The Black lineup, and pitching, was a little better if judged by the 2-1 score for seven innings. But then Friday’s results were more about keeping track of pitches and plays and contact as Mississippi State began the two-week countdown to Opening Day. Which, if today was any indicator, gave a clue how the Diamond Dogs are lining up their pitching plans.
As originally scheduled, it was righthanders Brandon Woodruff and Ben Bracewell taking first turns for the Black and Gray teams respectively. Neither looked quite as sharp as they had a week ago in the first scrimmage; and that suited Cohen just fine.
“I thought both Benny and Woody went out and really were out-of-synch. They kind of found it in their second and third innings. That was really good that they found their delivery and got in rhythm.”
Woodruff went four full frames Friday, an inning more than a week ago. He allowed the only Gray run, in the second inning, with three hits and a walk and four strikeouts. Bracewell got one out into his fourth with no runs on four hits, four strikeouts and no walks.
The stats mattering more were pitch counts as both starting candidates work their way up to season-speed. “Both those guys were 30 the last time out and they threw 50 today,” Cohen said. “Hopefully we can get them up to 60, 65 next weekend. And when you open up you can get them to 70 pitches.”
An out into the first turn Woodruff was taken deep by Gray leftfielder Jacob Robson, the fly ball falling in the left-centerfield gap. Robson had the easy double but stretched for third, with only a perfect play able to get him. It did as leftfielder Jake Vickerson got to the ball on the track, fired to shortstop Kyle Hann for the relay and out at third base.
The second turn was another matter. Daniel Garner walked his way on and with an out stole second. Matthew Britton pushed a single through the right side for runners on corners, and when a pitch got past the catcher Garner came across for the first run. With two outs Seth Heck lined a single into left for runners on corners, but Heck was caught on a steal try to keep the margin 1-0.
Woodruff found his stride with an in-order third inning, and returned for the fourth for three more quick outs. He completed his day’s duty with seven-straight sittings. Lefty Ross Mitchell came out for the fifth and was tagged by Britton’s second single of the day. No problem, as a grounder to shortstop forced the lead runner; then Heck was caught by Mitchell in a one-way lead with Wes Rea running him down.
Bracewell had his first-inning issues as with one out Alex Detz singled past shortstop; then Wes Rea was late on a 1-1 offering but got the short fly to fall fair behind first base. Bracewell got out of his own trouble with a strikeout of Brett Pirtle and first-pitch lineout of Zack Randolph to shortstop. A two-out single in the second by Cody Walker did no harm as Bracewell got Cody Brown looking on strike three. And two outs into the third with Detz again on base via hitting, a Rea fly ball stranded another Black runner.
A swinging strikeout of Pirtle in the fourth ended Bracewell’s scoreless stint with righty Will Cox taking over. Randolph singled off the reliever before outs of Hann and Derrick Armstrong stranded him. In the fifth the Blacks shuffled their batting order so Joey Swinarski could lead off. And reach, on an infield single at that.
Lefthander Lucas Laster inherited the runner, who promptly stole his way into tying-runner position as the throw by Gavin Collins was high. A one-out walk of Vickerson had two on for Detz, who pounded it into the turf for a high hop. First baseman Ingram got under it but bobbled the catch leaving all safe and bases loaded.
The Blacks again altered the order so Pirtle could swing ahead of Rea. The second baseman did his job with a fly ball to rightfield scoring Swinarski. Righthander Myles Gentry came in to face Rea, who took a 3-1 offering into leftfield for the lead.
Gentry ended the inning on a foul-fly ball, and a two-out Brown grounder errored at shortstop. A pitchout was called correctly but the high throw let Brown make second anyway. He stayed there as Gentry struck out Swinarski.
Lefthander Jacob Lindgren left the tying runner at first base in the top of the seventh and ended the scrimmage. The third one, because midweek cold convinced Cohen to settle for fast-paced practices Wednesday and Thursday rather than have players standing around innings on end.
So, “We’ll just have more arms available to us this weekend,” Cohen said today. Two of them will get Saturday’s 2:15 start, most likely Preston Brown and—if he is recovered from midweek illness—Trevor Fitts. This was how Coach Butch Thompson had planned the weekend anyway. But that same plan had freshmen Dakota Hudson and Austin Sexton starting Sunday. Now?
“The Tuesday guys are going to turn around I think on Sunday,” Cohen said. That would be Zach Houston and Avery Geyer throwing first for each squad with at least four more bullpen arms booked Sunday. The rookies will be fit-in somehow, or saved for next Tuesday if practical.
Working bullpen Bulldogs just as vital at this point too. Most of Friday’s relief duty looked sound, though Cohen was impressed most by Laster. “I thought Lucas came in and threw the ball really well, left-on-left. We’ve lowered his arm slot, and he did a nice job.”
Cohen’s evaluation of pretty good didn’t mean flawless. A few defensive plays went un-made and at least twice base-stealers were beaten if the throws had been on the target. The infield lineup needed some adjusting as number-two third baseman Reid Humphreys was excused to attend a wedding. All four catching candidates split the innings, with Collins and Randolph the first pair. Rightfield innings were also divided for both defensive turns and at-bats.
Also, “We had some very good offensive sequences,” the coach said. At the same time Cohen changed the order twice mind-inning, something that would be handy in a real game if allowed, for matchups to mimic how things could develop.
“The hitters don’t like that, but we’re ring to get our bullpen ready for what is going to happen during the course of the season.”
One hitter who likes anything these days is Detz, with two hits and an errored grounder Friday. The third baseman has now reached base one way or another nine times in three scrimmages.“He really understands how to get to first base,” Cohen said. “That’s his gift and he embraces that, he’s not going to try to swing as hard as he can. He’s going to contribute by being on base.
“Pirtle took some really good approaches today. I thought Britton had some really good at-bats. Mathew has really turned the corner as a hitter and he’s worked so hard on that craft. And he’s such a good defender, if he can swing the bat the way we think he can it changes our lineup.”
Saturday’s scrimmage follows the noon ‘First Pitch’ Banquet in Palmeiro Center.