By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – John Cohen is open to all possibilities this week.
That’s not much different from how he’s approached things the entire season, in regards to his pitching staff. But when Mississippi State opens the SEC Tournament against Florida on Wednesday, Cohen’s approach will be less nuanced.
MSU (34-21, 14-16 SEC) will hit the Regions Park field in Hoover, Ala., as the No. 6 seed. Florida (41-15, 22-8) is No. 3 and has one of the league’s best rotations, but Cohen isn’t overly concerned with how his opponent handles their pitching staff.
“In a three-game series it’s kind of like the old high school tennis thing – you match this guy with up this guy, because you feel like it’s a better matchup,” Cohen said Sunday. “In some respects that’s not the case here. We just need to throw our best guy, the guy who’s been pitching for us the best at the time.”
That guy Wednesday could be regular Friday starter Luis Pollorena (6-4, 4.04 ERA), or former Friday starter Devin Jones (2-5, 4.47), or perhaps freshman Evan Mitchell (5-1, 3.48), who against Memphis last week struck out 11 in 41⁄3 innings of relief.
Mitchell’s lone SEC start, against Alabama, lasted two-thirds of an inning.
As for the second game and beyond – if MSU continues to advance – Cohen has made no decisions and will evaluate his staff each day to see who’s the best choice.
Should State still be around for the weekend, a concern becomes depth. Cohen doesn’t want to assume MSU is going to earn an NCAA Regional bid, but the odds are high that it will, so he’s going to avoid working pitchers on short rest.
In fact, closer Caleb Reed will not be available Wednesday after tossing seven innings and 113 pitches on Saturday against LSU.
Taking over that role for at least one game will be freshman Taylor Stark (3-0, 2.20, two saves), and Cohen said little-used freshman Hunter Renfroe (9.64 ERA in six appearances) could also see action.
“I don’t know if anybody in the SEC, outside of Vanderbilt, feels unbelievable about their pitching depth,” Cohen said. “I think we have some guys who are pitching their very best right now.”
Cohen has twice made major changes to the weekend rotation this season, and he won’t necessarily lock all his pitchers into certain roles. The past couple of weeks he’s been open to bringing starter Chris Stratton out of the bullpen.
Cohen will be as flexible as he needs to be to give MSU the best shot at winning.
“The SEC Tournament, we’re treating it with the utmost importance,” he said. “You don’t want to enter NCAA play not playing well, and I think things like seeding can affect you with how you play in the SEC Tournament.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.