Florida - MSU Baseball Series Preview

Mississippi State and Florida tangle in a three-game Southeastern Conference series this weekend at Dudy Noble Field.

Weather - Friday should see temperatures in the high 70s during the game. There is a 10% chance for rain. The wind should be from the south at about 5 to 7 mph. - Saturday's temperatures should be in the mid 80s for the game with very little chance of rain. The wind should be about 9 mph and from the south. - Sunday should have temperatures in the low 80s with a 20% chance of rain. The wind is expected to be about 12 mph and from the south.

Gametimes (CDT) - Friday 6:30 p.m. | Saturday 12 p.m. | Sunday 12 p.m.

Coaches - In his three years as a head coach at Florida, Kevin O'Sullivan has a 123-63 record and has taken Florida to three NCAA appearances, advancing to two Super Regionals. His 2010 team advanced to the College World Series where they were 0-2. His teams have a 61-32 SEC record and have won the SEC Eastern Division twice while winning the overall SEC Championship in 2010. In NCAA post-season play, he has led his three teams to a 10-6 record.

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 and 15-44 in the SEC. 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.

Florida Road/Mississippi State Home Records - Florida is 5-2 on the road while MSU is 17-4 at home.

Expected Pitching Rotations - Florida will go with sophomore RHP Hunter Randall (5-0, 0.54 ERA) Friday night, sophomore LHP Brian Johnson (4-1, 2.92) Saturday and freshman RHP Karsten Whitson (4-0, 2.06) Sunday.

What can you say about Randall other than he's absolutely been on a roll his last few outings. After going 6.2 innings against LSU (his 1st SEC outing of the season) where he gave up no runs on 8 hits and no walks, he has been even more outstanding his last two outings against South Carolina and Tennessee, throwing complete games performances (both 9 innings) while giving up just 1 run (unearned) on 9 hits and 0 walks to go along with his 8 Ks. His control has been outstanding - he's allowed just 1 walk in his last four starting appearances, which encompasses 31.2 innings. His ERA in his last four outings is 0.28. If there is a chink in his armour - and I'm stretching it to even write chink - it could be that fact that he will be facing MSU on the road. In his only road start of the season, he threw 6.2 innings against LSU and gave up 8 hits, although he didn't give up any runs. He's considered by Baseball America as the SEC's 8th best prospect for the 2012 MLB draft.

Johnson, who Baseball America has rated the 2nd best prospect in the SEC for the 2012 MLB draft, has great stats but has been been somewhat hittable of late. In his last four outings, he has given up 14 runs (13 earned) on 21 hits while walking 5 and striking out 16 in 23 innings. His best outing of the four was against Rhode Island when he gave up 3 runs in 7 innings. In his three SEC starts he has thrown 5.1 innings in each one and given up 11 runs (10 earned) on 12 hits, which translates to a 5.63 ERA. He's usually going to give Florida 5 good innings, then start giving up runs in the 6th. Of the 11 runs he's given up in SEC action, 5 were in the 6th inning, and those 5 were all in his last two appearances. He's also given up 4 in the third to South Carolina. Based on his last four appearances, when he gives up runs, it's not going to be a run an inning but more like 2 to 4 runs in the inning.

With two aces on the mound on Friday and Saturday, the rich just got richer because the freshman Whitson is probably the most talented of the group. A first-round draft pick in the 2010 MLB draft by San Diego, Florida struck gold when Whitson decided to forego the pros and a 2.1 million dollar offer from San Diego to attend college. Florida is bringing him along slowly by throwing him about 5 innings an outing. And he's been productive, giving up just 6 runs (5 earned) in 19.2 innings in his last four outings, three of which were SEC starts. After giving up 3 runs (2 earned) in 4.2 innings against LSU in his first SEC start, he gave up a total of 1 run on 7 hits in 10 innings combined against South Carolina and Tennessee. Based on his last four starts, he's not going to give up more than a run in any one inning. He's probably going to have the highest pitch count of the three starters, averaging around 16 pitches per inning. A possible positive for MSU is his only road outing of the season was at LSU where he lasted just 4.2 innings while giving up 3 runs on 6 hits and 4 walks. He gave up all of his runs in the 2nd and 3rd innings.

Mississippi State will go with junior RHP Devin Jones (2-4, 3.82 ERA) Friday, sophomore RHP Chris Stratton (4-2, 3.04 ERA) Saturday and junior LHP Nick Routt (0-1, 2.61 ERA) Sunday.

Jones started the season off like gang busters against non-SEC competition but has struggled in his SEC outings. When he's on, he's got the best stuff on the staff with a low to mid 90s fastball with arm-side movement and an outstanding slider. It appears it's just confidence, or lack of, with Jones. And it looks like, based on his last outing against Georgia, the confidence was there. After giving up 12 runs (10 earned) in 6.1 innings in his first two SEC outings (Vanderbilt and Auburn), he pitched well against Georgia, giving up just 2 runs on 3 hits and 1 walk in 5 innings of work. He struck out 5 and threw just 63 pitches, an average of 12.5 pitches an inning. The downside to that is Georgia is one of the weaker hitting teams in the SEC, while Florida is the top hitting team in the conference. Based on his last three outings, you'll know within three innings if he's on or not. Against Vanderbilt he gave up 4 runs in the 2nd, 1 in the 3rd and 3 in the 4th while he gave up 2 in the 3rd and 2 in the 4th against Auburn. Versus Georgia, he gave up 1 in the 1st then settled down and didn't give up another run until the 6th when he gave up a hit to the first batter and then was taken out of the game. The runner later scored. One thing that has been impressive about Jones this season, compared to last season, is even when he has a bad outing he's not going to walk more than 1 per outing. In his three SEC starts he has only walked 2 in 11.1 innings.

Stratton has been State's most consistent SEC starting pitcher in the first three SEC series of the season. A pitcher with a high 80s to low 90s fastball and a couple of solid off-speed pitches, Stratton has given MSU a solid 6+ to 7 innings of work in each of his SEC outings. He's not going to shut teams down, based on those outings, giving up 4 runs in each of the three appearances, but he keeps his team in the game. He's a high pitch count guy who will normally throws 16 to 17 pitches an inning. And he's normally going to be at his best during his first five inning, then tire a little bit and start giving up runs in the 6th and 7th. Six of the twelve runs he has given up in SEC action were in the 6th and 7th with an unusual three-run inning in the 5th against Auburn thrown in. MSU had a 13-1 lead against Auburn at the time so that could have simply been a mental lapse on his part. He threw 2.1 more innings after that inning and allowed just 1 infield single before being taken out after throwing 118 pitches.

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 thrown 60 pitches and 55 pitches against Auburn and Georgia. Being on a pitch count of around 60 pitches in each game, he was immediately taken out of the game against Auburn when he reached that count. He threw 3.2 innings, allowing no runs on 2 hits and 2 walks while striking out 3 in that outing. Stats-wise, he wasn't as successful against Georgia, giving up 2 runs in the bottom of the 4th (on a two-run home run) after shutting them down the first three innings. He was immediately taken out after giving up the home run. The State coaching staff wants to increase Routt's pitch count by about 15 per outing to help him build up his stamina, so, if he's pitching well, don't be surprised to see Routt throw upwards of 75 to 80 pitches against Florida. A possible negative for Routt is the fact that Florida hits lefties really well, batting .376 against them (38-for-101) in their nine SEC games. A long-term positive for the State pitching staff is when Routt is not tired he has been dominating, like he was as a true freshman. In his three starts this season, he has not given up a run in the first three innings. It's always in the 4th, when he's tiring, when he has given up his runs. Hopefully, as he continues to build up his stamina, he'll continue that trend and become dominant further into each outing as the season progresses.

Relief Pitching - Florida has primarily relied on five relievers in SEC action - junior RHP Tommy Toledo (2-2, 1 S, 2.65 ERA), junior RHP Anthony Desclafani (4-1, 3 S, 1.99 ERA), junior RHP Greg Larson (0-1, 0 S, 2.65 ERA), junior LHP Nick Maronde (0-0, 1 S, 2.60 ERA) and sophomore RHP Austin Maddox (1-0, 0 S, 0.73 ERA).

Florida doesn't have a true closer, using four of the five in that role during SEC games. Toledo, in his three SEC appearances, has been the first pitcher brought in from the bullpen twice and been the closer his other appearance. Florida will throw him in the 1 to to 2+ inning range. Based on those three outings, he'll give up a run if he goes 2 or more innings. He's a high pitch count pitcher who normally throws 16 to 17 pitches per inning.

Desclafani is used the same way as Toledo, middle relief and closer. In his two SEC outings, he has thrown 1 inning and 2.2 innings. He was successful in both outings, giving up 1 run (unearned) on 2 hits and 0 walks while striking out 4 in the 3.2 innings. Although I'm not sure if this is a true trend, he has only pitched in games that Brian Johnson started. The one outing he didn't do that was when Florida was down 8-0 against South Carolina after 6 innings. Florida used pitchers that they normally wouldn't in SEC action after taking Johnson out.

Larson has been used in late middle relief in his two SEC appearances, giving up 1 run in 1.2 innings. It appears Florida is quick to take him out if he gives up a hit or a walk and a left-handed hitter is coming to the plate.

Maronde is the lone lefty among the five relievers. In his three SEC outings, he has been used as the first reliever in, a middle reliever and a closer. In a close game, if he gives up a hit or a walk, it appears Florida will take him out immediately. But if he is pitching well, and it's a close game, they will throw him for an inning or two. He's a strikeout pitcher who has struck out 6 in his 3.2 innings in SEC action. He's also walked 2 but given up no hits in those innings.

Maddox is Florida's long middle reliever and probably their most effective reliever. In his two SEC appearances he has thrown 1.2 innings and 4.1 innings and been very effective, giving up 1 unearned run on 3 hits and no walks while striking out 3. He's a very efficient pitcher who will only throw about 10 to 11 pitches per inning.

There are several other pitchers that Florida might use in mop up duty in an SEC game but those are the main five they will use in games that are still on the line.

Mississippi State uses an abundance of pitchers in SEC reliever roles, including junior RHP Caleb Reed (0-0, 4 S, 1.35 ERA), true freshman RHP Daryl Norris (1-0, 1 S, 1.42 ERA), true freshman RHP Taylor Stark (1-0, 1 S, 0.00 ERA), junior LHP Luis Pollorena (3-0, 0 S, 1.25 ERA), junior LHP Tim Statz (0-1, 0 S, 4.97 ERA), freshman RHP Victor Diaz (0-0, 0 S, 4.32 ERA), sophomore LHP Chad Girodo (2-0, 0 S, 6.75 ERA), freshman RHP Evan Mitchell (3-1, 0 S, 3.86 ERA) as well as sophomore RHP Andrew Busby (1-0, 0 S, 6.30 ERA) and freshman RHP Hunter Renfroe (0-0, 0 S, 9.82 ERA).

Reed has been used 5 times in SEC action and performed extremely well after giving up all four of his runs in his first SEC outing of the season. He threw 5 innings in that outing against Vanderbilt and gave up 4 runs (3 earned) on 7 hits and 5 walks. To his credit, after giving up 2 of the 4 runs in the 1st inning of that outing he only allowed 1 additional run in the next four innings before being taken out after giving up a hit with no outs in the 6th. That runner later scored and was charged to Reed. Since that game, he has thrown in 4 SEC games and only given up 3 hits and 2 walks while throwing 3.2 innings. He also struck out 5 in those 3.2 innings. You'll see him used in long relief, middle relief and as a closer and he's comfortable in all type situations.

Norris has thrown in 2 SEC games and been great in one and not so great in the other. He relieved Nick Routt in the Sunday game against Auburn and threw 5.1 innings, allowing no runs on 2 hits and no walks while striking out 2. In last weekend's Sunday game against Georgia he wasn't so effective, giving up a run on a hit and a walk in two-thirds of an inning. In his defense, the one run he gave up was after he gave up a walk in the 7th and was replaced. The runner later scored and was charged to Norris. He also had control issues in the Georgia game while he didn't against Auburn. That'll be something to watch for if he's brought in to relieve.

Stark has pitched well in SEC action, throwing in two games so far. His first outing, against Vanderbilt, was his best. He came in in the bottom of the 8th with MSU leading 9-8 and completely shut Vanderbilt down the next two innings, earning a save. His next outing, against Georgia, he wasn't quite as effective, giving up no runs on 1 hit and 1 walk in two-thirds of an innings of work. He's usually going to be brought in late in the game, from the 7th inning on.

Pollorena, due to pitching almost 6 innings against Southern Miss Tuesday night, is probably not going to be used until the Sunday game. He's been very effective coming out of the pen this season, but due to how well Florida hits lefties, I see him more as a matchup kind of guy if he is brought in this weekend.

Statz has been used more as a long reliever who is the first reliever out of the pen. He's been fairly effective in that role, giving up 3 runs (1 earned) on 4 hits and 5 walks while striking out 6 in 7 innings in his three SEC outings. I'm not sure what his role will be this weekend due to how well Florida hits lefties.

Diaz has been a righty matchup type reliever in SEC appearances, throwing to one batter in each of his two SEC outings. Although it was limited action, he has been successful, getting the hitter out both times, one on a strikeout. I could see him being brought in with two outs, a runner or two on and a righty coming to bat, to finish out the inning.

Girodo has appeared in four SEC games so far this season, and been effective in three of the four. Initially, in SEC games, he was more of a middle inning guy who would throw an inning or an inning-plus but has been more of a matchup guy recently, throwing to a batter or two. He's more effective against lefties than righties but has recently developed a cutter that allows him to be more effective against right-handers. He's been a strikeout pitcher in SEC games, striking out 5 in 3.1 innings.

Mitchell started out as the Sunday starting pitcher in SEC action but wasn't very effective in that role. After not pitching in relief in the first two SEC series, he was used twice against Georgia last weekend and performed extremely well, throwing 2.1 innings, while giving up no runs on 1 hit and 0 walks to go along with his 1 strikeout. He closed out both games. He was a strike-thrower in those two appearances, throwing 24 pitches, 18 for strikes. It's possible he's being groomed to be a closer since he has an effective low 90s fastball with movement as well as a couple of solid off-speed pitches and good control of all three.

Busby and Renfroe have been used a few times in SEC action. Busby is more of a righty matchup reliever who is brought in to face a right-hander or two, then taken out. Control has been the main concern with him. He's usually going to get an out but he also gives up either a hit or a walk prior to being taken out. He's a low 90s fastball guy who has great downward movement on his pitches. When he's on, he can generate ground ball outs on a consistent basis. But his lack of control has prevented him from pitching to more than a batter or two in SEC games. Renfroe, has a mid to upper 90s four-seam fastball but it has almost no movement on it. He's been brought in to pitch in three SEC games with mixed results. In his first outing, against Vanderbilt, he got three-up, three-down in his one inning of work, then in his next two outings he was hit very hard, giving up 5 runs (4 earned) on 6 hits in a combined .2 inning of work.

Who's Hot at the Plate and Who's Not in the Last 5 Games - Florida is led at the plate by senior Josh Adams who is batting .500 (8-for-16, 2 RBI) followed by sophomore Brian Johnson who is hitting .364 (4-for-11, 0 RBI) and sophomore Nolan Fontana at .333 (6-for-18, 8 RBI) and sophomore Austin Maddox at .333 (6-for-18, 6 RBI). Also hitting over .300 is junior Preston Tucker at .316 (6-for-19, 1 RBI).

Sophomore Mike Zunino is hitting .250 (4-for-16, 2 RBI), while Daniel Pigott is batting .190 (4-for-21, 2 RBI), sophomore Kamm Washington is hitting .133 (2-for-15, 0 RBI) and true freshman Zack Powers comes in at .091 (1-for-11, 1 RBI).

Mississippi State is led at the plate by senior Jarrod Parks who is hitting .316 (6-for-19, 0 RBI) in the last five games. He is followed closely by true freshman C.T. Bradford who comes in at .313 (5-for-16, 2 RBI). Also hitting over .300 is senior Cody Freeman who comes in at the .300 mark (6-for-20, 3 RBI).

Others include senior Ryan Collins at .250 (3-for-12, 3 RBI), true freshman Adam Frazier at .222 (4-for-18, 4 RBI), senior Jonathan Ogden at .188 (3-for-16, 1 RBI), senior Nick Vickerson at .133 (2-for-15, 0 RBI) and true freshman Daryl Norris who comes in at .083 (1-for-12, 1 RBI).

Players who have been part-time the last five games are senior Wes Thigpen who is hitting .286 (2-for-7, 0 RBI), senior Trey Johnson who is batting .250 (2-for-8, 3 RBI) and senior Jaron Shepherd who is also hitting at a .250 clip (2-for-8, 3 RBI).

How Florida and MSU Match Up
Florida Category Mississippi State
24-6 Record 20-9
.311 Batting Average .294
190 (6.3 pg) Runs 199 (6.9 pg)
21 Home Runs 11
.389 OB % .402
26-39 Stolen Bases-Attempts 50-65
115 (3.8 pg) Walks 139 (4.8 pg)
162 (5.4 pg) Strikeouts 180 (6.2 pg)
230 (7.7 pg) LOB 247 (8.5 pg)
2.33 Team ERA 3.44
16 (.5 pg) Unearned Runs Allowed 9 (.3 pg)
6 Saves 7
54 (1.8 pg) Walks 88 (3.0 pg)
235 (7.8 pg) Strikeouts 235 (8.1 pg)
.222 Batting Average Against .233
.974 Fielding % .977

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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