By MATTHEW STEVENS
After two weeks of play, Mississippi State head coach John Cohen's only questions about the pitching in 2011 are only among the ones that haven't seen the mound.
Part of the Bulldogs preseason hype surrounding the 2011 season was when junior left-hander Nick Routt and freshman southpaw C.T. Bradford can throw and through eight games that question still exists for completely different reasons.
Routt has continued his rehabilitation from suffering a severe injury to the ulnar collateral ligament of his pitching elbow last spring and Cohen said he would send him out Monday for another full 60-pitch bullpen session leaving him probably unavailable for today's 5 p.m. game against Alcorn State.
With Cohen still very much undecided on the third starter in the Bulldogs weekend rotation, Routt still remains a candidate despite not throwing a pitch in a game since March 21, 2010.
Routt led the Bulldog pitching staff in wins, ERA, and starts as well as innings pitched (86.2) and strikeouts (87) before going down with his first injury in Gainesville to open up Southeastern Conference play on the mound and being slow to see game action since then.
"I threw his name out there as a possibility last weekend for (today) because I wasn't sure what (MSU pitching coach) Butch Thompson thought was best," Cohen said. "At that point, eventually Nick has to pitch and pitch at the level."
Routt has been throwing live batting practice during the week in preparation of seeing live batters soon and has been on Thompson's guidance throughout the entire process.
"He's thrown to some of our redshirt guys for sure," Cohen said. "We've done that just to get him the feel of somebody in the box absolutely."
What helps the case for Routt working his way into the Sunday starting role is the need for Mississippi State (7-1) to have a solid lefty option against strong left-handed batting lineups in the Southeastern Conference and the fact that southpaw options Chad Girodo and Tim Statz haven't been completely dominant in their early appearances this season.
"We’re inclined to go left-handed (on the starter) but we just haven't seen anything but right-handed lineups this season for whatever reason,” Cohen said. "That's not to say Chad and Statz aren't in the mix because we think they both can be really good when they're on."
If none of the left-handed options pan out at all, Cohen could always turn to freshman Evan Mitchell, who already has two wins and a quality start in the second appearance of his college career Sunday, or today's starter Kendall Graveman as the sophomore looks to get his second mid-week victory against Alcorn State.
"I don't think you've seen everybody on the mound yet or if you have at their best because it's so early on," senior third baseman Jarrod Parks said.
Bradford's role is so different because while listed a dual threat player, he has found himself as a true freshman in the MSU lineup every game this season and therefore not been given the opportunity to pitch.
The former Mr. Baseball in the state of Florida last year is currently hitting .333 with seven RBIs this season and his outfield duties have put a hold on his pitching work in order to save his arm through the 56-game season.
"We'll do what we call - touch pens with him to keep him throwing from the mound but at a shorter distance," Cohen said. "We're having to tell him to not take outfield sometimes because he's thrown in the pen and he wants to so badly anyway."
When Bradford gets on the mound, Cohen is convinced he'll be a matchup guy for left-handed bats later in the year but in the meantime he'll continue to hit everyday in the Bulldogs batting order.
"He's such a talented kid that you don't want to stick him in a box and say just do this but we also don't want him to break down late in the year as well or get hurt," Cohen said. "With true freshmen, it's our job to be extremely careful with their workload when we have the opportunity to do so."