Arkansas - MSU Baseball Series Preview

Mississippi State and 3rd ranked Arkansas tangle in a three-game Southeastern Conference series this weekend at MSU.

Weather - Friday - Temperatures should be in the low 70s at the start of the game and in the mid 60s by the end of the game. There is a 10% chance of rain. Winds should be from the SSW at 6 mph. | Saturday - Temperatures should be in the mid 70s during the game. There is a 10% chance of rain. Winds should be from the W at 9 mph. | Sunday - Temperatures should be in the mid to high 70s during the game. There is a 10% chance of rain. Winds should be from the NNW at 9 mph.

Gametimes (CDT) - Friday 6:30 p.m. | Saturday 2:00 p.m. | Sunday 12:00 p.m. (TV-FSN and SportSouth)

Coaches - Dave Van Horn is coaching his 10th season at Arkansas, In his first nine seasons he has won one SEC championship. His teams have an overall record of 359-201 and are 143-125 in SEC regular season action. All nine of his teams have advanced to NCAA post-season action with four advancing to Super Regional play. Two of those four teams won the Super Regionals and appeared in the College World Series. His teams are 24-20 in NCAA post-season play.

John Cohen, who is entering his fourth season as the head coach at Mississippi State, has an overall record of 86-87, including a 38-25 record in 2011, and a 29-60 record in SEC play. His 2011 team appeared in NCAA post-season play, winning the Atlanta Regional 3-0 and going 1-2 in the Gainesville Super Regional against Florida, the 2011 College World Series national runner-up.

Arkansas Home/Mississippi State Road Records - Arkansas is 2-1 on the road (at a neutral site) while Mississippi State is 14-3 at home.

Expected Pitching Rotations - Look for Arkansas to start junior RHP D.J. Baxendale (5-0, 2.30 ERA) Friday, sophomore RHP Ryne Stanek (5-0, 1.52 ERA) Saturday and junior LHP Randall Fant (1-1, 4.82 ERA) Sunday.

For Arkansas pitching stats, I'm using the last 4 weekend series.

A consensus pre-season All-American selection, Baxendale was ranked as the 38th-best prospect nationally in the junior class and the 85th-best draft prospect for the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft by Baseball America. Although he hasn't quite pitched up to those lofty standards this season, during the past four weekends he has pitched really well, giving up 9 runs (7 earned) on 19 hits and 7 walks while striking out 17 in 21.1 innings of work. He's usually going to pitch 5 to 6 innings during his outing and he has been very consistent throughout the game. Run-wise, no one inning stands out as one where he is not as effective. He's simply very consistent throughout the game.

Stanek, who possessses a low 90s fastball with a tremendous curve, was ranked as the third-best sophomore prospect in the country by Baseball America and if he had been draft-eligible this year would have likely been a first-round draft choice. Because he will be 21-years-old this summer, he missed being draft-eligible by less than a month. So far this season Stanek has been right on the edge of living up to that billing. During the last four weekends he has thrown 25.2 innings, giving up 6 runs (4 earned) on 20 hits and 8 walks while striking out 21. He normally throws 6 to 7 innings during his outings. Like Baxendale he has been very consistent throughout his outings.

Fant throws his fastball in the high 80s to low 90s range. During his last four outings, he has been exactly the opposite of Baxendale and Stanek. While they have been very consistent thoughout most of their outings, he has been very, very good to very, very bad during each outing. During his first four innings of those 4 outings, he has given up 2 runs in 16 innings for an ERA of 1.13 while in the 5th and 6th innings he has given up a total of 8 runs in 2.2 innings for an ERA of 29.97. He has gone into the 5th inning in all four of those starts but lasted more than 1/3 of an inning just once. Overall in those 4 outings, he has given up 10 runs on 22 hits and 3 walks while striking out 16 in 18.2 innings.

Mississippi State is expected to start junior RHP Chris Stratton (4-0, 2.12 ERA) on Friday, redshirt-junior LHP Nick Routt (1-2, 4.05 ERA) on Saturday and junior RHP Kendall Graveman (2-0, 2.30 ERA) on Sunday.

Stratton, who throws his fastball in the low to mid 90s, was selected the National Player of the Week last week after completely shutting down the 8th ranked LSU Tigers to the tune of 1 run on 4 hits and 2 walks with 17 Ks in 8.2 innings. However, of his last three outings, that has been his best by far. His previous two outings he threw 11 innings, allowing 6 runs on 11 hits and 7 walks to go along with 16 Ks. When he keeps his walks down he can completely dominate a team. That's the key with him. So, you'll know fairly early how good he will be during his outing.

Routt, during his last three appearances, has either been really good or not so good. After throwing 6 innings, allowing 1 run (unearned) on 4 hits and 1 walk while striking out 3 in an outing, his last two outings haven't been as successful. During those two appearances he threw 7.2 innings, giving up 6 runs (5 earned) on 11 hits and 2 walks to go along with his 9 Ks. He's struggled in the first inning of his last two outings. The game he did well in he pitched really well through 6 innings. Based on that, it appears, if he can get through the first inning with no damage done. he should be fine for a few innings after that.

Graveman, in his last three appearances, has really gotten better during the last two. After giving up 2 runs on 5 hits and 0 walks with 4 Ks in 3.2 innings in an outing, he has pitched extremely well in his last two outings, giving up just 2 runs on 13 hits and 4 walks while striking out 8 during 17.1 innings. The key with Graveman's being successful is how many groundball outs he records. Of his last three appearances the one he was unsuccessful in he had 3 flyouts and 4 groundouts in 3.2 innings while giving up 2 runs. In his last two outtings, when he gave up 2 runs in 17.1 innings, he had 33 groundouts to 6 flyouts. So, it will be fairly easy to know when he's going to be successful. Just watch for what type outs he's getting early on.

Relief Pitching - Other than possible mop-up duty, look for Arkansas to go to five main guys out of the bullpen - sophomore RHP Barrett Astin (2-0, 6 S, 0.00 ERA), junior LHP Cade Lynch (0-0, 1 S, 1.37 ERA), sophomore RHP Brandon Moore (2-0, 2 S, 0.87 ERA), sophomore RHP Colby Suggs (1-0, 0 S, 1.87 ERA) and sophomore RHP Nolan Sanbun (2-1, 0 S, 3.09 ERA).

For Arkansas pitching stats, I'm using the last 4 weekend series since the relief pitchers used during those games are likely to be the ones used during SEC weekend series.

Astin has been the main closer for Arkansas this season and has been spectacular during the last four weekend series, giving up no runs on 5 hits and 4 walks while striking out 13 in 11.1 innings.

Lynch has been a combo guy, closing and throwing middle relief. And he has been very good at both during the last four weekends, giving up 2 runs (1 earned) on 5 hits and 2 walks to go along with his 11 Ks in 10.1 innings.

Moore has been about as good a closer as Astin, although used in a different type role. Moore is also used as a closer but he's more of a 3 to 4 inning type guy whereas Astin pitches 1 to 2 innings. Moore, during the past four weekends, has thrown 9.1 innings, giving up 2 runs (both unearned) on 6 hits and 0 walks while striking out 7.

Suggs has strictly been middle relief this season, throwing in four games during the past four weekends. He's more of a 1 to 2 outs to 1 inning type pitcher. In his four outings he has thrown 2.2 innings, giving up 1 run on 2 hits and 3 walks while striking out 2.

Sanbun, who can throw his fastball in the mid-90s, has been mainly used in middle relief, throwing in 3 games during the past 4 weekends. He's given up 3 runs on 7 hits and 1 walk while striking out 11 in 7.2 innings. He's normally going to throw 2 to 3 innings when he comes in.

Mississippi State is expected to use upwards of seven pitchers for relief duty including senior RHP Caleb Reed (0-3, 5 S, 2.20 ERA), sophomore RHP Evan Mitchell (1-0, 0 S, 2.76 ERA), junior LHP Luis Pollorena (0-0, 0 S, 4.26 ERA) and four freshmen RHPs Brandon Woodruff (0-0, 0 S, 2.70 ERA), Trevor Fitts (2-0, 0 S, 1.86 ERA), Jonathan Holder (1-0, 1 S, 0.00 ERA) and Tanner Gaines (1-0, 0 S, 1.17 ERA).

Reed has been MSU's go-to guy when the game has been on the line this season and he has performed very well in that role. He has appeared in 9 games and has only given up an earned run in 2 of the nine. Although he struggled in his last outing, giving up 2 runs in an inning against LSU, during his previous 7 games he had given up just 1 unearned run on 5 hits and 0 walks while striking out 16 in 9.1 innings. He's normally going to give MSU 1 to 2 innings of work when he comes in, although he did throw 6.1 innings in his first outing of the season.

Mitchell's role is to be long relief for starter Nick Routt. He has appeared in 5 games so far this season and has pitched between 2 to 4+ innings during the games. He's a guy who will average 1.5 strikeouts per inning but he's also going to average about a walk every two innings. He pitched really well his first 3 outings of the season but has given up 4 runs on 6 hits and 6 walks in 7.1 innings during his last two outings. He did strike out 10 in those two games. To his credit, his last outing which was against LSU, he threw 4.1 innings, giving up just 1 run on 2 hits and 3 walks while striking out 7.

Pollorena has only appeared in three games this season but has improved each outing, giving up 1 earned run in 1.0 inning, 1 in 2.0 innings and 1 in 3.1 innings. He will likely be used in middle relief.

Woodruff didn't pitch for most of the first part of the season but has appeared in 3 games since then. As you would expect from a freshman, he has been up and down. Possessing a low-90s mph fastball, he's struck out 9 in 6.2 innings. His last outing was his best; he struck out 6 in 3.1 inning while giving up 1 earned run on 2 hits and 2 walks. He's likely going to be used in middle relief during this series.

Fitts, who also possesses a low-90s mph fastball, has been used in long relief at times this year but his last two outings have been 1 out to 1 inning. And he's been very effective in that role, giving up no runs on 1 hit and no walks while striking out 1 in 1.1 innings.

Holder has been the most effective of all the freshmen pitchers, throwing in 6 games while allowing 0 runs on 2 hits and 1 walk while striking out 8 in 7.2 innings. He has a good curve to go along with a high 80s to low 90s fastball. He is still trying to define his role in the bullpen but he could wind up being a late inning guy this weekend.

Gaines, a redshirt freshman, possesses a high 80s to low 90s mph fastball and a developing curveball. He's a guy who has mostly been used for an out to an inning of work, although he did throw 4.2 innings in one game. He seems to have gotten better as the season has gone on. After giving up 2 run on 2 hits and 0 walks in 1 inning in his first two games, in his last three outings he has thrown 6.2 innings, giving up 1 unearned run on 2 hits and 2 walks while striking out 8.

Who's Hot at the Plate and Who's Not in the Last 5 Games - For Arkansas four full-time position players are hitting at least .300, including junior Matt Reynolds who leads the team with a .400 batting average (6-of-15, 4 RBI). Following him are senior Bo Bigham at .353 (6-of-17, 2 RBI), sophomore Jake Wise at .308 (4-of-13, 3 RBI) and redshirt sophomore Jacob Morris at .300 (3-of-10, 3 RBI).

Others are sophomore Dominic Ficociello who is hitting .286 (4-of-14, 0 RBI), junior Matt Vinson at .250 (3-of-12, 4 RBI), redshirt sophomore Jimmy Bosco at .231 (3-of-13, 2 RBI), redshirt senior Tim Carver at .227 (5-of-22, 2 RBI) and freshman Joe Serrano at .200 (2-of-10, 1 RBI).

Three part-time starters for Arkansas are junior Derrick Bleeker who is hitting .444 (4-of-9, 2 RBI), junior Jacob Mahan at .400 (2-of-5, 2 RBI) and senior Sam Bates who comes in at .375 (3-of-8, 2 RBI).

Mississippi State is led at the plate by freshman Tyler Fullerton who comes in hitting at a robust .412 (7-of-17, 1 RBI) in the last 5 games. He's followed by junior Trey Porter who comes in hitting .400 (8-of-20, 3 RBI). They are the only two players hitting over .300 during the last five games.

Others are sophomore Adam Frazier who is hitting at a .273 clip (6-of-22, 2 RBI) as is another sophomore Hunter Renfroe (6-of-22. 1 RBI). Slightly behind them is redshirt freshman Demarcus Henderson who comes in at a .250 clip (5-of-20, 2 RBI). Hitting .214 is freshman Phillip Casey (3-of-14, 2 RBI), at .211 is redshirt freshman Wes Rea (4-of-19, 2 RBI), junior Mitch Slauter comes in at .200 (3-of-15, 2 RBI). Freshman Matthew Britton is hitting .071 (1-of-14, 0 RBI).

How Arkansas and MSU Match Up
Arkansas Category Mississippi State
20-2 Record 15-7
.294 Batting Average .291
149 (6.8 pg) Runs 116 (5.3 pg)
19 Home Runs 9
.402 OB % .378
29-41 Stolen Bases-Attempts 27-38
115 (5.2 pg) Walks 76 (3.5 pg)
116 (5.3 pg) Strikeouts 151 (6.9 pg)
178 (8.1 pg) LOB 192 (8.7 pg)
2.25 Team ERA 2.62
9 Saves 7
63 (2.9 pg) Walks 59 (2.7 pg)
184 (8.4 pg) Strikeouts 203 (9.2 pg)
.207 Batting Average Against .232
.965 Fielding % .970

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by emailing

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