By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Ross Mitchell is not a starting pitcher, but you might not know it looking at his numbers.
The soft-tossing lefty has been the workhorse out of the bullpen for No. 22 Mississippi State (33-13, 10-11 SEC), which opens a three-game home series against Alabama today at 6 p.m. Saturday’s game is at 2 p.m., and Sunday’s at 1:30 p.m.
Mitchell, a sophomore from Smyrna, Tenn., is 8-0 with a 0.93 ERA this season.
He’s second on the team in innings pitched, with 58 in 19 appearances.
His ERA leads the league, and he’s one of only two full-time relievers ranked in the top 10 in that category. Four times this season Mitchell has tossed six or more innings in a game, something he never did as a freshman.
His routine between appearances is not what you typically see of a reliever.
“I haven’t really thrown any bullpens at all,” Mitchell said. “I would’ve last year, but I don’t even know that I’ve thrown a bullpen this year, because usually in between I’m just trying to get my arm back and ready to go.”
So far, fatigue has not been a factor for Mitchell, which is good for MSU. The starting pitching has been inconsistent, with injuries and ineffectiveness besetting it at different times.
And so Mitchell is often the first man in from the pen, and he’s had a calming effect. He’s allowed only 10 runs all year, six of them earned, on 45 hits.
Mitchell believes his stamina is due at least in part to his pitching style. Mitchell does not bring the heat – his fastball runs in the low- to mid-80s.
“I feel like if I threw any harder, I probably wouldn’t be able to bounce back the way I do,” he said. “I think the slowness of my pitches helps me bounce back. I guess I’m getting rewarded a little bit for not having velocity.”
Mitchell’s repertoire includes a slider and the occasional changeup, and he has a knack for inducing ground balls.
“I really believe he’s pitched a lot better even than his numbers indicate in the league,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “He is so important to our club. Getting ground balls is a skill like anything else, and it’s an important skill to have.”
As valuable as Mitchell has been, Cohen would like to get more out of his starters. The Bulldogs are in fifth place in the SEC Western Division, a game-and-a-half behind third-place Alabama (27-18, 11-9).
Cohen said the team doesn’t talk about what’s at stake, but they all know that a strong finish could lead to hosting an NCAA regional for the first time in 10 years.
“We definitely want to host,” Mitchell said.