By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Tyler Whitney has a chance to knock Ole Miss off track again.
A year ago, the left-hander hurled Mississippi State past the Rebels in the teams’ series opener, sparking an unexpected two-of-three series win for the Bulldogs in Oxford. That result foiled the Rebels’ bid to win the overall SEC crown.
In that opener, Whitney allowed only two runs through the first seven innings, then was pulled in the eighth and ultimately was charged with five runs on 10 hits in a 6-5 decision.
Tonight, at Dudy Noble Field, Whitney (0-1, 5.72 ERA) will return to the mound and start Game 1 of the rematch series against the No. 14-ranked Rebels. MSU coach John Cohen said the main reason for inserting Whitney tonight – in place of Caleb Reed – is his success against Ole Miss last season.
“I remember Tyler just battling and battling and battling, which he did for us all year,” Cohen said. “He did a great job keeping us in the game.”
It’s also a second chance for Whitney, a senior from Lakeland, Tenn., who was a regular weekend starter last season but has been mostly relegated to bullpen duty this year.
Over his last three relief outings, Whitney has posted a 3.75 ERA with 11 strikeouts and four walks in 12 innings of work. He said some adjustments – mainly, more early fastballs and a more direct delivery – have paid off and boosted his confidence.
“I feel like I’ve been throwing the ball well lately,” Whitney said. “It’ll certainly be nice to get back in the rotation, especially on a Friday.”
Whitney vs. Pomeranz
Once again, Whitney will be matched up against Drew Pomeranz, who in last year’s meeting was touched for six runs on eight hits in 51/3 innings. And Pomeranz is coming off a rough outing against LSU, when he lasted only three innings, giving up five runs on one hit with nine walks.
“I was jumping out a little bit and getting too excited, focusing on when it gets to the plate instead of staying smooth and doing like I’ve always done,” Pomeranz said. “That’s a big part of what I’ve worked on this week.”
And once again, MSU (20-20, 5-13 SEC) is trying to play spoiler. Ole Miss (28-13, 11-7) swept LSU last weekend to vault into the thick of the Western Division race; it sits two games back of Arkansas.
MSU was swept by Alabama last weekend, a big blow to the Bulldogs’ postseason hopes. They’ve missed the SEC Tournament two years in a row and are currently in 11th place in the SEC, three games out of the eighth spot.
Cohen said he isn’t using the rivalry aspect to provide any extra motivation this weekend.
“It’s important,” he said, “but I wouldn’t say it’s any more important than it was for us when we went to Alabama.”
MSU’s been hitting the ball well lately, batting .299 with a .477 slugging percentage. A potential offensive explosion would be the Rebels’ biggest concern, because a slugfest would likely favor MSU.
Ole Miss is batting .304, but it ranks ninth in the SEC in slugging (.459) and ninth in on-base percentage (.396).
The best bet for Ole Miss is that Pomeranz puts last year and last week behind him.
“He can throw a bad game, but with nine runs on the board, how many times is he going to be out in three (innings)?” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “That’s usually not going to happen to him.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571
Ole Miss @ Miss. State
– First pitch: 7 p.m. (FSN)
– Saturday: 6:30 p.m. (SportsSouth)
– Sunday: 1:30 p.m. (CSS)
– Tonight: Ole Miss LHP Drew Pomeranz (6-0, 1.90) vs. Mississippi State LHP Tyler Whitney (0-1, 5.72)
– Saturday: Ole Miss RHP Aaron Barrett (6-2, 3.36) vs. Mississippi State RHP Chris Stratton (4-3, 4.97)
– Sunday: Ole Miss RHP David Goforth (1-2, 7.00) vs. Mississippi State LHP Luke Bole (2-1, 6.89)