MSU Pitching Coach Butch Thompson Q&A

Mississippi State pitching coach Butch Thompson gives his thoughts about his pitchers' performances last weekend and who he expects to start and relieve this coming weekend.

What are your thoughts about your pitchers after watching them pitch in three games this past weekend?
Butch Thompson - "I thought we faced a good lineup. After I went back and watched Washington State I thought they were extremely athletic. I felt like it was an SEC weekend. I also thought after going back and watching them that their strikezone discipline was a little off. They probably chased and swung at some pitches they probably won't swing at after they move forward (into the season).

"From our standpoint, I thought that our pitchers competed the proper way. I thought that Chris Stratton, Ben Bracewell, Jonathan Holder and everybody did a good job.

"We'll get Nick Routt right back out there and pitch him. I thought there were some bad matchups with him but we'll make some adjustments with him. We didn't mix up his pitches (enough). After all the fastballs that (Washington State) saw Friday night and Nick Routt trying to establish his fastball, they got a bunch of hits against him. They weren't extra base hits, but they kind of singled us to death.

"When Evan (Mitchell) came in they were sitting on the fastball, so that required him to show pitchability. That meant he had to pitch off of his breaking ball even though he possesses a really good fastball. And Evan Mitchell really threw his breaking ball well.

"We needed (Evan) to keep us in the ballgame. Then that allowed us to bring Caleb (Reed) in during a meaningful ballgame. And for about four innings, I thought Caleb threw as well as I have ever seen him throw. I'm not sure if he can throw any better than that. I thought it was tough on Caleb (the last couple of innings) because he had lost some spin on his ball but he's the hardest guy to take out on our staff. He just seems to will things to happen. And for what he did in the game he was our pitcher of the week. Caleb epitomizes what we are trying to do with our ballclub.

"In the second game Kendall Graveman threw really well. If you look at the line of his and Caleb's, they are almost the same. Then we brought (Luis) Pollorena for a few batters then brought in Taylor Stark. And we got exactly what we wanted from Taylor. We got a couple of ground balls from Taylor, then he was frustrated for a moment but got it right back. Coach Cohen had a great mound visit with Taylor that helped him get refocused. He quickly produced another ground ball that was turned into a double play that got us out of that inning. Once we grabbed that 5-4 lead, Taylor came out in the ninth and was really strong mentally and really came right at them and helped us earn a really hard fought victory."

You threw Caleb Reed 6+ innings. You seem to have a pretty deep pitching staff this year. What was your thought process about throwing him that many innings?
"I think everybody tries to label him as (just) a closer. Caleb came in (one of) our Super Regional (games) in the 4th inning and threw the last pitch of the ballgame. I think people try to pigeon hole him as a closer but he's not. Sometimes he'll throw (just) the ninth inning but I really don't know why people think he's (just) a closer. I kind of feel like he's a second starter for us. I just feel like you can put him in a game in a competitive moment type situation. He's not a closer; he's a great college pitcher. It shouldn't surprise anyone that we are going to use him like we have in the past when he's been the most successful. When the game is at its most competitive and he's available, that's when we will use Caleb."

Another pitcher that was impressive during the weekend was Chris Stratton. I think that may have been the best pitching I have ever seen from Chris. He was throwing his fastball in the 91-95 miles per hour range consistently and with movement on it. And he seemed to have his other pitches working as well. What are your thoughts about how he pitched and what kind of input have you gotten from the 15 to 20 pro scouts that were at the game?
"The feedback has been so good. I think they may have caught him on a night when he was throwing his best. Everybody we have talked to we have told them that his stuff has raised the bar.

"And throwing him out of the bullpen was by design. We want him to continue to learn how to go at people more. We (also)want him to continue to learn pitch efficiency. And to really let his new-found stuff do it's job he's got to really attack the hitters. I think coming out of the bullpen allows him to not have to pace himself which created that (attacking the hitters) for him. I think what you saw was a guy with electric stuff. The last pitch of the ballgame was a curveball that froze the hitter and caused him to take strike three. When Chris was young he tried to pitch off of that pitch but he was throwing it for strikes 40% of the time, which lends itself to him throwing a lot of pitches. During the game he also threw a cutter to righthanded hitters and a changeup to lefties. He also only threw 39 pitches (in four innings) which was great. He really pitched off of his fastball and showed the other three pitches. He also threw a two-seam fastball. And some of the higher velocities were with his two-seam fastball. Chris has given up some home runs in his career and the two-seamer has the ability to get down in the zone a little bit, which creates more groundballs than flyballs."

Ben Bracewell pitched well. What are your thoughts about him?
"I guess I would use the term cautiously optimistic because he is coming off an injury that caused him to miss last season. We just have to try and fight every day to keep his arm on time and go with what he has that day. But I thought he was very competitive Friday night. He went right at the hitters. He pitched off of his fastball. His fastball was pretty good. I think I saw some 90s and 91s. His slider was ok. They got him in the stretch in the fourth inning when he threw around 20 pitches, which caused him to become fatigued. That's why we took him out so quickly when he got back into the stretch in the 5th inning."

Switching to this weekend. Who do you expect to start each of the four games that you will play?
"Everything is subject to change. (Friday) we'll start Bracewell again. Then, we'll try to execute the same plan as last week and bring Chris Stratton in and see how it is near the end of the ballgame. He finished last Friday and, hopefully, he'll be in the same position to do it again this weekend. But the 10 guys who threw last weekend should be ready to go this weekend.

"Saturday, in game-one, we will throw Kendall Graveman. We hope he can give us 6 innings again. Game-two on Saturday, we'll probably go with the combination of Nick Routt and Evan Mitchell again. Sunday will be a new starter, maybe a freshman. We are kind of looking at Will Cox right now.

"Even though we threw 10 guys last weekend, I'm kind of excited about the fourth game because I want to see the other four (freshmen) pitch - Trevor Fitts, Jacob Lindgren, Will Cox and Brandon Woodruff. Hopefully, having the fourth game will let us get to see those four guys pitch."

You did pitch one true freshman last weekend, Jonathan Holder. What did he do during the spring that caused you to use him when you did during the first weekend series?
"I think he has always been solid. In the fall, when he came to Mississippi State, his time was divided between pitching and hitting. When we got to November, we had a couple of conversation. Then he did some soul searching and decided pitching was the best way for him to help this club, and, two, it was the best way for him to have an immediate impact and develop as a player. Then, he became a pitcher only. And he really wanted to work and put his focus into pitching. He's got a quality breaking ball and he's showing some life in his fastball. Right now, we believe he gives us the best option if we are trying to bridge an inning against righthanded hitters. And that is a very important role."

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