By MATTHEW STEVENS
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The first question both head coaches were asked Saturday the minute they got to the podium of the postgame media conference was about today’s starting pitcher.
Neither Mississippi State’s John Cohen nor Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan had an answer.
“I’ll sit in hopefully a very air conditioned room with (Mississippi State pitching coach) Butch Thompson here very shortly and we’ll go through it,” 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.
“We got to check on the health of a few players,” O’Sullivan said. “After that we’ll make a decision.”
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,” 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 Reed’s 5 1/3 innings of relief Saturday and later told the Starkville Daily News that the left-hander they would’ve brought in was sophomore lefty Chad Girodo (3-0, 5.76) in that situation and not Pollorena.
“That’s just because when his slider is good, it's good but when it’s not – it gets hit out of the ballpark,” Cohen said. “It’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.”
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.
“I'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 school’s all-time single-season saves record, is a viable option.
“What happens is this - Butch will call on the phone and shaky in the pen, he'll run down to see it,” Cohen said. “Yeah - 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.
“As the game went on, Whitson was just dominant,” Cohen said. “You can ask these guys but I don’t know if it was cutter, slider or whatever but it was missing our barrels. We just couldn’t get a lot of rhythm off him.”
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.
“I thought he was outstanding,” O’Sullivan said. “He did exactly what I hoped he would do and probably more so.”
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.
“His slider was the best I’ve seen it all year long and fastball had its normal velocity,” O’Sullivan said.