Cohen, Bulldogs have pitching options for decisive third game
Mississippi State coach John Cohen talks to reporters following his team's 4-3 win over Florida Saturday. The Bulldogs face the Gators again today at noon with the winner advancing to the College World Series. (Photo by Phil Sandlin, AP)
By MATTHEW STEVENS
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. â€“ The first question both head coaches were asked Saturday the minute they got to the podium of the postgame media conference was about todayâ€™s starting pitcher.
Neither Mississippi Stateâ€™s John Cohen nor Floridaâ€™s Kevin Oâ€™Sullivan had an answer.
â€śIâ€™ll sit in hopefully a very air conditioned room with (Mississippi State pitching coach) Butch Thompson here very shortly and weâ€™ll go through it,â€ť said Cohen.
Florida (49-17) could likely not have the services of sophomore left-hander Brian Johnson as the southpaw weekend rotation starter is still suffering through concussion symptoms from being hit in the head with a baseball when Gators catcher Mike Zunino hit him trying to nab a runner at second base.
â€śWe got to check on the health of a few players,â€ť Oâ€™Sullivan said. â€śAfter that weâ€™ll make a decision.â€ť
The starting options for Florida become limited with junior mid-week starters Alex Panteliodis (6-2, 3.76) or Anthony DeSclafani (5-3, 4.36) being the likely candidates for the elimination game today.
Late Saturday evening, Mississippi State (38-24) made the announcement that sophomore left-hander Luis Pollorena (7-5, 3.97) will get the baseball in the deciding Game 3 for the Bulldogs.
"One thing he does, that you have to have against a power lineup, is throw the fastball in and out,â€ť Cohen said.
The last time Pollorena saw the Gators he gave up the game-winning grand slam to Johnson in the opening game at the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Hoover, Ala., when Florida overtook Mississippi State 7-5.
Cohen said after the game that his staff contemplated going the matchup route during Caleb Reedâ€™s 5 1/3 innings of relief Saturday and later told the Starkville Daily News that the left-hander they wouldâ€™ve brought in was sophomore lefty Chad Girodo (3-0, 5.76) in that situation and not Pollorena.
â€śThatâ€™s just because when his slider is good, it's good but when itâ€™s not â€“ it gets hit out of the ballpark,â€ť Cohen said. â€śItâ€™s a slider he's been throwing for only three months now and we have all the confidence in the world that he can be an option for us.â€ť
Other bullpen options Cohen feels are available for duty tomorrow are right-handers Chris Stratton, Devin Jones and Taylor Stark along with a freshman southpaw that has seen the mound just twice since April 10.
â€śI'd be shocked if C.T. Bradford wasn't involved (on the mound) at some point Sunday," Cohen said.
The only major question mark is the limited availability of Reed as the Bulldogs closer after his 82-pitch outing Saturday but the junior has already told MSU coaches he wants the ball in the ninth inning for a possible save.
Cohen said he and Thompson will know early if Reed, who is one save away from tying the schoolâ€™s all-time single-season saves record, is a viable option.
â€śWhat happens is this - Butch will call on the phone and shaky in the pen, he'll run down to see it,â€ť Cohen said. â€śYeah - if it feels good, it looks good and Caleb is saying all the right things then yeah we'll (give him the 9th inning). There's no tomorrow and Caleb knows that."
Whitson dominates MSU in six innings
For the second straight day, Florida got the impressive starting pitching they needed to put Mississippi State away if not for a late-inning bullpen collapse.
Gators freshman right-hander Karsten Whitson (8-0) shut down the MSU lineup for just a pair of earned runs over four hits in 89 pitches.
The right-hander mixed a 96 mile-per-hour fastball with a nasty slider to hold MSU scoreless through six innings, only giving up an infield bunt hit on a head-first sliding Jonathan Ogden.
â€śAs the game went on, Whitson was just dominant,â€ť Cohen said. â€śYou can ask these guys but I donâ€™t know if it was cutter, slider or whatever but it was missing our barrels. We just couldnâ€™t get a lot of rhythm off him.â€ť
The reality is Whitson should be in the San Diego Padres minor leagues system after they took the right-handed pitcher ninth overall in the 2010 June amateur draft. Whitson was excited and told reporters soon thereafter that he was ready to start his professional career. However, Whiston's representation turned down a $2.1 million offer and decided to honor his commitment to the University of Florida.
â€śI thought he was outstanding,â€ť Oâ€™Sullivan said. â€śHe did exactly what I hoped he would do and probably more so.â€ť
He already had one of the best sliders coming out of high school in the 2010 draft and what the Gators coaching staff is trying to do is help give him a third pitch - changeup - to fool hitters from both sides of the plate.
â€śHis slider was the best Iâ€™ve seen it all year long and fastball had its normal velocity,â€ť Oâ€™Sullivan said.