Small adapts to bullpen role

Ethan Small has made 15 relief appearances as a true freshman for Mississippi State. (Kelly Price/ Mississippi State)

Ethan Small has made 15 relief appearances as a true freshman for Mississippi State. (Kelly Price/ Mississippi State)

Ethan Small‘s introduction to college baseball came in a pressure-filled situation in Mississippi State’s season opener against Florida Atlantic.

The freshman southpaw pitcher was called on in the seventh inning with one out and a runner on third and struck out the first batter he faced in only three pitches.

“Obviously you have a little nerves but I didn’t let it control me,” Small said. “But when you’re an 18-year old kid stepping out there for the first time in front of 10,000 people playing baseball it’s a little overwhelming sometimes. But I was super pumped for it, especially when you come in with a runner on third and only one out. It’s something I had to do all year so I was glad I was thrown in the fire early to prepare me.”

Small went on to make 15 relief appearances for the Bulldogs going 1-0 with a 13.06 earned run average, 20 strikeouts and 10 walks in 10 1/3 innings of work.

One of the hardest aspects the Lexington, Tennessee native had to adapt to was his role out of the bullpen. Small had been accustomed to starting in high school were he was a two-time Perfect Game All-American and struck out 310 batters in only 191 1/3 innings of work during his prep career.

“Obviously the hitters are a little bit better,” Small said. “It’s definitely an adjustment when you’re used to being a starter and throwing seven innings in high school. Some of the teams (in high school) were a little bit good when you got deep into the playoffs but when you get to this level every team is good.

“Making the adjustment from a starter to a bullpen guy is challenging but it’s something that a lot of us have had to overcome. I might only be in for a left-handed hitter for a left-on-left situation and I can blow him up. I have to get the ball by him and beat him to the spot. That was pretty much my role and I did my best to succeed in that.”

Small’s pitching arsenal features a slider and change-up along with a two and four-seam fastball which has topped out at 97.5 miles per hour. He is also developing a splitter, something he worked on this summer for the Wareham Gatemen in the prestigeous Cape Cod League.

In seven outings which included two starts, Small was 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA, 11 strikeouts and eight walks over 20 frames of action.

As a recruit, Small was initially committed to Vanderbilt during his sophomore year of high school. But when things fell through with the Commodores, he kept a low profile and decided to sign with MSU following a rare trip to it’s campus.

“I wasn’t big on taking visits and mooching off of people,” Small said. “A couple of years ago in the fall right before signing period, I came here and saw it and knew this was where I wanted to be.”

Small fit in immediately in Starkville and credits the close bond he and his teammates shared this past spring with aiding in their success and a Southeastern Conference championship.

“That was one of the few teams that I’ve been on where I could honestly say that everyone is pulling for each other,” Small said. “Everybody has been a great teammate. That’s really special and our team chemistry definitely helped us on the field.”

I have covered Mississippi State in some capacity since 2004 and joined the Daily Journal staff in 2013. I enjoy short walks on the beach, performing concerts in my car and watching professional wrestling.

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