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SMITH COLUMN: MSU rotation seems to be taking shape

March 12, 2011

MSU sophomore pitcher Chris Stratton delivers to the plate on Saturday. (Kim Murrell/SDN)

With one week away from the start of the Southeastern Conference season in college baseball, it appears that Mississippi State's weekend pitching rotation is taking shape.
If head coach John Cohen and pitching coach Butch Thompson keep following the same plan they've had in previous weekends, it looks like the Bulldogs will send out Devin Jones, Chris Stratton and Evan Mitchell as starting pitchers.
Stratton (3-0) and Mitchell (3-0) have yet to lose on the mound this season, while Jones (2-2) has been a tough-luck loser, but has been effective as his 1.37 earned run average suggests.
MSU is going to have a chance to take two out of three games in any series during SEC play with Jones and Stratton as starters.
Those two pitchers are capable of working deep into the game and take pressure off the rest of the staff.
"That's kind of mine and Stratton's job to eat up innings as good as we can and pitch efficiently," Jones said. "I'm just trying to make it to the seventh inning and give our team a chance."
Jones, a Eupora native, had a career-high seven strikeouts in seven innings pitched as the Bulldogs defeated the Sacred Heart Pioneers 5-0 on Friday night.
Even though Stratton gave up a first-inning home run to Sacred Heart's John Murphy and struggled to throw strikes consistently on Saturday, he has shown in the past that he can get the job done.
Despite his troubles, Stratton did retire 10 Pioneers in a row at one point. He also worked around a one-out triple in the seventh inning to keep the score at 5-5.
Mitchell, today's starter for MSU, may be just a freshman, but has shown an ability to pitch well.
In three appearances and two of those starts, Mitchell has a 2.45 earned run average with 13 strikeouts and only three walks.
If the Bulldogs can get to the late innings, Caleb Reed can shut down things pretty well.
On Friday, Reed struck out four of the six batters he faced in relief of Jones. He threw to one batter and got him out on Saturday.
"If you told me two years that Caleb Reed was going to have the kind of stuff right now, I'm not 100 percent sure I would have believed that," Cohen said. "He's turned into a dominant one or two inning guy because of his slider and movement of his fastball."
It's going to be interesting to see how the staff uses Reed during SEC series. It's probably not possible for Reed to pitch every day so Cohen and Thompson are going to have to pick and choose their spots.
As Stratton showed Saturday night, there are going to be moments when the starting pitching isn't going to be as sharp as it needs to be.
MSU needs to hope those times are few and far between if it's to compete in the SEC this season.
Sacred Heart has a scrappy team, but it doesn't compare to the Vanderbilt, Auburn and Georgia squads that the Bulldogs will see the next three weekends.

Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.

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