No. 16 Mississippi State (30-9, 8-7 SEC) gets an early start to the weekend when it opens a three-game home series against Auburn (23-14, 5-10) on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. I caught up with head coach John Cohen this afternoon and have his thoughts on the Tigers, MSU’s pitching rotation, and the stellar season outfielder Hunter Renfroe is having.
• Senior left-hander Luis Pollorena (6-1, 3.02 ERA) will again draw the Game 1 start, followed by senior righty Kendall Graveman (5-2, 2.15). Saturday’s starter is TBA, but Cohen feels confident that sophomore lefty Jacob Lindgren (3-1, 3.08) will be able to go. He twisted an ankle on April 7 against Florida but looked fine Sunday at Texas A&M, tossing 5 1/3 strong innings (one earned run on three hits).
“With the ankle, we just kind of run it around a little bit to be comfortable that he can get off the mound to make a play or cover first base,” Cohen said. “The arm is fine; in fact, the arm really turned around well at Texas A&M, but the ankle was still a little bit sore.”
• Cohen said he feels as good about the weekend rotation as he has all season.
“Kendall has just been outstanding for us in the middle spot. If you take away some of Luis’ early innings in his starts, he’s been fabulous. And then you couple that with what some of our bullpen guys like Ross Mitchell and certainly what (Jonathan) Holder‘s done at the end of the game, those guys really complement each other well. I’m really proud of Pollo. We feel very comfortable with him getting through four or five innings in a ballgame.”
• I’m doing a story for tomorrow on Renfroe, who’s been tearing it up at the plate and has become the five-tool star Cohen had predicted he would be. Renfroe is batting .429 with 13 home runs and 42 RBIs, and his .865 slugging percentage leads the nation.
“I think people rethink exactly how they’re going to get to him, and to Hunter’s credit he’s hit balls really hard on breaking balls, he’s hit balls really hard that have been down in the zone, he’s hit balls really hard that have been elevated, he’s hit balls really hard on the inner half, he’s hit balls really hard on the outer half. Now, it doesn’t matter how good a hitter you are, you can’t cover all those areas every at-bat, but certainly he has a plan for what part of the strike zone he’s going to attack.”
• Auburn is in last place in the Western Division, but it’s won two consecutive SEC series and has three left-handed weekend starting pitchers.
“It kind of presents a unique challenge for anybody,” Cohen said. “They have that nice recipe in their lineup. … It’s a nice mixture of some speed around some guys in the middle who can hit.”
Auburn’s pitching situation is iffy right now, though, because of an illness running through the team.
• Catcher Mitch Slauter was hit in his left hand with a pitch on Sunday and suffered a fracture, and Cohen said he could be out up to three weeks.
“Outside of that, I feel like our arms are in pretty good shape, and this is the time of year you really start worrying about that. We have our nicks and bruises, but I think we’re pretty healthy, and we’re in pretty good physical condition right now.”