"There were ups and downs from last weekend but I really like the way our kids are competing. There is no doubt that we aren't the best offensive club in the Southeastern Conference, but I really believe our kids are extremely competitive. And I think Florida is as good as any club in the country. They are tremendously balanced. But we had a great opportunity to win the series, although we didn't. But I think our kids every single day (are improving), especially our young guys ... at one point on Saturday we had five freshmen on the field at the same time against, arguably, the number 1 team in the country, as we did against Vanderbilt also. I'm really pleased with the progress our kids are making.
"Arkansas is a very, very, very talented team. They are very young and lost some key components from a year ago. I think that's why people are kind of waiting for their young kids to grow up, too. When they do, they are going to be right back where they were a year ago.
"We are excited about going to Arkansas and we are excited about going to Birmingham and finishing up that (UAB) game (Wednesday). Obviously, we have (2) runners on (in the 6th). If we can get those runners in and it's near the end of the game we feel very confident in our bullpen."
How does Nick Routt feel today and are there any plans to move him up in the rotation?
"I think there is a chance, although we have not made a decision yet. We have been talking about this for the last four or five days. We will make it either this afternoon or tomorrow morning. But there's a chance we will move everybody up. There is a chance we will move (Chris) Stratton up to Friday and Routt to Saturday. We feel like this might strengthen our rotation a little bit, and might protect our bullpen a little bit more. Although, as I have mentioned many times before, we feel like the bullpen is a strength of this team."
Will there still be a pitch count with Nick Routt?
"I think he threw (89) pitches Sunday. So, I think we will be really comfortable the next time getting him close to 100 pitches. He threw a lot more pitches than he needed to (Sunday). He could be a little more economic, which he knows. The thing that was really impressive to me about what Nick did Sunday is that he was throwing fastballs by really good hitters early on in that game. That speaks to his movement and the amount of spin he is getting on his fastball, the fact that he he is staying on his pitches. That was really impressive to me. Even with these new bats, they are still aluminum bats. When you are throwing fastballs that is beating pretty good hitters, then it just makes all your other secondary stuff that much more effective."
If you move Stratton to Friday night, do you have to change his gameplan so he will be more economic with his pitches which will help you not use your bullpen as much on Friday night?
"He isn't as economic as some other guys, but we think he can give us 110 to 120 pitches once a week. There are several factors with him, such as the team he is pitching against, the umpire's strikezone on that day, and there is the factor of how Stratton's command is on that day. There are all kind of factors that could affect Stratton. At Vanderbilt, the first couple of innings he pitched were very similar to the way he pitched on Saturday (against Florida), then all of sudden at Vanderbilt he just found it and whizzed through about 4 innings where he was phenomenal. We know it's there. So, pitching him on Friday is something that we probably need to do at this point in time. But there some factors that we will need to take into account this afternoon and tomorrow morning."
Who will you throw on Sunday, Evan Mitchell?
"Like a lot of teams in our league, we'll see who is left (for Sunday). If we feel like Evan (Mitchell) or Devin Jones can help us win a game on Friday or Saturday, then we will use them. Then again, there might be some extenuating circumstances (with Arkansas). We haven't even started (our evaluation of Arkansas). We'll start on our film today. If we feel like Devin is a good matchup, then we may move him to the Sunday spot. We'll just have to wait and see as we evaluate it."
Is Devin one of those guys that you feel you have to give him some room to breath, to give him some time, or is it getting down to that crunch time where you are wanting to see more production from him?
"Devin is one of those extremely talented kids that you just don't know when it is going to happen for him. I think every coach in our league has a Devin Jones guy, a guy who is super talented, works really hard at it and you are just waiting for it to show up with consistency. You know he is going to be a great pro prospect. This has happen to me four or five times during my coaching career as an assistant and as a head coach. You have a kid who doesn't really have great, great success in college, then they get 25 or 26 years old and they become a big leaguer. That could happen for Devin Jones. Who knows, we are still early in the season, he might be able to have great success this year or even next year.
"You compare him a little bit to (Jonathan) Papelbon, although Papelbon had some success in college, but not the kind of success he has had in the big leagues. Devin is special and you would love to be able to pinpoint one thing but you can't because his preparation and bullpens are just masterful. You go wow and think if this happens in a game he is going to blow people away. But in conference play, for whatever reason, it just hasn't happened as much as we want it to. But he still has a role and he still needs to pitch for us in some capacity because he is that skilled, that talented and he works that hard."
How close is Brent Brownlee to being fully recovered and when do you expect him to start playing again?
"We think he may be able to play (the Arkansas) weekend. Having him on the field does make a difference for us. There is no question that we are playing some guys in the outfield who don't have much outfield experience because of Brent's injury. There were a lot of balls that fell in, especially early on during our Sunday game, that were not hit very well by Florida. Brent Brownlee is going to get to those type balls. That's not a knock on Trey Johnson, Taylor Start or Nick Vickerson. Those guys just don't have as much experience in that area as Brent does."
Talk about Jonathan Ogden at shortstop?
"That is a tough one. As I have mentioned many times before, in practice situations he is flawless. I'm talking about him touching a ball 150 to 200 times during the course of practice and he never mis-handles a ball and he never throws a ball away, I mean ever. He is one of the most accurate guys that I have ever had. I think he's trying to do too much during a game. At the same time, I think fielding is a lot like hitting. I think you get on streaks. I think, when he's his normal self, he is as good as anybody in our league. I have a lot of confidence in Jonathan Ogden and I think he will make some big plays for us down the stretch."
In a case like his, if he continues throwing the ball away and your team has a lead, would you use Demarcus Henderson in the 7th, 8th or 9th inning as a defensive replacement?
"It's possible, but I think that Jonathan is going to get through this and be able to perform for us at the level that we know he can perform at. I think Demarcus is going to be a very good player for us. Just to show you how much faith I have in Jonathan Ogden, Demarcus Henderson takes ground balls with Jonathan and I tell him to do what he is doing because he does it the right way. I know people don't care about practice but the way he goes about it every single day is unbelievable. He is relentless and incredible. If you believe that practice is important and you believe in a kid's makeup, then you have to believe that Jonathan is going to get through this, and I believe we all do."
Do you expect to see true freshmen Hunter Renfroe and Taylor Stark take on expanded roles the rest of the season? I ask that because it appears Renfroe is hitting the ball better of late and you've been using Stark about one game in each SEC series.
"I can totally see that. I'm really impressed with what Hunter has done. I think Hunter continues to get better every single day behind the plate. I think his swing is getting better. I think he is going to be a great, great player in our program. Yeah, I think there is going to come a point in time where we need to get him out there as much as possible because we are going to have to get him ready to play in our program. But we do have so many seniors in our program who have played at this level and there is a lot to that piece of the puzzle also."
Will Stark continue hitting against lefthanders, as you have used him in the SEC the last few series?
"Yeah, I can see that happening. Taylor is an unbelievably competitor and a great, great athlete. That's how you build your program. I am looking across the way at Florida and their last out of the game comes from an incredibly athletic play from their third baseman. In order to get to that level, you have to have athletes all over the field. And Taylor Stark is one of those type athletes. You just mentioned Renfroe. He is one of those type athletes. Demarcus Henderson is one of those type athletes. That is really exciting to me because I know where we are heading with this (freshman) group."
What do you do pitching-wise in an abbreviated game against UAB on Wednesday night?
"Ideally, what you would want to do is throw one guy each of the four innings. If our bullpen pitches don't throw on Wednesday, they have to throw a bullpen anyway. So, if we can throw four different guys and give them four different looks then that is what would we prefer to do. We have to wait and see how Luis Pollorena is and how Caleb Reed is before we decide to throw them an inning. Then, maybe we can give Tim Statz one inning and maybe someone else based on their lineup.
"What I like about this game is instead of practicing on Wednesday, which is what we normally do, we actually get to play a real shorten game. It's really neat preparation as we prepare to go to Arkansas."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.