Baseball: Opening Day Notes and Quotes

A closer look at Mississippi State’s 6-2 season-opening win over Washington State on Friday.

Links: First, start by reading my game story (CLICK HERE), then check out the postgame video of third baseman Daryl Norris (CLICK HERE).

New faces: Five Bulldogs drew their first career starts, including sophomore RHP Ben Bracewell. Although he didn’t get the decision, Bracewell threw very well, allowing one earned run on three hits in 4 1/3 innings. … The other new starters were SS Matthew Britton, DH Trey Porter, 1B Wes Rea and C Mitch Slauter. That foursome went a combined 3 for 10 with two RBIs and two runs scored.

More on new guys: Here’s what Norris had to say about Britton, who had four assists, one error, and made several plays charging slow ground balls: “Those plays were really tough. They don’t look tough, but the ball’s wet and everything like that, he played really well tonight.”</em> … Coach John Cohen on Rea, who had a sac fly RBI: “Wes, he’s not only supposed to have power, he’s really a great situational hitter. He’s probably one of our best situational guys. The ball with two strikes he bangs into right field is a huge RBI in the ballgame.” … Cohen on freshman Jonathan Holder, who struck out the lone batter he faced: “Here’s a true freshman who goes out there, he’s been dominating our hitters his last two or three outings – I mean, dominating them with his breaking ball. He threw our last intrasquad game, he threw a pitch 94 mph, so he’s got a power arm and a great breaking ball, so he’s going to be a factor for us.”

Slauter catches on quickly: Slauter is a juco transfer, and he should help ease the loss of Wes Thigpen, who was an invaluable asset at catcher. Cohen has been high on Slauter, and so were his teammates after the game.

“I don’t think you could go out and find a better catcher than Mitch Slauter, the way they did,” said Chris Stratton, who got the win in relief. “Thigpen was such a big part of the way we did things last year, and coaches trusted him. They’re really giving him the reins, too, and a vocal leader. Love being around him.”

Here’s what Cohen had to say after the game: “He’s a great leader. He just really understands the game, and I think he’s going to hit. He just doesn’t get sped up.”

Slauter caught seven strikeouts, and MSU hurlers threw just 102 pitches. Stratton said Slauter did a “great job of leading me.”

Strat’s new approach: Speaking of Stratton, he feels like last year’s struggles are behind him. The junior right-hander from Tupelo lost his weekend starter’s job last year and was moved to the bullpen. After a strong summer in the Cape Cod League and a productive offseason, he’s a different kind of pitcher.

Stratton had a team-high 76 strikeouts in 76.0 innings last season, but he’s working on getting outs more efficiently. He fanned three in four innings Friday, throwing just 39 pitches.

“He’s throwing down there at the string,” Cohen said. “Coach (Butch) Thompson has a string that’s about 12 inches off the ground, and all of our pitchers are doing a great job of throwing down there at that string. I think Strat has really made some adjustments, the way he’s matured.”

Stratton is one of several pitchers vying for a weekend role. Working him in relief yesterday was part of the overall plan for this weekend.

Norris comfortable: Norris was 3 of 4 at the plate and made his first career start at third base. He said he felt very comfortable in the field and at the plate. Cohen liked what he saw in the third inning, when a wild pickoff throw went past first base. The baserunner tried to reach third but was gunned down by right fielder Brent Brownlee.

Cohen said Norris “deked” the runner by just standing there as if a throw wasn’t coming.

“And then whips a tag on a guy who’s totally not expecting that. Those are the little intricate parts of the game that go unnoticed to win ballgames. That was a big play in the ballgame. If that guy gets to third base it can change the whole inning.”