Vanderbilt-MSU Baseball Series Preview

Mississippi State and Vanderbilt will tangle in a three-game Southeastern Conference series this weekend at Vanderbilt.

Weather - Friday should see temperatures in the low 70s during the game. There is 0% chance for precipitation. | The temperatures should be in the high 60s during the Saturday game with a 10% chance of precipitation. | Sunday should see more of the same type weather as Saturday.

Gametimes (CT) - Friday 6:00 p.m. | Saturday 2:00 p.m. | Sunday 1:00 p.m.

Coaches - Tim Corbin has been Vanderbilt's head coach since 2003. During that eight-season span, his teams have won 324 games and lost 177. In SEC play, he has a 124-112 record. He has seen his teams win one SEC championship and appear in six postseason NCAA Regionals with two advancing to Super Regional play. His teams overall NCAA postseason record is 17-13.

John Cohen, who is in his third 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. In his two seasons at MSU, his teams are 48-62 overall. In five seasons at Kentucky and two 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.

Vanderbilt Road Record/Mississippi State Home Record - Vanderbilt is 13-1 at home while MSU is 1-0 on the road.

Expected Pitching Rotations - Vanderbilt is expected to start junior RHP Sonny Gray (4-0, 1.71 ERA) Friday, junior LHP Grayson Garvin (2-1, 3.55 ERA) on Saturday and senior RHP Taylor Hill (1-0, 3.13) on Sunday.

Gray, although just 5-11, 180 pounds, has a power arm that generates a low to mid-90s mph fastball and possibly the best power curve (mid 80s) in college ball. Expected to be a high first-round pick in the 2011 MLB draft, he has shown why with the way he has pitched so far this season. After he gave up 3 runs (all earned) in 4.1 innings of work against San Diego to start the season, he has been almost untouchable in his other three outings, giving up just 2 runs on 8 hits and 7 walks while striking out 30 in 22 innings. He has only completed one game so far this season, while in two of his other outings he has thrown 6 and 7 innings. Due to being so efficient with his pitches (he averages about 14.5 pitches per inning), the Vandy coaching staff might throw him a complete game against MSU if it's a close game.

Garvin, considered the 10th best draft prospect in the SEC in Baseball America's college preview magazine, has been moderately successful this season, giving up 15 runs (10 earned) on 22 hits and 4 walks in 25.1 innings of work. He's been an up and down type pitcher. His first outing of the season, which was against San Diego, he gave up 3 runs (2 earned) in 8.1 inning. The next outing, against Stanford, he gave up 4 runs in 6 innings, Then, he gave up 2 runs in 5 innings and 7 runs (3 earned) in 6 innings in his next two outings. Although Vandy pitching has only given up 3 home runs this year, Garvin has given up 2 of those.

Hill took over the third starting spot when expected starter Jack Armstrong couldn't pitch due to an injured back. Like Garvin, he has been up and down this season. In between his first outing when he gave up just 1 run in 7.1 innings against San Diego and his last outing when he gave up just 1 run in 8 innings to the University of Illinois-Chicago, he gave up 8 runs (6 earned) on 12 hits and 5 walks in 7.2 innings against Stanford and Brown. Due to those two outings, he was moved from the Saturday starter to the Sunday guy. If early results are a good indicator, you'll know pretty early if he's going to be ineffective, because he gave up 3 runs in the first inning against Stanford and 2 against Brown in the 2nd inning.

Mississippi State is expected to start junior RHP Devin Jones (2-2, 1.37 ERA) Friday, sophomore RHP Chris Stratton (3-0, 1.65 ERA) and, possibly, freshman RHP Evan Mitchell (3-1, 4.50 ERA) Sunday.

Jones, a hard-throwing righty who throws his fastball in the low 90s and is expected to be a fairly high draft pick in the 2011 MLB draft (5 to 10 round range), has pitched well this season. Other than one outing against Iowa when he gave up 2 runs in 4.1 innings, he has been very effective, throwing 7 or more innings in all three of his other starts while giving up no more than 2 runs in any of the three, and 0 runs in 2 of the 3. Although a hard-thrower, he normally averages about 2 strikeouts per 3 innings (20 Ks in 26.2 IP). He's only given up 4 runs (all earned) on 15 hits and 7 walks in his 26.1 innings of work.

Stratton, who also throws his fastball in the low 90s, has pitched well in three of his four outings. In his last outing, he gave up 5 runs (4 earned) on 4 hits and 3 walks while striking out 5 in 7 innings. In his previous three outings, he gave up just 1 run on 12 hits and 6 walks while striking out 27 in 20.1 innings. A concern are the 8 walks he has given up in 13.2 inning spanning his last two outings. His control in the first inning or two of the game against Vanderbilt will be a great indicator on how effective he will be in the game. If he has good control, then look for him to give MSU a very, very solid 6 or 7 inning of no more than a run or two.

Mitchell has performed like you would expect from a true freshman during his four outings this season. After giving up just 2 runs on 7 hits and 1 walk in 9.1 innings during his first two games (1 relief, 1 start), in his last two outings (both starts) he has given up 7 runs (all earned) on 12 hits and 3 walks with 11 strikeouts in 8.2 innings. His control has been good in all of his outings; teams have simply hit him better in the last two outings. One thing I noticed is his fastball velocity in his first two outings was in the low 90s quite a bit while in his last two outings his consistent velo was in the high 80s.

Relief Pitching - Look for Vanderbilt to primarily use four, possibly five, relievers - sophomore RHP Will Clinard, senior RHP Mark Lamm, junior RHP Navery Moore, sophomore LHP Corey Williams and junior RHP Jack Armstrong.

Clinard (0-0, 3.00 ERA, 2 S) has been the first pitcher out of the bullpen when a reliever is called in to replace starters Sonny Gray and Grayson Garvin. Of the 7 starts by those two starters, he has been the first pitcher out of the pen 5 times. During his total of 8 relief appearances he has been up and down, up the first four outings and down the last four. In his first four appearances he threw 4.2 innings, giving up no runs on 4 hits while walking no one and striking out 4. But in his last four outings he has been almost the exact opposite, giving up 7 runs (4 earned) on 12 hits and 3 walks while striking out 11 in 7.1 innings.

Lamm (4-0, 0.93 ERA, 0 S), who didn't pitch last season due to recovering from Tommy John surgery, has been very, very good in his role as a setup man for closer Navery Moore. He usually going to be brought in to finish the seventh inning or the start of the eighth, then Moore takes over in the ninth inning. And he's been very effective in that role, giving up just 1 run on 10 hits and 2 walks while striking out 10 in 9.2 innings. He initially was used for an out or two but has been used for a little more than an inning of late, Either way, he has been very effective.

Moore (3-0, 0.00 ERA, 4 S), after having earned run averages of 7.20 and 9.24 his first two seasons at Vanderbilt, has really come on strong this season, showing off a fastball that ranges in the low to mid 90s. He has been used exclusively as a closer and has appeared in 9 of Vanderbilt's 18 games. He usually throws an inning, going more than 1 inning just twice. The Vandy coaching staff is not afraid to use him twice in a three-game series, although he's slightly more effective the first game. He has excellent control for a power pitcher, giving up just 2 walks in 10 innings of work. He has only given up 1 run this season, an unearned run.

Williams (0-0, 5.25 ERA, 1 S), when Gray, Garvin and Hill are pitching, is not going to be used that often, but when he is it will be as a closer based on the early season, and it will usually be when normal closer Navery Moore isn't available. Although he has been used five times this season, only two of those relief appearances have come with Gray, Garvin and Hill on the mound.

Hard-throwing Jack Armstrong (0-0, 0.00, 0 S), one of the top pitchers in the SEC and an expected high draft pick in the 2011 MLB draft (possibly 2nd to 3rd round), has been out for almost all of the early season due to a back injury. He pitched for the first time against Purdue this past Tuesday night. In his 1 inning of work he showed some wildness, walking two and hitting another, while throwing 24 pitches in the inning. A positive for the junior was the fact that all three of his outs were strikeouts.

Mississippi State relievers are still a work in progress other than the twosome of junior RHP Caleb Reed and junior LHP Luis Pollorena, the two more effective pitchers out of the bullpen for the Bulldogs during the early going. Both of those pitchers should throw this weekend and I also expect to see freshman LHP C.T. Bradford and freshmen RHPs Daryl Norris and Taylor Stark. And it wouldn't surprise me if two other newcomers pitch as well, freshman RHP Victor Diaz and sophomore RHP Andrew Busby. The wild card is sophomore RHP Kendall Graveman who started Tuesday night's game against Eastern Illinois. I could see him throwing in long relief Sunday if needed.

Reed (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 3 S), who has had a couple of tough two seasons at MSU as a freshman and sophomore, has really come into his own this season and been extremely effective out of the pen. He has been used as a long reliever and as a closer and as well as a right-handed matchup pitcher. No matter the situation he has been just about perfect in all six of his appearances. After giving up 2 hits in his first outing of the season against Lamar, he hasn't given up a hit or a walk. Although he only throws in the 87-89 range with his fastball, he throws, with great command, about three or four other pitches and he comes from over the top and side-armed. Plus, he will normally strike out around 3 batters per 2 innings of work. The bottom line is the guy has become a true pitcher in every sense of the word. Now, he has the chance to prove it in SEC action.

Pollorena (2-0, 1.45 ERA, 0 S), who throws in the high 80s, has proven to be a excellent addition to the MSU pitching staff. In six outings so far this season, with a high of 4.2 innings Wednesday night, he has thrown 12.1 innings, giving up 2 runs (both earned) on 7 hits and 3 walks while striking out 8. Not really a strikeout pitcher, he has good command of his pitches and makes a team beat him, which they haven't done so far this season. Due to him throwing 4.2 innings Wednesday night, I'm not sure he will be available Friday night or possibly even Saturday.

Bradford (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 S), selected the 2010 Mr. Baseball of Florida and the 5A Player of the Year in the state, is more of a lefty matchup type reliever. Throwing his fastball in the high 80s to low 90s at times, he has been very effective in his three outings this season. He's thrown 2.2 innings, giving up no runs on 2 hits and no walks while striking out 6. As you see from his stats, he is a strikeout pitcher, with strikeouts being 6 of his 8 outs. Look for him to be used for an inning when Vanderbilt has a couple of lefties coming up in the batting order.

Norris (0-0, 1.35 ERA, 1 S), honored as the Louisville Slugger Player of the Year for Alabama, the Gatorade Alabama Player of the Year and as the Alabama Sports Writers Association Mr. Baseball for 2010, is another freshman who has been used just three times this season. But he, like Bradford, has been very effective, although Norris has thrown more outs per appearance. In his three outings, he has thrown 6.2 innings, allowing 1 run on 3 hits and 3 walks while striking out 10. While the stats indicate he is a strikeout pitcher, most of his strikeouts have come against Akron and Eastern Illinois. His command was a little shaky in his last outing, 2 walks and a hit in 1 inning but he struck out 3 to get out of the inning. He can throw an inning or upwards of three when he comes in.

Stark (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0 S), who throws in the low 90s and has a devastating slider at times, has appeared in three games as well. In 4 innings, he has given up no runs on 2 hits and 1 walk while striking out 7. When he's got command of his pitches (which he has so far this season), he is a true strikeout pitcher. He'll throw an inning, and maybe two, for the Dogs if needed.

Diaz (0.0, 5.40 ERA, 0 S) has been up and down this season in his four appearances. In two outings, he has thrown 3 innings, giving up no runs on 2 hits and 3 walks while striking out 3. In his two other outings, he has thrown 3.2 innings, giving up 4 runs (all earned) on 6 hits and 2 walks while striking out 4. I see him being used in a game that has gotten out of hand by either team.

Busby (1-0, 4.70 ERA, 0 S) throws in the high 80s to low 90s and has great downward movement with his pitches. As long as he has command of his pitches, he's a strikeout guy who also gets a lot of ground ball outs and rarely gives up a hit or a walk. But when he doesn't have good command he is hittable. In two outings, where he threw 2.2 innings, he gave up no runs on 1 hit and 1 walk while striking out 4. In his two other outings, he threw 5 innings, giving up 4 runs on 8 hits and 3 walks while striking out 5. When you look back at each of the games you notice that when Busby has good command and doesn't have a three-ball count he's almost always successful but when he gets to a three-ball count, he rarely gets the man out. So, you should know how he will fare based on his command with the first few batters that he faces.

Graveman (2-0, 3.18 ERA) pitched this past Tuesday night. But it's possible he could pitch again on Sunday if needed, especially when you consider there is no mid-week game next week. I see him being used exclusively as a long reliever if Evan Mitchell gets into early trouble.

Who's Hot at the Plate and Who's Not in the Last 5 Games - In the last five games, Vanderbilt is led at the plate by senior Curt Casali who is hitting .500 (8-for-16, 7 RBI), junior Riley Reynolds at .462 (6-for-13, 0 RBI), sophomore Anthony Gomez at .455 (10-for-22, 4 RBI) and sophomore Connor Harrell at .400 (6-for-15, 2 RBI). Others hitting over the .300 mark in the last five games are junior Jason Esposito at .368 (7-for-19, 6 RBI) and, in limited action, junior Joe Loftus at .375 (3-for-8, 2 RBI. Esposito is projected to be a late 1st round or early 2nd round selection in the 2011 MLB draft according to Baseball America's staff.

Other hitters are junior Aaron Westlake at .286 (6-for-21, 2 RBI), freshman Conrad Gregor at .273 (3-for-11, 2 RBI), sophomore Mike Yastrzemski who is hitting .263 (5-for-19, 3 RBI) and freshman Tony Kemp who comes in at .250 (3-for-12, 2 RBI).

For Mississippi State freshman Daryl Norris leads the way with a .438 batting average (7-for-16, 6 RBI) followed by seniors Jarrod Parks at .417 (5-for-12, 3 RBI) and senior Jaron Shepherd also at .417 (5-for-12, 2 RBI). In the .300s are senior Nick Vickerson at .389 (7-for-18, 1 RBI), senior Cody Freeman at .357 (5-for-14, 4 RBI) and senior Jonathan Ogden at .300 (6-for-20, 5 RBI).

Others include senior Wes Thigpen at .231 (3-for-13, 2 RBI), freshman C.T. Bradford at .222 (4-for-18, 5 RBI), senior Ryan Collins comes in at .214 (3-for-14, 2 RBI), junior Brent Brownlee at .083 (1-for-12, 0 RBI) and, in limited action, sophomore Sam Frost is hitting .000 (0-for-7, 0 RBI).

How Vanderbilt and MSU Match Up
Vanderbilt Category Mississippi State
17-1 Record 14-4
.311 Batting Average .307
106 (5.9 pg) Runs 135 (7.5 pg)
5 Home Runs 8
.413 OB % .429
30-40 Stolen Bases-Attempts 34-42
80 (4.4 pg) Walks 101 (5.6 pg)
81 (4.5 pg) Strikeouts 99 (5.5 pg)
151 (8.4 pg) LOB 167 (9.3 pg)
2.46 Team ERA 2.89
12 (0.67 pg) Unearned Runs Allowed 2 (0.11 pg)
7 Saves 5
52 (2.9 pg) Walks 53 (2.9 pg)
178 (9.9 pg) Strikeouts 162 (9.0 pg)
.220 Batting Average Against .219
.971 Fielding % .983

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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