By MATTHEW STEVENS
The Mississippi State baseball program is currently abiding by the theory that you can’t finish something unless you get a good start.
Under that line of thinking, MSU head coach John Cohen hinted at a likely second switch to the starting pitcher rotation and a new weekend starter could be quality left-handed reliever Luis Pollorena.
The Bulldogs starting pitching has been the major reason for a 5-9 record in the month of April as the beginning efforts on the mound have produced a 1-7 mark. The last quality start being a 7 1/3 inning effort by sophomore right-hander Chris Stratton on March 26 against Auburn.
“There’s no secret that Pollorena’s been one of our best guys,” Cohen said. “And that’s been our biggest weakness, is getting a strong five or six innings, seven-inning performance. I think there’s a really good chance he will pitch, because we’re trying to very much address that issue with our club right now.”
The southpaw from Laredo, Texas, was a starter last year for Marion (Ala.) Military Institute, posting an 11-2 record and a 1.77 ERA while striking out 92 in 91.2 innings leading him to be named the 2010 Alabama Community College Player of the Year.
“The thing that Pollorena brings to the table is, it’s more than even a matchup thing, it’s a vibe, it’s energy, it’s leadership, it’s control of the running game, it’s being able to really defend,” Cohen said.
Pollorena’s career-long outing of 5 2/3 innings out of the bullpen in a 5-4 victory against Southern Mississippi at Trustmark Park in Pearl on April 5 showcased his ability for pitching endurance and the skills to be more than a late-inning matchup guy before State hands the ball to junior closer Caleb Reed.
"When I gave the ball to Coach (Butch) Thompson all he said to me was get out of here so they can cheer for you," Pollorena said after the game. "That was such a cool moment for me and my teammates."
Cohen didn’t want to speculate Monday morning as to how the weekend rotation would break down when they travel to play Tennessee (22-20, 5-16) but said Pollorena was definite possibility to be given the ball either Friday night or Saturday afternoon.
By moving Pollorena out of the rotation, Mississippi State is left with two southpaw options (sophomore Chad Girodo and junior Tim Statz) out of the bullpen to face left-handed batters in the Southeastern Conference.
“I think that's why we I’ve said we match up well our final opponents including Tennessee because whether it’s Caleb Reed or Taylor Stark at the back end of a ballgame, our issue is at the beginning of a game,” Cohen said. “That’s why I’m willing to make that trade – Pollorena at the middle of a game vs. Pollorena at the end.”
One of the options it likely won’t be is freshman C.T. Bradford due to a lingering hamstring injury that still allows the former Mr. Baseball out of the state of Florida to play center field every day but hampers his ability to push off the rubber on the mound.
“It’s a high hamstring pull that’s not severe but when we send him down to the bullpen he tells me ‘Coach, I just can’t extend and push off like I need to’ and that’s why he can’t pitch,” Cohen said.
The Bulldogs rotation has been missing a definite starter on Sunday since moving junior Devin Jones out of the Friday night role and moving Stratton along with junior Nick Routt up one day.
Cohen told the Starkville Daily News via text message Monday that Stratton (4-5, 4.98) will remain in the rotation despite having a 10.19 earned run average over his last four starts against Florida, Arkansas, South Carolina and Alabama.
The Bulldogs third-year head coach suggested it may be a better idea at this point in his career for the Tupelo native to sit next to Thompson and map out a gameplan while watching the opposing lineup one day before going out to the mound.
"We don’t have that luxury – one guy isn’t going to get that luxury – this is something that Butch and I talked about after Sunday,” Cohen said last week.
One long relief solution that Thompson may have found during Sunday’s 8-5 victory in the series finale against Alabama was the reemergence of freshman Evan Mitchell following his solid 3 2/3 innings of work to earn his fourth win of the 2011 season.
“Evan is one of those kids, he’s a great worker and a great arm but it’s just hard to read his body language,” Cohen said Sunday. “He’s throwing the ball 93 miles per hour and from the dugout, it looks like he’s throwing it 83. When he starts throwing strikes, he’s going to be really good.”
Busby to start tonight against South Alabama
Sophomore right-hander Andrew Busby will get the baseball first when Mississippi State travels to Mobile to face South Alabama tonight with the contest beginning at 6 p.m.
Busby, a Gardendale Ala., native, had a disastrous outing in his only start of the 2011 season as the power right-hander failed to find the strike zone and gave up three runs in the first inning of a 5-4 come-from-behind victory against Southern Mississippi at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
In seven of his 11 appearances this season, Busby (1-0, 8.49) hasn’t allowed a run to cross but may not get more than an inning of service in due to the game falling on a Tuesday and Thompson wanting to get some pitchers to throw in tonight’s game rather than a normal practice bullpen session reserved on the calendar for Tuesday’s.
“We’d like to run everyone out there for an inning,” Cohen said. “It’s one of the reasons I like the Tuesday game because the opponent’s pitching situation in terms of who’s left after a weekend is usually the same.”