought more adventure. After retiring the first two batters of the frame, a walk, a stolen base and another double from Eyster added to the South Carolina lead. Small was still a smidge off.
"I'm just going to make them hit it," he said of what his mentality became. "Especially with that lead and just trying to settle down and then my curveball started clicking, too."
Small walked the following batter but then retired the next seven. He finished the night giving up just the two runs on three hits and struck out seven in five innings pitched.
"I haven't run into a lot of trouble this year so I'm glad I got to face some adversity and work through it," Small said.
Entering 2019, Small was the logical choice for the Friday starter role. He finished last season with a 3.20 ERA in 101 1/3 innings of work. As the team ace, he has filled the role and then some.
His 139 strikeouts now rank fifth in MSU single-season history, joining the likes of former MSU greats Chris Stratton and Jeff Brantley.
"It feels like one big blur this season," Small said. "It's gone by so quickly and having those types of numbers, it's just incredible. Those guys are incredible guys, pitchers, people and just to be even in the same conversation with them is really an honor for me."
Though he faced a handful of issues Thursday, Small's ability to look past his inconsistency and keep South Carolina in check bodes well as MSU turns toward the SEC Tournament next week.
"He's been through the wars," MSU coach Chris Lemonis said. "Nothing's going to catch him off-guard. He's pitched at the highest level and he's one of the best country so it's a huge weapon for us."
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch.