Freshman right-hander Evan Mitchell will start on the mound for Mississippi State in its SEC Tournament opener Wednesday against Florida, coach John Cohen said this afternoon.
Mitchell is 5-1 with a 3.48 ERA and has made 12 appearances this season, four of them starts. In 33 2/3 innings he's given up 15 runs (13 earned) on 35 hits, struck out 34 and walked 12. In his lone SEC start, at Arkansas on April 17, Mitchell lasted only two-thirds of an inning, being charged with two runs (both earned) on three hits.
Mitchell said he's treating this game just like any other and feels well-prepared to face the Gators, who rank second in the SEC with a .309 average.
"Everyone in the SEC, no one's really too much better than anyone else," Mitchell said. "Whoever you play each weekend, you've got great competition up and down the lineup. I feel like no matter who you're facing, you're going to get some experience in that category."
More recently, Mitchell had a strong relief appearance at Memphis on Tuesday. In 4 1/3 innings he allowed no runs on four hits and struck out 11 of the 18 batters he faced.
"We think that he had a breakthrough at Memphis on Tuesday," Cohen said Sunday, and he added that Mitchell's performance was "very special."
Mitchell didn't talk as if that game marked some sort of breakthrough, but he said he is more comfortable as a college pitcher now than he was earlier in the season. And maybe that's what was significant about that outing – it wasn't a big deal to Mitchell.
He doesn't expect to be phased by the environment at Regions Park, either. His focus will be the same as always.
"(Cohen) just wants me to keep doing what coach (Butch) Thompson tells me, to keep trying to throw as many strikes as early in the count, get early contact, because that's what we've been preaching all year. Nothing really changing from the mindset standpoint. We've got one of the best defenses in the SEC and the nation. Just fill up the strike zone and make quality pitches."
In talking with Cohen yesterday, he said he'd go with his best option for the opener while also factoring in matchups. Friday starter Luis Pollorena could end up coming out of the bullpen.
Cohen said of Pollorena today, "Not that his starts haven't been good, but obviously statistically they aren't the same as his stints out of the pen." In three SEC starts, Pollorena has an ERA of 8.82 in 16 1/3 innings, with six walks and six strikeouts.
Pollorena's ERA prior to his first start was 1.65; it's now 4.04.
Florida has not yet announced its starting pitcher.