STARKVILLE – Butch Thompson pulled Luis Pollorena aside after the SEC Tournament last week and told him, “Luis, just be who you are. You can’t control everything that’s going to happen.”
Over the past month, Pollorena had lost track of his true self. When Mississippi State coach John Cohen moved the sophomore left-hander into the starting rotation in early May, he did so not only because of Pollorena’s talent and moxie, but because of the boundless energy and infectious enthusiasm he brings to the game.
In three starts, Pollorena was 1-1 with a 8.82 ERA, and he took the loss against Florida in the SEC Tournament as a reliever, giving up a key grand slam to Brian Johnson in the seventh inning.
“I think he lost more than some stuff maybe, I just thought he lost some confidence,” said Thompson, MSU’s pitching coach.
Pollorena (6-5, 4.44) has been working the past week to get that confidence and energy back, and his coaches believe in him enough to hand him the ball for Friday’s NCAA Regional opener against Southern Miss.
The problem, Pollorena said, wasn’t so much confidence as a change in his mental approach.
“I started being more serious toward the game instead of having fun the way I was as a reliever,” he said.
Teammates noticed that Pollo – as his teammates and coaches call him – wasn’t letting his natural energy carry him, and they told him as much.
“I looked and said, you know, they’re right. Why don’t I just have fun and the pitch way I have,” Pollorena said. “It’s a big start on Friday, but I’m just looking at it to have fun and keep on pitching the way I have all year.”
Rematch with USM
MSU (34-23) is pitting Pollorena against USM ace Todd McInnis (8-2, 2.61). On April 5 in Pearl, Pollorena tossed 5 2/3 shutout innings in relief as MSU beat the Golden Eagles, 5-4.
That outing factored into the decision to start him Friday.
“I felt like I would have regrets if I didn’t throw him, the way he threw (against USM), and the way they know he threw against them, and the whole nine yards,” Thompson said.
“Pitching against them, having that under my belt gives me a lot of confidence, knowing that I beat them once,” Pollorena said. “Then again, it’s the postseason. It’s going to be a new team with determination.”
USM (39-17) could be without some key players, namely outfielder Tyler Koelling (hamstring) and first baseman Adam Doleac (foot). Koelling, the 2011 Ferriss Trophy winner, leads the team with a .367 average, while Doleac is batting .338.
Doleac bats left-handed, and so his absence could affect the kind of matchups Pollorena sees.
But matchups aren’t the greatest concern for Pollorena. His focus – besides keeping the ball down and getting ahead of hitters – is regaining his mojo, his old self.
“Just stay loose, mess around with the guys in the locker room (and during) warm-up, and keep on having fun, smiling the whole time instead of being serious and not talking to anybody,” he said.
“Just keep on poking fun at everybody and make sure we stay the loose club we’ve been so far. When we’re loose, that’s when we’re dangerous.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571
A look at sophomore LHP Luis Pollorena’s last few outings:
– at Tennessee: 51⁄3 IP, 5 ER, 11 hits, 1 K
– at Ole Miss: 62⁄3 IP, 4 ER, 7 hits, 4 K
– vs. LSU: 41⁄3 IP, 7 ER, 7 hits, 1 K
– vs. Florida: 12⁄3 IP, 3 ER, 3 hits, 1 K
– Totals: 18 IP, 19 ER, 28 hits, 7 K
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal