Mississippi State's coaches still believe in Luis Pollorena, which is why he'll get the start Friday when the Bulldogs play Southern Miss in the first game of the NCAA Atlanta Regional (2 p.m., CSS). Pollorena, a sophomore left-hander in his first year with the program, hasn't done so well since moving from the bullpen, but that doesn't deter MSU's coaches.
My story for Wednesday's Journal focuses on Pollorena (6-5, 4.44 ERA) trying to regain his old form – not so much as a player, but as a person. He told me this afternoon that his demeanor changed when he became a starter.
"At first I tried to make a big change, but in the game of baseball it's pitch and you've got to hit the ball," he said. "I'm not really going to try to get over-prepared, just go with what we know and keep on having fun and keep on playing the game."
That's what pitching coach Butch Thompson wants to see. After making three SEC starts that netted an ERA of 8.82, Pollorena returned to the bullpen for the SEC Tournament, but the results were no better. He yielded the go-ahead grand slam to Florida in the first-round game and was tagged with the loss.
Thompson thinks that setback had a big effect on Pollorena.
"Any time something bad happens, there's a little bit of shock, denial, a loss of confidence. I think that's human nature – me, you, everybody would go through that," Thompson said. "I think also if you're a winner, it's the dusting off, getting to acceptance and getting back in the battle is what counts. That's what I've been trying to work with him every day."
Pollorena insists his confidence has not been shaken, but he's eager to return to his old way of approaching the game. He watched the video from the Florida game and feels that Brian Johnson's grand slam was wind-aided (it looked to be), he knows what he needs to work on, and he has something to prove.
"I know I can compete with anybody whenever. It hasn't really been that tough, I've just been working even harder to not make a mistake and miss by an inch and get punished."
• Pollorena pitched against USM earlier this year, tossing 5 2/3 innings of shutout relief to earn the win in the Bulldogs' 5-4 triumph in Pearl. While it's been nearly two months, Thompson finds some value in that outing.
"Luis went almost six innings, 5 2/3, and at the time they had left, right, left, right in their lineup," Thompson said. "I even thought the right-handers didn't take good swings off of him. He's got to get the ball down and got to return to some form."
• Thompson hinted that freshman righty Evan Mitchell (5-1, 3.49) could start Saturday's game, regardless of the opponent. It'll either be top seed Georgia Tech or No. 4 seed Austin Peay.
Mitchell started against Florida last week and put in a solid five-plus innings. He allowed two runs (both earned) on five hits, struck out five and walked four. In his previous outing, Mitchell struck out 11 Memphis batters in 4 1/3 innings of relief work.
"I think Evan's kind of been hot," Thompson said.