Pollorena Welcomes Series-Starting Assignment

Yeah, OK, if pushed really hard on the subject Luis Pollorena will finally admit it. The nerves might be just a tiny bit more active this evening than usual, as he thinks about his initial Southeastern Conference start. "It might be hard to sleep tonight," Pollorena said. "But when I do, I'll sleep like a baby."

So much for conventional wisdom, that preparing for first-time starting should wind a pitcher up in anxieties. For all anyone could tell Thursday, this was a normal practice for a typical weekend as Pollorena shagged flies. Maybe the only difference was how the sophomore lefthander seemed to be having even more fun out there in centerfield than usual.

Know what? He was. Adjusting his role from mid-game relief to first-pitch starting is not that great an adjustment at all.

"I like it," Pollorena said. "It's the same as coming from the bullpen, you know. The team is behind you, and they count on you to come in and throw strikes and get outs. I've just got to get ready and start getting prepared."

Pollorena actually has had a few days to prepare himself mentally to not just start for the first Mississippi State time, but to get an entire series underway at Tennessee. Coach John Cohen and staff made their final decision Tuesday, having debated all Monday the best way to set up Bulldog pitching for this and the remaining SEC series. As Cohen confirmed Thursday morning, Pollorena is the ‘hot hand' on the staff as things stand; and the likely key to a successful series is getting it underway with the best possible pitching.

So here is Pollorena leaving the bullpen a whole lot earlier. Come the bottom of Friday's first inning he will toe the rubber against a Volunteer without waiting for the relief call. And he welcomes it as an opportunity.

"I mean, I feel good about it. But at the same time I know that my teammates are depending on me to go five, six innings. It's going to be the same mentality I've been using from the bullpen, just throw strikes and let our defense keep on working."

The Diamond Dog defense has liked working behind reliever Pollorena, with a .209 average-against through 16 appearances and 24 strikeouts/10 walks ratio. The transfer from Marion, Ala., Military has also found himself on the hill plenty of times with games in the balance. His eight decisions are second only to starter Chris Stratton—whose game-one slot Pollorena is accepting this weekend—and his five wins are tops on the team. A 1.65 earned run rate trails just Caleb Reed, who Pollorena has served to set up for many of the eight saves.

Those numbers, and the track record how Pollorena has performed under such mid-game pressure, mean it was not an automatic call making the change. Having him in the bullpen has been a powerful peace of mind for current starters. Still as State hits the season stretch that will determine whether they have a post-season, this seems a good gamble.

And to Pollorena's mind, hey, what is the difference anyway? For that matter, what is the difference pitching high school (Laredo, TX, United for the record) or junior college?

"It's the same game," he said. "The same game from back home. I say I'm playing catch with my Dad pretty much, except he has another name on the shirt! So you have to play catch no matter what you're doing and you can't get sped-up. Just keep on playing the game you know how to play."

No wonder Pollorena can be so calm about the coming challenge in Knoxville. Also easing any tensions is the support offered by Stratton and Nick Routt, old hands now at SEC starting. "I'm not really worried, but they have told me just play the game, don't let it bother you, it's the same game you've been playing." Besides, Pollorena points out, "It's like at Arkansas I came in with two outs in the first inning, so it's pretty much the same thing. They've been a big help so far."

Nothing will help Bulldog weekend plans more than a strong start on Friday of course. As Cohen said earlier this week and following a frustrating Alabama series, the problems for State lately hasn't been as much at the end of close games as just getting them going well. Oh, and just because Pollorena has kept calm all week, don't think he is not absolutely serious about this situation.

About the opportunity, too. So far this first MSU season Pollorena said he's been able to rely on his fastball and cutter, which work well against both right- and left-handed batters when he's getting that good downward angle. Now, "I'm hoping I can add a changeup, my confidence would go way up being able to come in against whoever it is and throw strikes and dominate."

"I think I've done pretty good. But I'm not satisfied yet. There's a lot of room for improvement. I love the fans here, and the experience I've had with the coaching staff has been just great. Now hopefully it keeps getting better for a longer time."

Thought of any long-term can wait though; Mississippi State is approaching this as a must-win series to get back in the thick of SEC West contention…not to mention a much more comfortable SEC Tournament position. The remaining nine games are all-important, thus starting this series well is crucial. Just don't expect to see signs of pressure on Pollorena.

Nope, he worked on the gameplan en route, reviewing video and scouting notes. Had a nice evening meal. And, get some sleep. Though if he does miss any Zs there is Friday morning after breakfast.

And come 6:00 local time? "It's just get on the mound and throw strikes. It will be just another day at the ballpark."

Easy for Pollorena to say.

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