Tennessee - MSU Baseball Series Preview

Mississippi State and Tennessee face off in a crucial three-game Southeastern Conference series this weekend at Tennessee.

Weather - Friday - The temperatures should be in the mid 60s during the game with the winds out of the west at 7 to 8 mph. No rain is expected. | Saturday - The temperatures should be in the mid 70s throughout the game with a very slight chance of rain. Winds should be from the southwest at about 8 mph. | Sunday - The temperatures should be in the high 70s to low 80s with a 30% chance of rain. Winds should be from the west at 8 mph.

Gametimes (CDT) - Friday 5:00 p.m. | Saturday 3:00 p.m. | Sunday 1:00 p.m. (SportsSouth-TV)

Coaches - Todd Raleigh is in his fourth season as the Tennessee Volunteer head baseball coach. In three seasons he has a 83-84 overall record and a 35-55 SEC record. Neither of his three team's have advanced to NCAA play. Prior to taking the coaching reigns of Tennessee, he was the head coach at Western Carolina where he took 2 of his 8 teams into NCAA post-season regional play. Those two teams were 4-4 in post-season play. He won two regular season championships during his stay at WCU.

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. Last year's MSU team was 23-33. He has an overall record of 48-62 and is 15-44 in SEC games. In five seasons at Kentucky and one 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.

Tennessee Home/Mississippi State Road Records - Tennessee is 17-11 at home while Mississippi State is 6-8 on the road.

Expected Pitching Rotations - Tennessee is expected to start junior LHP Steven Gruver (4-5, 3.07 ERA) Friday night and sophomore RHP Nick Blount (1-2, 5.57 ERA) Saturday. A Sunday starter hasn't been announced. My best guess is it will either be senior LHP Rob Catapano (2-4, 6.38 ERA) or redshirt freshman RHP Jon Reed (1-2, 4.72 ERA).

Gruver has been Tennessee's most effective starter. He has normally thrown 6+ innings in each of his outings, although he's more likely to throw 7 or 8 during home SEC games. His ERA at home has been 3.97 in SEC games while it is 4.26 on the road. He started out as Tennessee's Saturday starter but was moved to Friday night due to the ineffectiveness of the Friday starter. He's very effective through the first 3 innings, having given up no runs in the first two innings of any of his SEC outings and just 2 in the third inning. Teams normally get to him beginning in the fourth. He's given up 5 runs in the 4th, 4 in the 5th, 10 in the 6th and 4 and 3 in the 7th and 8th when he's gone into those two innings.

Blount was moved into the SEC rotation three weekends ago and performed well in his first outing, giving up no runs in 5 innings against Alabama. Since then, he has really struggled in the SEC, giving up 13 runs (all earned) in 7.2 innings for an ERA of 15.25.

Catapano started out as Tennessee'S Friday night starter but was removed from the role last weekend after giving up 10 runs in 5.1 innings in his last two outings. Prior to those two games, he had pitched well, throwing 17.1 innings while giving up 7 runs in his three appearances.

Reed has started one SEC game, giving up 4 runs in 3.2 innings against Vanderbilt. He also has one relief appearance, throwing 4.2 innings against Georgia. In that game he gave up no runs on 1 hit.

Mississippi State will throw junior LHP Luis Pollorena (5-3, 1.65 ERA) Friday night, junior LHP Nick Routt (0-2, 3.81 ERA) Saturday and sophomore RHP Chris Stratton (4-5, 4.98 ERA) Sunday afternoon.

Pollorena, a lefty who throws his fastball in the high 80s touching 90 at times, will be starting his first game of the season. As a reliever, he's been one of MSU's long relievers, throwing 3 or more innings in 6 of his 16 appearances. And if you count his appearance against Ole Miss in the Governor's Cup game, three of those six were against SEC teams. In those games he threw a total of 9 innings, giving up three runs (2 earned) on 9 hits while walking 4 and striking out 6. While Tennessee is primarily a right-hand hitting team, Pollorena has a cutter that is effective against righties.

Routt has been very effective in all but one of his six SEC outings this season. Other than the 6 runs he gave up to Arkansas in his 3 innings of work, he has given up no more than 2 runs in any of his other outings. In those games he threw 19.2 innings while allowing 7 runs (4 earned) which is an ERA of 1.83. He's still working on his stamina after pitching very little last season due to an injury. Due to that, he has thrown between 3 and 5 innings in his six SEC appearances. He's slowly increasing his pitch count and could easily throw in the 100 pitch count range this weekend, which could end up being a 5 or 6 inning outing for him.

Stratton, who consistently throws his fastball in the 91-93 mph range, had really struggled his last three outings prior to last Saturday's appearance. In his previous three SEC outings he had given up 20 runs (18 earned) in 13.2 innings. But last Saturday he showed a little improvement, giving up 3 runs (2 earned) in 4 inning of work. It still wasn't where he wants to be but it was improvement. As a way to help take some pressure off of him the MSU coaching staff is pitching him on Sunday. What could help Stratton is the fact that Tennessee is struggling at the plate at the moment.

Relief Pitching - Tennessee will probably use upwards of six relievers this weekend - freshman RHP Nick Williams (1-1, 2 S, 5.26 ERA), sophomore RHP Drew Steckenrider (2-0, 1 S, 7.11 ERA), sophomore RHP Zack Godley (0-0, 2 S, 3.63 ERA), redshirt sophomore LHP Hunter Daniel (0-0, 0 S, 9.00 ERA), junior RHP Jerod Peper (0-1, 0 S, 23.82 ERA) and freshman RHP Carter Watson (5-2, 0 S, 4.23 ERA).

Williams, who has appeared in 11 SEC games, has performed well in SEC action other than a couple of games when he gave up 11 of the 12 runs he has given up in SEC appearances. In his other SEC outings he has given up just 1 run in 13 innings. He's normally going to give Tennessee a couple of solid innings when he's on.

Steckenrider, a hard thrower, is a closer for Tennessee. After performing poorly in his first three SEC games (4.2 IP, 10 ER), he has been outstanding in his last 5 (5.1 IP, 0 R). A major reason for that is his control. In those first three outings he walked 9 while walking just 3 in his last five.

Godley has been up and down in his SEC appearances. In 8.2 innings he has given up 6 runs (5 earned). He started out slow, giving up 4 runs in 3 innings in his first 3 games, then seem to settle down and throw 5.2 innings in his next five, giving up 2 runs (1 earned). Tennessee didn't use him last weekend against Vanderbilt.

Daniel is a lefty match-up reliever for Tennessee. Although he threw 3.1 innings in two appearances against Ole Miss early on, since then he's thrown no more than an out or two in his other 8 SEC outings. And he's performed ok in that role, although he did give up 5 runs in 1/3 of an inning against Vanderbilt last weekend. In his previous 5 SEC appearances he had given up no runs in 2 innings.

Peper hasn't been used much in SEC action (4 games) but has seen action in 2 of the last 3 SEC series. When he's brought in he appears to be a righty match-up guy who will come in and get an out.

Watson has appeared in 7 games and pretty much has been ineffective in about all of them, giving up 10 runs in 8 innings. His two good outings were when he was brought in and got an out in each appearance. Other than those two games, he has given up between 1 and 4 runs in each of his other SEC appearances. He'll normally throw an inning or two.

Mississippi State will primarily use six relievers in SEC games - junior RHP Caleb Reed (0-1, 8 S, 1.00 ERA), junior LHP Tim Statz (0-1, 0 S, 4.08 ERA), freshman RHP Taylor Stark (2-0, 1 S, 2.84 ERA), freshman RHP Daryl Norris (1-0, 1 S, 1.83 ERA), sophomore RHP Kendall Graveman (4-0, 0 S, 3.67 ERA), and junior RHP Devin Jones (2-5, 0 S, 4.63 ERA).

Reed has been MSU's most effective pitcher out of the pen this season. He's appeared in 12 of MSU's 21 SEC games and has been effective in 10 of the 12. He gave up 5 runs (4 earned) in 6.2 innings in two outings against Vanderbilt and Alabama while in his other 10 appearances he gave up 0 runs in 16 innings. He's a guy who can come in and get an out or come in and throw two or three innings. He's been effective doing both. MSU, if necessary, is not afraid to use him in a couple of games in a series.

Statz pitched well during the first part of the SEC schedule (9.1 IP, 1 ER) but has struggled somewhat in his last two outings, giving up 1 run on 5 hits in 2.2 innings. You can normally tell by his control whether he will be effective. If he walks no one he rarely gives up a run. Tennessee has very, very few lefthanded hitters so that might factor into how much he pitches this weekend.

Stark, a low 90s fastball guy with an outstanding slider, has thrown in 5 SEC games so far this season. While he was very effective in his first three (4.1 IP, 0 R), he has been less effective in his last two (1.2 IP, 4 R). But I can definitely see the State coaches using him this weekend due to the abundance of right-hand hitters on the Tennessee team.

Norris has struggled of late in SEC games, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits in 1.1 innings in his last two outings. He did, however, throw a very good 3.1 innings against South Alabama this past Tuesday night. And with Tennessee struggling to hit the ball right now, I could see him being used in a middle relief role.

Righty Graveman has mainly been used in long relief in SEC games, although he did start last Sunday's game. He's had fairly good success against two of the best hitting teams in the SEC, Florida and South Carolina, limiting them to 2 runs in 7 innings. He also pitched well against Ole Miss in the Governor's Cup game, throwing 4 innings while allowing 0 runs. With Tennessee struggling hitting the ball, he seems to be the logical choice for a long relief role during the series.

Jones has the best stuff on the staff but has really struggled in SEC games this season. But with Pollorena moving from the bullpen to the Friday starting role, and Jones being a righthanded pitcher, you have to believe the State coaching staff will be tempted to use him in a closer role if Reed throws in the Friday or Saturday game.

Who's Hot at the Plate and Who's Not in the Last 5 Games - Tennessee has three players hitting .300 or above, including sophomore Drew Steckenrider who comes in at .400 (4-for-10, 0 RBI) followed by freshman Andrew Toles at .381 (8-for-21, 2 RBI) and freshman Ethan Bennett at .353 (6-for-17, 2 RBI).

Others include sophomore Chris Fritts who is hitting .250 (4-for-16, 0 RBI), junior Zach Osborne at .200 (4-for-20, 1 RBI), senior Josh Liles at .200 (3-for-15, 0 RBI), senior Tyler Horne who comes in at .167 (2-for-12, 0 RBI), senior Matt Duffy at .111 (2-for-18, 1 RBI) and senior Khayyan Norfork at .105 (2-for-19, 2 RBI). In part-time duty, junior Davis Morgan is hitting .222 (2-for-9, 3 RBI).

Mississippi State is led at the plate in the last five games by senior Nick Vickerson who is hitting a robust .555 (11-for-20, 3 RBI) followed by senior Jaron Shepherd who comes in at .529 (9-for-17, 2 RBI), junior Brent Brownlee at .455 (5-for-11, 7 RBI), senior Jarrod Parks at .438 (7-for-16, 0 RBI), senior Ryan Collins who is hitting .350 (7-for-20, 3 RBI) and senior Cody Freeman who comes in at .318 (7-for-22, 2 RBI.

Others include freshman Adam Frazier who is hitting .286 (4-for-14, 2 RBI), freshman C.T. Bradford who comes in at .261 (6-for-23, 0 RBI), senior Jonathan Ogden who is hitting at a .250 clip (3-for-12, 4 RBI), senior Trey Johnson who is batting .231 (3-for-13, 3 RBI) and senior Wes Thigpen who comes in at .167 (3-for-18, 4 RBI).

How Tennessee and MSU Match Up
Tennessee Category Mississippi State
22-20 Record 26-18
.284 Batting Average .289
220 (5.4 pg) Runs 270 (6.1 pg)
22 Home Runs 20
.365 OB % .391
75-98 Stolen Bases-Attempts 61-83
134 (3.2 pg) Walks 187 (4.3 pg)
227 (5.4 pg) Strikeouts 285 (6.5 pg)
313 (7.5 pg) LOB 394 (9.0 pg)
4.81 Team ERA 4.09
11 Saves 11
160 (3.8 pg) Walks 148 (3.4 pg)
282 (6.7 pg) Strikeouts 347 (7.9 pg)
.282 Batting Average Against .261
.975 Fielding % .972

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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