For the second straight weekend in a row, it looks like MSU has a starting rotation of: Game 1 - Luis Pollorena, Game 2 - Kendall Graveman, Game 3: TBA.
Jacob Lindgren is still battling elbow soreness/tenderness and is questionable for a start on Sunday. John Cohen could very well be using this as part of his many head games, but for the purpose of this article, I'm going to assume Lindgren will not start.
Pollo did a pretty good job against Arkansas last weekend but was pushed too long and eventually caved after 130 pitches. If we get 5 innings out of him on Friday I'm calling it a good deal - use our talented pen to go the rest of the way. Kendall Graveman gave just what the doctor ordered with his complete game in Fayetteville - that will be tough to duplicate but if he can go 7 we should be in good shape.
The question is - who can start on Sunday AND THROW STRIKES IN THE FIRST INNING?
Wildness in the first inning has been an epidemic of late...
- On March 5th Brandon Woodruff threw just 12 pitches, giving up a hit, walk, a hit batter and a run before getting the hook after just 1/3 of an inning.
- In his next start, on March 19 vs. Alcorn State, Woodruff only recorded two outs on 26 pitches, walking two, hitting one and giving up 3 earned runs, which lead to an early 4-0 deficit.
- In Game 2 vs. Kentucky Kendall Graveman gave up a 2-run HR in the 1st inning - this wasn't due to any wildness, but it did put State is a hole early.
- In Game 3 vs. UK Evan Mitchell fell apart walking three men, hitting one and giving up 3 runs without recording an out on just 17 pitches. The bullpen did a phenomenal job of keeping the Wildcats at bay while the offense caught up, but they won 4-3 in the 9th inning.
- Will Cox got the start vs. Austin Peay on March 26th but he gave up 2 runs on 3 hits and a walk. He ultimately was lifted after 1.1 innings as he struggled in the 2nd as well.
- In Game 1 vs. Arkansas, Pollorena gave up a run after issuing two walks to the first three hitters.
- Even in Gravemans masterful complete game, he gave up a run in the 1st inning on 2 hits.
- Game 3 vs. UPig featured Ben Bracewell not recording an out but giving up 3 runs on 2 walks and 2 hits.
Notice State was 15-0 before these 1st inning issues started happening. Since, they are 9-8. So - who can we start that we think has the best chance at getting through the 1st inning unscathed. Not only does it set the tone for the entire game, but it puts a lot less pressure on the offense to produce, and produce quickly.
Brandon Woodruff - After those dreadful starts listed above, he was able to put things back together against South Alabama on Tuesday night...6 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 1 BB, 4 K, 68 pitches. He would have 4 days rest between starts, which is enough if he went on Sunday. Is he ready? Or should we start him against Ole Miss in the Governor's Cup next week (which is vs. SEC competition that doesn't go against the standings).
Will Cox - In his first 3 starts Cox looked great, and he looked to be making a case for a spot in the weekend rotation. The nod went to Evan Mitchell instead, and since he has made 4 rocky relief appearances and that one poor start. Based on starting experiences this year alone, I'd say he has a better chance at a good first inning than Woodruff, but he also hasn't been effective in a month.
Evan Mitchell - I don't think there's much hope for him getting this start, he has been wild all year long (19 walks in 19 IP). It's too bad because he has such great potential (opposing hitters have a .125 average against him) - one day he will be solid, just hope it's in a MSU uniform.
Trevor Fitts - A lot of people, including myself thought Fitts would get a chance to start some games this year, but he hasn't. In 7.2 IP over 6 appearances he has a 1.17 ERA, but 3 walks. It would be somewhat surprising to see him get a start here, although it could happen based on what transpires in the first two games of the series.
Ben Bracewell - He has starting experience, and he did it last week, but considering he was awful and has otherwise been lights out from the pen, I don't think so.
Ross Mitchell - In 37.1 IP over 12 appearances Ross qualifies to be tied for the SEC lead in ERA at 0.96. He has been almost single-handedly keeping MSU in games over the past few weeks. He has pitched long innings a lot this year - going a career long 6.1 last Sunday, so we know he has the stamina. Is he too valuable in the bullpen? Would it be worth trying to switch him to a starter in fear of what happened to Bracewell last week?
This is a tough call. I'd say a definite no to Mitchell and Bracewell, but you could make a strong argument for the rest of them. I do like the idea of giving Woodruff the start vs. Ole Miss in Pearl next Tuesday so we can see what he's got vs. a SEC team before we trot him out there against Florida. Considering Will Cox's struggles of late (although most of them have been in the bullpen) I'm inclined to make him a backup option. So that leads me to Ross Mitchell, who is our best pitcher right now. He seems unshakable, and perhaps the best candidate to make the switch right now.
If I were Cohen I play each game in this series to win that very night, worry about tomorrow tomorrow. Aside from Graveman, everyone should be available on Friday - we've got to win 2 out of 3 at least. If we have to use Ross Mitchell in Game 1 or 2, so be it, we've still got options with Fitts and Cox to start Game 3.