Bullpen could be difference for Bulldogs

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

As John Cohen ponders his pitching options this weekend for the Starkville Regional, he’s not concerned so much with the starting rotation as who he’ll bring out of the bullpen.
No. 14 Mississippi State (43-17) is hosting South Alabama, Mercer and Central Arkansas starting Friday. The Bulldogs open the double-elimination affair with UCA, and each team presents a different challenge for Cohen’s pitching staff.
“You know, our club is so different, our pitching staff is so different, from a standpoint of our starters are not necessarily irrelevant – (they’re) very relevant,” Cohen said. “But at the same time our matchup out of the bullpen is the most important thing to us.
“So more than the starter, we’ll spend a lot more time talking about who our first guy out of the pen will be, and those types of discussions.”
MSU has had starting pitching issues all season. The starters are 15-13 with a 3.96 ERA, while the relievers are a combined 28-4 with a 1.64 ERA.
Sophomore left-hander Ross Mitchell, who’s often the first one out of the bullpen, is 11-0 with a 1.61 ERA. He’s logged 772⁄3 innings, second-most on the team.
“I think when you have a deep bullpen, you have the Ross Mitchell, a Myles Gentry jumps to the forefront, a (Jonathan) Holder at the end and certainly a (Chad) Girodo, I think it makes it a lot easier,” Cohen said.
Senior righty Kendall Graveman (5-5, 3.04) leads the Bulldogs with 912⁄3 innings, and he’s been the most consistent of the starting pitchers. Graveman had a strong stretch earlier this season when he tossed three consecutive complete games, but he hasn’t won since beating Texas A&M on April 13.
bats go cold
A lack of run support has hurt Graveman’s record. Over his last six starts, MSU has averaged 4 runs per game, more than two runs less than its season average.
After hitting a rough patch, Graveman has been solid in his last two outings. He exited after 41⁄3 innings against Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament last week, despite allowing only two earned runs.
“He’s certainly very capable of six or seven innings in a ballgame,” Cohen said. “The one thing – and I think Kendall clearly understands this – when you have a bullpen as good as ours in college baseball and you have matchup situations in the middle of a ballgame, you’re going to take advantage of those.”
Graveman, who’s has normally been the No. 2 starter on weekends, understands the philosophy.
“We have the most faith we’ve ever had in our bullpen,” he said. “If I come out of a game, I have the faith that somebody’s going to come in and get outs for me if I leave them in a tough situation.”
brad.locke@journalinc.com

Starkville Regional
No. 1 Seed: Mississippi State Bulldogs (43-17)
Conference: SEC
Coach: John Cohen (169-128, fifth season)
RPI rank: 10
Last 10 games: 7-3
NCAA appearances (last appearance): 18 (2012)
Quality wins: Central Arkansas, LSU, Arkansas, South Alabama, Florida (twice), Ole Miss (twice), Texas A&M (four times), Alabama (three times), South Carolina (three times)
Offensive stats: .296 BA, 28 HR, .393 SLG, 55 SB, 6.1 rpg
Pitching stats: 2.77 ERA, .224 opp BA, 1.18 WHIP
Leaders:
OF Hunter Renfroe, .352 BA, 15 HR, 54 RBIs
SS Adam Frazier, .352 BA, 16 doubles, 54 runs
LHP Ross Mitchell, 11-0, 1.51 ERA, 1.03 WHIP

No. 2 Seed: South Alabama Jaguars (42-18)
Conference: Sun Belt
Coach: Mark Calvi (65-52, second season)
RPI rank: 17
Last 10 games: 5-5
NCAA appearances (last appearance): 25 (2006)
Last meeting: MSU won 6-4 in Mobile on April 2
Quality wins: Southern Miss, Troy (three times), UL Lafayette (twice), Florida Atlantic (twice)
Offensive stats: .302 BA, 30 HR, .412 SLG, 28 SB, 6.9 rpg
Pitching stats: 4.21 ERA, .258 opp BA, 1.34 WHIP
Leaders:
Jordan Patterson, .360 BA, 49 RBIs, 67 runs
Dustin Dalken, .329 BA, 8 HRs, 39 RBIs
Matt Bell, 6-1, 3.52 ERA, 1.17 WHIP

No. 3 Seed: Mercer Bears (43-16)
Conference: Atlantic Sun
Coach: Craig Gibson (282-228, 10th season)
RPI rank: 29
Last 10 games: 6-4
NCAA appearances (last appearance): 2 (2010)
Last meeting: MSU won two of three in Starkville, March 9-11, 2012
Quality wins: Georgia Tech, East Tennessee State (twice)
Offensive stats: .301 BA, 56 HR, .449 SLG, 70 SB, 7.4 rpg
Pitching stats: 4.06 ERA, .288 opp BA, 1.44 WHIP
Leaders:
3B Chesny Young, .394 BA, 61 RBIs, 55 runs
1B Nick Backlund, .322 BA, 13 HR, 65 RBIs
RHP Brandon Barker, 7-1, 2.35 ERA, 1.28 WHIP

No. 4 Seed: Central Arkansas (39-20)
Conference: Southland
Coach: Allen Gum (87-79, third season)
RPI rank: 62
Last 10 games: 6-4
NCAA appearances: First
Last meeting: UCA won two of three in Starkville, March 8-10
Quality wins: Mississippi State (twice), Kansas, Wichita State, Oklahoma State
Offensive stats: .268 BA, 21 HR, .356 SLG, 90 SB, 6.9 rpg
Pitching stats: 2.78 ERA, .248 opp BA, 1.14 WHIP
Leaders:
OF Forrestt Allday, .383 BA, 56 runs, 15 SB
C Michael Marietta, .315 BA, 56 RBIs, 44 runs
RHP Caleb McClanahan, 10-5, 2.17 ERA, 0.89 WHIP
Compiled by Brad Locke