While Mississippi State's coaches try to figure out how to get the kinks worked out in Devin Jones, the rest of the weekend rotation is actually starting to look pretty strong.
In the upcoming series at Arkansas, MSU will throw the two guys who are both familiar with the role of staff ace. Chris Stratton, tonight's starter, has been the de facto ace since coming in last season from Tupelo. In 2009, that role was Nick Routt's, when he was a freshman.
So what MSU might have is one of the best Friday-Saturday combos in the SEC. That's assuming these guys can maintain the high levels of performance they've at times shown.
Stratton (4-3, 4.22 ERA) is coming off the worst outing of his career, getting only five outs while yielding seven runs against Florida last week. Coach John Cohen said Stratton wasn't finishing his pitches, and Stratton said he was trying to be "too precise," so they agree there.
"It's just where he's got to throw it in the strike zone more, and he knows that," Cohen said. "He's going to have to become a little more economic the way he pitches. As soon as he makes that jump – and I think he's very capable – as soon as he makes that jump I think he's one of the better guys in our league."
As for Routt (0-1, 2.35), he was outstanding on Sunday in the Bulldogs' 3-1 loss. The junior left-hander gave up one run on six hits in 5.0 innings. He struck out five and walked one.
Cohen praised Routt's fastball, not so much the velocity as the movement.
"You love pitchers who create a lot of spin with their fastball," he said. "The more spin you create, the more movement you're going to be able to create. It means that the guy is staying on his delivery a little bit better. His deal is when he's missing arm side, he's just not staying with his delivery. When he's able to get to both sides of the plate with his fastball, he is a really tough customer."
If Stratton and Routt can give MSU strong showings in Fayetteville, it could be huge in the bigger picture. As Cohen pointed out, the toughest part of the schedule (Vanderbilt, Florida) ought to be behind the Bulldogs. Not that it's going to be easy.
And there's still the question of who will start Sunday. Could be Jones, or Evan Mitchell, or somebody else. But having Stratton and Routt on the front end should be an advantage. Stratton, for one, is glad for the promotion but isn't caught up in it.
"I just think whatever helps us win ballgames is what I'd like to do," he said. "I'm glad the coaches feel comfortable in me to move me up, and it just gives me the confidence to go out there and compete."