Miss. State Baseball: MSU’s Stratton tries to simplify process

Chris Stratton aims for perfection, and maybe that’s been his problem this season.
The sophomore right-hander from Tupelo established himself as Mississippi State’s staff ace last season, but he’s not pitched like an ace lately. Entering this weekend’s series at Tennessee, Stratton is 4-5 with a 4.90 ERA, and over his last four games he’s posted a 10.19 ERA. He hasn’t earned a victory in six weeks.
Stratton’s only walked 24 batters this year – on pace to finish below last year’s total of 42 – but 13 of those walks have come over those last four games, a span of 172⁄3 innings.
The problem is simple, in a way: He’s not throwing enough strikes, because he’s trying too hard. That’s his own diagnosis, one which Cohen agrees with.
“Personally, I just want to be perfect in everything I do, and sometimes that comes back and hurts me,” Stratton said. “I’m just really trying to have a new mindset going into this weekend, not trying to do too much, just try do the average things like coach Cohen said, get it done.”

Change of scenery
Stratton will try to do that with a change of scenery, because for the second time this season, Cohen has shuffled his rotation. Sophomore Luis Pollorena will make his first career start tonight, and that pushes Stratton from the Friday slot to the Sunday slot, while junior Nick Routt remains the Saturday starter.
Saturday was Stratton’s day up until three weeks ago.
Cohen thinks Stratton puts a lot of pressure on himself, which leads to the over-pursuit of perfection. The third-year coach said there isn’t anything he can really tell Stratton to help him regain his groove.
“I tell people this all the time: To do something the same way 100 times in a row, and to do it with movement and deception and have more than one pitch to throw into the strike zone, it’s very difficult to do,” Cohen said. “For folks who don’t believe that, try writing your name the same way 100 times in a row. It’s very difficult.”
This slump is something Stratton is going to have to work through. He said he’s worked with pitching coach Butch Thompson this past week on the mental aspect of his game – Thompson wants Stratton to think less and let his experience take over.
Stratton is eager to get out there, and he might even get a bit of spot relief work if needed. He said he’s fine with that.
But MSU would really like to have this series wrapped up by Sunday without having to use Stratton. That will depend largely on how well Pollorena (5-3, 1.65) throws tonight against a Tennessee team that’s last in the league in hits and runs scored.
The Volunteers (22-20, 5-16 SEC) are better than they appear at first glance, according to Cohen. MSU (26-18, 8-13) certainly can’t assume it’s the better team. Tennessee is tied for second in the league in fielding percentage (.975) and has a solid Friday starter in Steven Gruver (4-5, 3.07).
No matter the quality of the opponent, Cohen needs more from his starting pitching and is banking on getting it, starting with Pollorena.

Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571
or brad.locke@journalinc.com.

Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal