Tennessee - MSU Baseball Series Preview

Tennessee and Mississippi State tangle in a three-game Southeastern Conference series this weekend at MSU.

Weather - Thursday, temperatures should be in the low 70s to high 60s during the game. There is no chance of rain. | Friday, like Thursday, temperatures should be in the low 70s to high 60s during the game. There is a very slight chance for rain, about 10%. | Saturday should see highs in the low 70s during the game. There is a 60% chance for rain showers during the game.

Gametimes (CDT) - Thursday 6:30 p.m. (TV-ESPNU) | Friday 6:30 p.m. | Saturday 1:00 p.m.

Coaches - Tennessee head coach Dave Serrano is in his first season with the Vols after coaching UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton the past seven seasons. During his seven years at both schools he led the teams to 5 NCAA Regionals, 2 Super Regionals and 2 College World Series berths. His seven teams won 289 and lost 139. During postseason play, his teams have a 20-16 record.

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.

Tennessee Road/Mississippi State Home Records - Tennessee has a road record of 3-7 while MSU is 19-6 at home.

Expected Pitching Rotations - Tennessee is expected to start junior RHP Zack Godley (4-2, 3.81 ERA) Thursday, freshman RHP Robbie Kidd (2-0, 3.19) Friday and sophomore RHP Nick Williams (2-4, 3.15) Saturday .

Other than the first SEC series of the season, Godley has been the Vols opening night starter. While his overall stats look solid - 4-2 record, 3.81 ERA - he's really struggled in the SEC, especially on the road where he has a 8.35 ERA in his two road starts. In those starts he's given up 11 runs (9 earned) on 16 hits and 3 walks while striking out 9 in 9.2 innings. A positive for him is in his last 2 SEC outings he has a 3.54 ERA (5 ERs in 12.2 innings). He's normally going to throw somewhere in the 6 to 7 inning range in his outings.

Tennessee has struggled to find a second SEC starter. So far, they have tried four pitchers in that role with Robbie Kidd the latest one. His first SEC start was last weekend at home against Florida. He threw 4 innings, allowing 4 runs (2 earned) on 6 hits and 2 walks to go along with his 3 Ks.

Third-game starter, Nick Williams, has started the third game in all five SEC series. Williams started out with a bang in his first two outings, throwing 10.1 innings while allowing 0 runs on 3 hit and 4 walks while striking out 8. Since then, he has struggled, allowing 12 runs (8 earned) on 11 hits and 8 walks while recording 3 Ks in 9.2 innings. There is one positive for Williams - in his two road SEC starts he has not allowed an earned run in 10.2 innings. He did allow 4 unearned runs, though. And if you are wondering those two away starts were against Georgia and South Carolina.

Mississippi State will start the same three pitchers as they did last weekend - junior RHP Chris Stratton (7-0, 2.98 ERA) Thursday, junior RHP Kendall Graveman (2-2, 3.25) Friday and Evan Mitchell (1-1, 4.13) Saturday.

Stratton has been one of the more effective starting pitchers in the SEC. He started out extremely strong in his first outing, giving up 1 run on 4 hits and 2 walks while striking out 17 in 8.2 innings against LSU. He hasn't been as effective as that outing in his last four starts but has been somewhat solid, giving up 14 runs (12 earned) in 27.2 innings for an ERA of 3.90. A strange trend that he has had in his 5 SEC outings is the fact that he has given up one more run in each SEC outing than he gave up in his previous outing. In is five outings he has given up 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 runs. Hopefully, he stops that trend Thursday night. Stratton has given a solid 7 to 8+ innings in all but 1 of his SEC appearances,

Graveman has been a solid pitcher for MSU in three of his five SEC outings. After shutting down LSU to the tune of 1 run in 9 innings, he has been up and down since then. In two of his starts he gave up 9 earned runs in 10.1 innings while in the other two he gave up 2 earned runs in 11 innings. The good news for MSU fans is those two good starts were at home. His home SEC ERA is 1.64 while his road ERA is 4.66.

Mitchell has been used in every SEC series this season, although just one as a starter. Last weekend against South Carolina he drew the Sunday start and allowed 4 runs (2 earned) in 4.1 innings. In his other four outings, all in relief, he had a couple of good outings (1 ER, 8 IP) and a couple of bad ones (6 ER, 4 IP). Walks have really hurt him in SEC action, with 13 in 16.1 innings.

Relief Pitching - Tennessee will likely use four primary relievers - junior RHP Drew Steckenrider (4-2, 0 S, 1.73 ERA), sophomore LHP Dalton Saberhagen (4-0, 0 S, 2.00), sophomore RHP Carter Watson (3-2, 1 S, 3.60) and junior RHP Nick Blount (2-2, 10 S, 4.02).

Steckenrider has been used almost exclusively in middle relief. After starting out a little slow in his first two outings (2 ER, 3.2 IP), he has been very, very good in his last five (2 ER, 13 IP). That translates to an ERA of 1.38. He's usually good for 2 to 3+ innings when he pitches.

Saberhagen was originally used in late relief in SEC play but has been used in middle relief of late. He has been effective in both roles, giving up no earned runs (2 unearned) in his 6.1 innings of SEC work. He started his SEC action by being used mainly to get 1 or 2 outs, but of late he has been throwing between 1+ innings to 3 innings.

Watson started the SEC as a closer who would come in and get the last out or two of a game. Tennessee slowly started using him for a full inning, then up to 2+ innings. He did ok in that role initially but has faltered of late, giving up 3 earned runs (4 unearned) in his last two outings which included a total of 3.2 innings.

Blount has been Tennessee's closer and has excelled in that role, throwing in 8 SEC games and only giving up a run in one when he gave up 3 unearned (2 earned) in 2/3rds of an inning. In his other 7 outings, he gave up 0 runs in 7.2 innings. He's almost exclusively thrown an inning in each of his outings other than his first SEC outing of the year when he threw 1.2 innings. Unlike most closers, he's not a strikeout pitcher. He's only recorded 3 in his 8.1 SEC innings. What he does is generate groundball outs, about 2 groundouts to 1 flyout.

Mississippi State will likely used between 5 and 6 guys in relief, including senior RHP Caleb Reed (0-5, 7 S, 3.41 ERA), freshman RHP Jonathan Holder (1-0, 1 S, 0.00), freshmen LHP Jacob Lindgren (1-1, 0 S, 3.18), redshirt freshman Ross Mitchell (0-0, 0 S, 1.04), sophomore RHP Taylor Stark (1-0, 1 S, 3.00) and possibly redshirt junior Nick Routt (1-4, 4.66).

Reed has been MSU's go-to guy in close out situation and has been either hot or cold in that role. In three of his outings he has given up 0 runs in 7.1 innings. In his other three SEC relief outings he has given up 7 earned runs in 5.2 innings. You'll know fairly quick if he's on that night. If he doesn't give up a run in his first inning of work, he's normally going to be good for at least 2 to 3 innings.

Holder is being brought along slowly by the MSU coaching staff. He's appeared in three of MSU's five SEC series, throwing between 1+ to 2 innings in each. He hasn't given up a run, while allowing 5 hits and 1 walk to go along with his 3 Ks in 5 innings of work.

Lindgren, like Holder, has been brought along slowly, also throwing in 3 SEC games. After giving up 2 runs in 2.2 innings in his first SEC action, in his last 2 SEC appearances he has given up just 1 run in 3.2 innings.

Mitchell has been a lefty match-up reliever, throwing no more than an out or two in his three SEC appearances. He has excelled in that role, giving up no runs, hits or walks in 1.1 innings.

Stark, who was injured for most of the early part of the SEC action, has thrown in three games in the last 2 series and has performed decent, giving up 2 earned runs in 3.1 innings. Both runs were allowed in his last outing.

It's possible Routt could be used this weekend in a lefty match-up role or even in long relief. After struggling as a starter in SEC games the first three SEC series of the season, he was moved to the bullpen. He's been decent in that role, giving up 1 earned run in 2.1 innings in his two outings.

Who's Hot at the Plate and Who's Not in the Last 5 SEC Games - For Tennessee junior Chris Fritts leads the way with a .412 batting average (7-of-17, 2 RBI). No other Vol is hitting above .300.

Coming in a distant second is senior Davis Morgan at .222 (4-of-18, 0 RBI), followed by junior Drew Steckenrider at .211 (4-of-19, 0 RBI). Next is freshman Will Maddox at .182 (4-of-22, 1 RBI), junior Zach Luther at .158 (3-of-19, 1 RBI), senior Chris Pierce at .154 (2-of-13, 0 RBI), senior Zach Osborne at .133 (2-of-15, 0 RBI) and sophomore Ethan Bennett at .077 (1-of-13, 1 RBI).

In part-time duty, freshman Richard Carter is hitting .600 (3-of-5, 3 RBI) and freshman Nick Powell is hitting .300 (1-of-3, 0 RBI).

Mississippi State is led at the plate by sophomore Daryl Norris who comes in at .375 (6-of-16, 4 RBI), followed by sophomore Hunter Renfroe at .333 (6-of-18, 4 RBI).

Sophomore C.T. Bradford is hitting .273 (6-of-22, 3 RBI), sophomore Adam Frazier is hitting .238 (5-of-21, 2 RBI), junior Trey Porter is hitting .222 (4-of-18, 1 RBI), and redshirt freshman Wes Rea comes in at .211 (4-of-19, 3 RBI).

Others include senior Brent Brownlee at .182 (2-of-11, 3 RBI), junior Mitch Slauter at .158 (3-of-19, 1 RBI), freshman Tyler Fullerton at .143 (2-of-14, 1 RBI) and junior Sam Frost at .059 (1-of-17, 1 RBI).

How Tennessee and MSU Match Up
Tennessee Category Mississippi State
22-15 Record 21-16
.261 Batting Average .268
170 (4.8 pg) Runs 187 (5.1 pg)
13 Home Runs 15
.353 OB % .358
52-79 Stolen Bases-Attempts 34-55
121 (3.3 pg) Walks 149 (4.0 pg)
227 (6.1 pg) Strikeouts 257 (6.9 pg)
285 (7.7 pg) LOB 317 (8.6 pg)
3.59 Team ERA 3.23
14 Saves 9
139 (3.8 pg) Walks 114 (3.1 pg)
253 (6.8 pg) Strikeouts 338 (9.1 pg)
.252 Batting Average Against .254
.973 Fielding % .966

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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