I get it; really, I do. Many members of Bulldog Nation have grown frustrated with Mississippi State baseball and Coach John Cohen this year. Some have criticized his over-management of games. Some feel that he just cannot make good on field decisions. The latest example, according to his detractors, came Friday night when instead of going to Ben Bracewell out of the bullpen, Cohen saved the pitcher for a Sunday start and brought in Myles Gentry instead.
Well, it is time for unpopular opinions (and I am the guy for that around here), but put the torches and pitchforks down Bulldog fans. Cohen made a move Friday in an attempt to sweep a series that could have been swept by not sacrificing Sunday for Friday.
Going into the weekend, the Bulldogs had a weekend rotation in a bit of shambles. No one had solidified himself as the third starter in the rotation, and Jacob Lindgren, who had drawn the Friday night starts this year, turned out to be not available. This forced Cohen to move Luis Pollorena from Sunday to Friday, and even though it was not announced at the time, it seems Cohen had already made the decision to start Bracewell on Sunday.
This put the Bulldogs in an interesting spot Friday night after Pollorena had pitched six strong innings against the Razorbacks. The Bulldogs held a 3-1 lead going into the Arkansas part of the inning. Apparently, most Bulldog fans did not want Pollorena to stay in the game, even though he had held a strong Arkansas squad to just one run. This is a push right here. If Cohen felt Pollorena had another inning in him, bringing him out is a good decision. If Cohen had decided to bring in another pitcher to start the seventh, that decision could be justified as well.
What everyone seems to forget is that Pollorena got an out to start the inning. He then gave up a hit (not a sin) and a walk. Cohen did the right thing by going to get his starter at this point. Knowing what everyone now knows, Bracewell was not an option at this point, and I like that. Cohen was saving the pitcher that he thought gave the Bulldogs their best chance for three wins in the series. Cohen took a gamble, one that would have pulled the Bulldogs to one game over .500 in SEC play. He took a gamble that baseball coaches are paid to take. This one did not work, but even then, how much of that can be blamed on Cohen. It is safe to say less than what most want to give him right now.
Here is where I will concede a point. Going to Gentry may not have been the best decision by Cohen. He had given up three runs in two innings of SEC work. Chad Girodo might have been the better choice here, but my hunch is Cohen wanted to go with Girodo in the eighth and Jonathan Holder in the ninth. Girodo might could have gone 1.2 innings to get the Bulldogs to the ninth, but he had only gone that many innings twice this season. Still, it might have been a better move to let Girodo finish the seventh and let Gentry come in to work the eighth inning clean. Still, Gentry has been solid this season, and Cohen cannot be blamed for having faith in him.
Either way, the Bulldogs had ample opportunity to regain the lead and make it a moot point, but the Bulldogs twice put runners on first and second to open the eighth and ninth innings and failed to take the lead. That is hard to blame on Cohen.
As to Sunday, Bracewell let the Bulldogs down. There is no way to sugarcoat that. Yes, the switch from reliever to starter is challenging, but that was just a dreadful performance. There is no guarantee that he would have avoided that Friday. In fact, if he had turned in such a performance in the lid-lifter, everyone would be slamming Cohen for wasting his Sunday starter in that situation.
When it comes to it, Cohen put the Bulldogs in a great situation to sweep the three game series. His move to take Gentry over Girodo is open to question, but not his decision to save Bracewell for Sunday. Cohen saw an opportunity to make up ground in the SEC, and he took a gamble. Unfortunately for him and his squad, he came up snake eyes.