By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Jonathan Holder wasn’t trying to supplant All-American Caleb Reed as Mississippi State’s closer. It just kind of happened.
Holder is a freshman from Gulfport who since May began has become the man MSU calls on to shut the door. He’s batting 1.000 in pitching terms, having allowed no runs in 211⁄3 innings of work this season.
He’s expected to be a big key during this weekend’s series against No. 4 Kentucky, which begins at 6:30 p.m. today.
Over the past two weekends, Holder has earned three saves while putting in a heavier workload than he has all season, and Reed, a senior, has been moved to spot relief duty.
That could easily make for an awkward situation in the bullpen, but Holder said it hasn’t been.
“He really comes to me and talks to me, tells me stuff that I need to do and gives me advice about being a closer,” Holder said. “I think that’s what makes him one of the best leaders on our team, is because he really does whatever he can to help the team win.”
Reed still leads the team in saves with eight, but he and Holder each have three in SEC play. Over the last two weekends, Holder has tossed 41⁄3 innings, while Reed has worked 21⁄3.
This changing of roles wasn’t planned, but Reed’s inability to consistently get left-handers out forced coaches to try something different. In SEC play, he’s 1-3 with a 4.05 ERA.
The other part of the equation is Holder’s ability to pitch beyond his years. He’s got a low-90s fastball and a breaking pitch that he can throw to the right spots.
“Anybody in college baseball that can command a breaking ball is going to win,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “You’re going to get swings and misses, you’re going to get key strikeouts, you’re going to get weak contact, and that’s what he’s been able to do.”
Holder is four innings shy of tying Bobby Reed’s school record for consecutive scoreless innings. He tries not to think about that sort of thing and said he doesn’t feel any pressure because of a deep bullpen.
“We have such a great bullpen that it’s not really required for one person to have to do more than what his role is,” Holder said. “We’ve got so many people that could come in at any time and just shut people down.”
MSU’s bullpen will need to be sharp against Kentucky, which has strong relievers, too, to back a solid starting rotation. The Wildcats have a 3.46 team ERA, with opponents batting .262.
They can be scored on, but MSU has been dismal at the plate this season. Over its last four SEC series, State is batting .183, but it also has an ERA of 1.52 during that span.
“If you give me the choice of being the best pitching team in the league or the best hitting team in our league, I’m going to choose the pitching every single time,” Cohen said. “If you can pitch, you can win every game, you’re in every game.”