By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
HOOVER, Ala. – When Brandon Woodruff takes the mound today for Mississippi State, there will be a cadre of relief pitchers poised to enter at any moment to fill whatever need might arise.
In a setting such as the SEC Tournament, the bullpen is the most valuable of assets. MSU’s has been very good, posting a 2.39 ERA this season by using numerous arms of varying talents.
Woodruff, a freshman from Wheeler, starts today’s opener against No. 6 seed Arkansas (39-17) because weekend starters Chris Stratton and Kendall Graveman aren’t available on such short rest. For No. 7 seed MSU (34-21), it’s not a huge problem because of that bullpen.
“We’re going to have to show up and do our job like we have been all year,” said senior Caleb Reed, who has a team-high eight saves. “It’s not going to be any more added pressure to us I don’t think.”
MSU-Arkansas will be today’s second game, following the 9:30 a.m. Ole Miss-Kentucky game. The approximate start time is listed as 1 p.m.
Arkansas will start sophomore Ryne Stanek (6-3, 2.96), who’s been fighting back and shoulder injuries of late. If it becomes a battle of the bullpens today, MSU likes its chances.
The relievers are riddled with veterans who have been here before, but there’s a nice mixture of youth as well.
Reed, for instance, was once the go-to closer for State, but over the past month that role has shifted onto the shoulders of freshman Jonathan Holder, who hasn’t allowed a run in 222/3 innings.
“Any questions he has, I’m always supporting him from the bench, just hoping the best for him as the year goes on,” Reed said.
That’s the kind of dynamic coach John Cohen likes to see, and it’s why he believes some younger pitchers like Holder, Jacob Lindgren and Ross Mitchell have been so good this year.
Those youngsters have watched Reed, Stratton, Graveman and others as they put in work and prepare for opponents. That developing mix of vets and talented youngsters helps explain State’s 1.55 team ERA over the last 15 SEC games.
“And that’s the real benefit of having some older guys who have had some great success for us,” Cohen said. “The younger guys are trying to desperately get to that level, because that level is tangible, it’s seeable, it’s right in front of them, and they’ve been able to do that.”
Stratton might start if MSU plays on Wednesday, although the new 10-team format could give the Bulldogs a day off if they win and No. 9 seed Ole Miss beats No. 4 Kentucky.
While the pitching is priority No. 1 for MSU, there have been signs of improved offense. The Bulldogs, who hit .228 in SEC play, closed out the regular season with a series sweep of Kentucky, batting .320 and scoring 18 runs over three games.
“We’re a team to be reckoned with,” Reed said.