Arkansas - MSU Baseball Series Preview

Arkansas - MSU Baseball Series Preview

Mississippi State and 13th ranked Arkansas tangle in a three-game Southeastern Conference series this weekend at Arkansas.

Weather - Friday - Temperatures should be in the high 40s during the game with a 30% chance for rain. Winds are expected to be from the west at 18 to 19 mph. | Saturday - Temperatures are expected to be in the low 50s to high 40s during the game with winds from the west-northwest at 15 to 16 mph. Due to the wind, it will feel about 8 to 10 degrees colder than it really is. | Sunday - Temperatures should be in the high 60s to low 70s during the game with 12 mph winds from the south-southeast.

Gametimes (CDT) - Friday 7:00 p.m. | Saturday 6:35 p.m. | Sunday 1:05 p.m.

Coaches - Dave Van Horn is coaching his 9th season at Arkansas. In his first eight seasons he has won one SEC championship. His teams have an overall record of 319-179 and are 128-110 in SEC regular season action. All eight of his teams have advanced to NCAA post-season action with four advancing to Super Regional play. Two of those four teams won the Super Regionals and appeared in the College World Series. His teams are 22-18 in NCAA post-season play.

John Cohen, who is in his second season at Mississippi State, came to State from Kentucky where he won the overall SEC Championship in 2006. At Kentucky, John Cohen's teams were 175-112 overall and 63-85 in SEC play. Last year's MSU team was 25-29. In five seasons at Kentucky and one at Mississippi State, he has taken two of his teams to NCAA post-season play, although neither team advanced to Super Regional play. His teams have an overall NCAA post-season record of 4-4.

Arkansas Home/Mississippi State Road Records - Arkansas is 16-3 at home while Mississippi State is 3-6 on the road.

Expected Pitching Rotations (SEC games stats only) - Look for Arkansas to start freshman RHP Brandon Moore (2-1, 3.40 ERA) Friday and sophomore LHP Randall Fant (1-2, 3.46 ERA) Saturday. Although Arkansas hasn't announced a Sunday starter, it very likely will be sophomore RHP D.J. Baxendale (5-1, 1.62 ERA).

Normal Friday starter Baxendale has a blister on his finger that has caused him to be moved to the Sunday start. Due to that, Arkansas has adjusted their weekend rotation and put Moore in the Friday night spot. This will be Moore's third SEC start after starting several non-conference games early in the season. During his first outing, against Auburn, he pitched well for three innings, then gave up six runs in the 4th inning and was taken out. He threw strikes in the game (44 of his 58 pitches were strikes) but Auburn simply hit the strikes that he threw. He didn't start in SEC action the next two weekends, then was put back in the rotation last weekend against LSU and performed extremely well, giving up no runs on 2 hits and 4 walks while striking out 1 in his 5 innings of work. He appears to be a 14 to 15 pitch per inning pitcher. And he's more prone to generate more ground ball outs than fly ball outs.

Fant moved into the SEC starting rotation the second week of SEC play and has performed ok. His best game was against Vanderbilt when he gave up 2 runs on 5 hits and 1 walk while striking out 3 in 6 innings. He's been less effective his last two outings, giving up 6 runs (5 earned) on 6 hits and 4 walks in 8.2 innings. His worst outing was also his only away SEC start, when he gave up 3 runs (2 earned) in 3.1 innings against Alabama. An advantage he might have is MSU hasn't hit lefties very well in SEC games only, hitting just .205, which is tied for the lowest in the SEC.

Baxendale, who is considered the 47th best sophomore prospect in the nation by Baseball America, is Arkansas' ace but has a blister on his finger and has been moved to Sunday to give it a couple of more days to heal. Although his numbers are outstanding, he has had mixed results in his three SEC starts. In his first two outings, both on the road, he gave up 10 runs (7 earned) on 13 hits and 4 walks while striking out 9 in 11.1 innings. That's a 5.56 road earned run average in SEC games. But in his one home start he gave up a total of 0 runs on 8 hits and 1 walk to go along with his 7 Ks in 5 innings.

One thing I noticed about the Arkansas pitching is they pitch much, much better at home than they do on the road in SEC games. In their six home SEC games they gave up 14 runs while in their six road SEC games they gave up 35 runs, a difference of 21 runs or 3.5 runs per game.

Mississippi State is expected to start sophomore RHP Chris Stratton (4-3, 4.22 ERA) on Friday, junior LHP Nick Routt (0-1, 2.35 ERA) on Saturday and either junior RHP Devin Jones (2-4, 4.43 ERA) or freshman RHP Evan Mitchell (3-1, 4.12 ERA) on Sunday.

Stratton was State's most consistent SEC starting pitcher in his first three SEC series of the season, but ran into trouble his last outing. Stratton had given MSU a solid 6+ to 7 innings of work in each of his first three SEC outings. And in those outings he normally was at his best during his first five inning, then tired a little bit and started giving up runs in the 6th and 7th. Six of the twelve runs he gave up in those thee SEC games were in the 6th and 7th with an unusual three-run inning in the 5th against Auburn thrown in. But in his last appearance, against Florida last Saturday, he was roughed up for 7 runs in 1.2 innings of work. He struggled with his control in that game, walking three. But the State coaches continue to have confidence in him and have moved him to the Friday night starting spot in the SEC rotation.

Routt, who battled injuries most of last season, has been brought along slowly this season. After throwing 47 pitches in his first outing, a non-conference game, he was inserted into the Sunday starting spot and has now thrown 60, 55 and 89 pitches against Auburn, Georgia and Florida. Although he has given up 4 runs in 15.1 innings, he's actually been much more dominating than that until he starts to tire. In the first three innings of his four starts he has not given up a run. While he seemed to tire when he reached the 45 to 50 pitch count in his first three starts, his stamina appeared to be much better in his last start. He was very effective through 85 pitches, giving up 1 run on 6 hits and 0 walks, then threw 4 straight balls to the one batter he faced in the 6th inning. I look for the MSU coaching staff to throw him around 100 pitches against Arkansas, which, hopefully, will be about 6 or 7 innings of work.

Jones has struggled in his four SEC outings, giving up 18 runs (16 earned) in 14.1 innings of work. He has gone no longer than 3.1 innings in any outing other than his appearance against Georgia when he threw 5 innings, allowing 2 runs. The runs he has given up have been due more to teams being able to hit him than him walking batters. He has only walked three in his 14.1 SEC innings, while giving up 22 hits. As of now, MSU's coaching staff will have him available for relief duty, although if he's not used either Friday or Saturday he could be used as the Sunday starter.

Mitchell is MSU's other option for the Sunday start. He's a guy who can throw in the low 90s with his fastball. And it appeared early on that he was going to be MSU's SEC Sunday starter, but he became less effective in that role in non-conference games. Due to that, Nick Routt was inserted into that spot. Mitchell has since been moved to the pen in SEC games and has done well in that role except for his last outing against Florida. In his two relief appearances in SEC action prior to the Florida outing, he threw 2.2 innings, giving up no runs. Last weekend, against Florida, he gave up 3 runs (2 earned) in 3 innings. Like Jones, he's a guy who will be available for relief Friday and Saturday. If not used, then he could wind up being the Sunday starter.

Relief Pitching (SEC game stats only) - For Arkansas it looks like they use between three and four relievers in SEC action unless the game is out of hand. Look for them to use freshman RHP Nolan Sanburn (2-1, 6 S, 1.83 ERA), freshman RHP Barrett Astin (3-1, 0 S, 2.67 ERA), redshirt sophomore LHP Trent Daniel (1-0, 1 S, 1.89 ERA) and possibly sophomore LHP Cade Lynch (3-1, 1 S, 2.78 ERA). It's also possible, due to Baxendall having the blister problem, that Arkansas might have freshman RHP Ryne Stanek (2-0, 1 S, 4.24 ERA) ready in long relief on Sunday.

Sanburn has been Arkansas' closer and been very, very effective in that role. He has appeared in 6 of the 12 SEC games and been brought in to close all six. Although he has given up 4 runs (3 earned) in 10.1 innings of SEC action, three of the four were scored off of him in one game. The other run was an unearned run. He's not your typical closer, partly due to the Arkansas starters normally throwing no more than 5 innings in a start. Due to that, don't be surprised to see him brought in in the 7th and finish the game.

Astin, who has thrown in four SEC games, has been used more in middle relief, although he did close one game. Up until his last outing, he had been very, very good, throwing 4.1 innings, while giving up no runs on 3 hits and 1 walk to go along with his 5 Ks. In his last outing he was solid but not outstanding, giving up 1 run on 2 hits and 2 walks in 2.1 innings.

Like Astin, Daniel has thrown in four SEC games. While Astin is more prone to throw an inning or two, Daniel is a true long relief guy, throwing over 3 innings in each of his last 2 SEC outings. So far, he's been very effective, giving up 2 runs (1 earned) in 10.2 innings of SEC work.

Lynch was an SEC starter in the first couple of series but it looks like he may be the second closer behind Sanburn. He was used last weekend against LSU in that role after Sanburn closed the first two games. Lynch was very good in that outing, giving up no runs on 1 hit and 1 walk while striking out 3 in his 1.1 innings of work.

Stanek threw 89 pitches against Missouri State his past Tuesday but according to Coach Dave Van Horn, he could be a possible Sunday starter if Baxendale can't go. Due to that, I could see him being a long reliever for Baxendale if he isn't effective early on and the other relievers have thrown in one or two games during the Friday and Saturday contests. He's only appeared in one SEC game so far this season, throwing 1.2 innings while giving up 2 runs (1 earned) on 2 hits and 3 walks. Don't let the numbers fool you, though. He was one of the top senior pitchers in the high school ranks last season, throwing consistently in he 90s with a good changeup and curveball. A third-round draft pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, Baseball America considers him the 4th best prospect among all college freshmen.

Mississippi State has used several pitchers in relief in SEC games, but the main ones to look for are junior RHP Caleb Reed (0-0, 5 S, 1.07 ERA), junior LHP Luis Pollorena (3-2, 0 S, 1.52 ERA), sophomore LHP Chad Girodo (2-0, 0 S, 6.91 ERA), freshman RHP Taylor Stark (2-0, 1 S, 0.00 ERA) and freshman RHP Daryl Norris (1-0, 1 S, 1.29 ERA). As noted above, either junior RHP Devin Jones (2-4, 4.43 ERA) or freshman RHP Evan Mitchell (3-1, 4.12 ERA) could also be used in relief. There are several others who could be used in lefthanded or righthanded matchup situations such as sophomore RHP Andrew Busby (1-0, 0 S, 9.28 ERA), freshman RHP Victor Diaz (0-0, 0 S, 6.52 ERA), junior LHP Tim Statz (0-1, 0 S, 4.97 ERA) and freshman LHP C.T. Bradford (0-0, 1 S, 9.00 ERA).

Reed has been MSU's workhorse in bullpen action during SEC games, throwing in 7 of their 12 SEC games. And he's been very effective in six of the seven. The one outing he wasn't successful was also his longest stint of the season when he threw 5 innings against Vanderbilt, giving up 4 runs (3 earned). In his other six SEC outings, he has thrown between 1 out and 2 innings and has given up no runs during the 7.2 innings that he has thrown. He probably had his two best SEC performances last weekend against Florida when he threw 4 innings, giving up just 2 hits and 1 walk while striking out 6. You could see him anytime during a game but he's more likely going to be a back end of the game type reliever, coming in anywhere from the 6th to the 9th inning.

Pollorena is fast becoming the lefty MSU brings in in crucial situations. After not appearing in the first SEC series of the year, he has thrown in 1 game in each of the last three series. Because he's effective against both lefthanders and righthanders, he'll be used for an inning or two when called upon. Walks have been a little bit of a concern with him during his SEC outings, giving up 3 in 4.1 innings. In his 4.1 innings, he has given up 3 runs but only 1 was earned. I can see his role expanding in SEC action from a 1 to 2 inning reliever to a long relief guy who throws in the 3 to 5 inning range if a starter has early trouble. He's had success in that role in non-conference game, throwing between 3.1 to 5.2 innings in three games, while giving up just 1 run on 5 hits in 13.2 innings of work.

Girodo is more of a true lefty matchup guy who will come in and give MSU an out or two if a lefty is coming to bat. In MSU's last two SEC series he's been brought in to do just that four times, although his success has been limited. In 1.2 innings he gave up 4 runs, 3 earned, on 5 hits. With Arkansas not having many lefthanded hitters, it's very possible he won't see much action this weekend.

Stark has appeared in three SEC games and been very effective in all three, throwing 4.1 innings, while giving up no runs on just 1 hit to go along with his 2 walks and 2 strikeouts. He hasn't had many strikeouts in SEC action, but I have a feeling that may come as he continues to pitch in conference games because he has had 9 strikeouts in 5.1 innings in non-conference games. As for where he will pitch in SEC games, at one time I felt MSU was grooming him to be their closer but I see him more as a guy who can come in anywhere from the 6th to the 9th inning.

Norris has also pitched in three SEC games. His first one was his best, throwing 5.1 innings of 2-hit ball. His other two have seen him having problems with his command, walking 4 in 2 innings of work. I can still see MSU wanting to use him in SEC games due to that performance against Auburn and his non-conference success (6.2 IP, 1 R).

Busby, Diaz, Statz and Bradford, if they are used, will probably face a batter or two based on lefty and righty matchups. Of the four, Bradford is a guy who might be brought in at the tail end of a game to get an out or two if Arkansas has a couple of lefties coming to bat. The other three are more middle of the game relievers in that type situation.

Who's Hot at the Plate and Who's Not in the Last 5 Games - For Arkansas junior Bo Bigham is leading the hitters with a .389 average (7-for-18, 1 RBI) followed by junior James McCann at .357 (5-for-14, 4 RBI) and freshman Dominic Ficociello at .353 (6-for-17, 3 RBI).

Coming in at .273 (3-for-11, 3 RBI) is junior Sam Bates followed by junior Jarrod McKinney at .250 (4-for-16, 1 RBI) and redshirt junior Collin Kuhn also at .250 (3-for-12, 0 RBI). Redshirt junior Tim Carver is hitting at a .200 clip (2-for-10, 3 RBI) followed by senior Kyle Robinson at .143 (2-for-14, 2 RBI) and sophomore Matt Reynolds at .063 (1-for-16, 1 RBI).

In part-time action freshman Jake Wise leads the way with a .600 batting average (3-for-5, 0 RBI). Next up is sophomore Matt Vinson at .200 (1-for-5, 0 RBI) and redshirt freshman Jacob Morris at .143 (1-for-7, 0 RBI).

Mississippi State has three players hitting over .300. Freshman C.T. Bradford leads the way with a .471 batting average (8-for-17, 2 RBI) followed by senior Jarrod Parks at .400 (8-for-20, 3 RBI) and senior Cody Freeman at .333 (7-for-21, 3 RBI).

Next up is freshman Adam Frazier at .235 (4-for-17, 1 RBI) followed by senior Nick Vickerson at .200 (2-for-10, 0 RBI), senior Jonathan Ogden at .176 (3-for-17, 3 RBI), senior Wes Thigpen at .091 (1-for-11, 2 RBI), senior Ryan Collins at .063 (1-for-16, 0 RBI).

In part-time action senior Trey Johnson leads with a .222 batting average (2-for-9, 1 RBI), senior Jaron Shepherd is also at .222 (2-for-9, 1 RBI), freshman Taylor Stark at .200 (1-for-5, 0 RBI), freshman Daryl Norris at .000 (0-for-5, 0 RBI), and junior Brent Brownlee also at .000 (0-for-3, 0 RBI). Brownlee has been injured and missed four of the five games but is expected back this weekend.

How Arkansas and MSU Match Up
Arkansas Category Mississippi State
24-8 Record 21-12
.274 Batting Average .287
190 (5.9 pg) Runs 211 (6.4 pg)
20 Home Runs 14
.361 OB % .392
69-83 Stolen Bases-Attempts 51-67
118 (3.7 pg) Walks 149 (4.5 pg)
236 (7.4 pg) Strikeouts 211 (6.4 pg)
238 (7.4 pg) LOB 281 (8.5 pg)
3.02 Team ERA 3.86
11 Saves 8
107 (3.3 pg) Walks 106 (3.2 pg)
254 (7.9 pg) Strikeouts 270 (8.2 pg)
.229 Batting Average Against .245
.964 Fielding % .974

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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