Chris Stratton is a different pitcher now, and it doesn’t matter whether he’s starting or relieving. He’s learned how to bring his A game every game, and so far he’s looking like one of the best pitchers in the SEC (CLICK HERE).
The junior from Tupelo racked up all kinds of awards for his performance at LSU last week. He struck out 17 and allowed one run on four hits in 8 2/3 innings.
“We were just mixing the fastball in and out and the slider was really working,” Stratton said. “They weren’t seeing the spin very well. It was a good chase pitch with two strikes to get them to swing.”
He’s always had the repertoire to dominate hitters, and now he’s got the right mentality – as he calls it, a “bulldog mentality,” appropriately enough. Stratton is 4-0 with a 2.12 ERA – best on the team – and his 44 strikeouts lead the SEC. He’ll take the hill again tonight when the Bulldogs (15-7, 1-2 SEC) host No. 3 Arkansas (20-2, 3-0) at 6:30.
The Razorbacks will counter with junior right-hander D.J. Baxendale (5-0, 2.30), who’s pretty good, too. With so much youth filling the lineup for MSU, Stratton and his fellow hurlers will have to be on point this weekend. State is averaging just 2.9 runs over its last seven games, exceeding three runs only once – in Sunday’s 7-1 win over LSU.
Arkansas leads the SEC with a 2.25 ERA.
“Baxendale’s the real deal. Of course, we think of Stratton in that same category,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “Getting wins at home is really important; it sure is. Our kids really sense how big a weekend this is.
“Again, we’re putting guys on the field who don’t really any frame of knowledge or complete understanding of the importance of anything, just because they’ve never experienced it before. Whenever you’re doing something for the first time, it doesn’t matter if you’re riding a bike for the first time or driving a car for the first time or playing at Alex Box Stadium for the first time – it’s new, and you exert more energy, and it’s harder for you to focus.”
Going back to Stratton, his outing last week was his longest in nearly two years. He doesn’t anticipate any recovery issues, and tonight’s pitching battle could approach epic proportions. By the way, there is more to Stratton’s recent success than just his new attitude.
The guy behind the plate, junior Mitch Slauter, came in from the juco ranks and quickly showed he could handle a pitching staff. Stratton said it’s just like having Wes Thigpen, last year’s backstop, calling games.
“It might’ve taken a game or two before they gave him the reins in calling pitches, and he’s one of the main reasons I got through LSU like I did,” Stratton said, “because there were a couple of times I shook him off and gave up a hit, and he said, ‘You should just go with what I’ve got.’ I said, ‘All right, let’s do that.’ It seemed to work out the best when I listened to him.”