A Q&A With MSU Head Coach And Players

Mississippi State head baseball coach John Cohen and pitchers Kendall Graveman and Jonathan Holder talk about their team's series-clinching 3-2 victory over Alabama.

Junior RHP Kendall Graveman

This was a big win for the team.
"Yeah, it was a great team win. You couldn't have asked for any (better pitching) behind me. The staff did a great job. We are built as a team to win games like this. This is normally the type games that we have been playing lately."

You had eight groundball outs during the game in your 4.2 innings of work.
"That is my makeup. A few of them found holes. And they made a good bunt the last inning I was in. Dugas really got down the line quick which really pressures the defense. But, for the most part, I thought we did a great job defensively."

You started the SEC 5-10. Now you are 12-11.
"It feels great. We had a really tough weekend (against South Carolina) right before we played Tennessee. But I really believed in this team and felt good things would come. Good things have come. Now, we have to get another win tomorrow and get the sweep."

The team has won three straight games with just 12 hits by your offense. Is there a lot of pressure on the pitching staff due to that lack of hitting?
"Baseball is supposed to be played like this, 3 to 2 games. Someone made a statement about all the one-run games in the SEC. We knew coming into the SEC season there were going to be a lot of one-run games. We just have to bear down and continue fighting. We had three hits today but we still scored three runs. The guys are doing a great job offensively with their ABs, getting walks then getting hits. As long as we can continue doing that I feel like we are going to have a positive second half of the season."

When John Cohen comes out to talk to the pitchers what he is talking about?
"He is talking about situations and what we are going to do in those situations. He came out to talk to me today when I had that long at-bat because it was hot and he could tell I was a little fatigued. He just wanted to give me a little break. He really just tries to calm everybody down and communicate with the infielders. He just tries to slow down the game and help everybody relax. He does a really good job of that."

You've really improved from last year to this year. What did you do to improve?
"I think it is a lot due to maturity and the mental aspect of the game. I visualize a day in advance of what I want to do with the hitters. As a freshman you are just put out there. In high school you had 3 or 4 hitters who could hurt you. In college you have 9 guys who can hurt you. (As you get older) you know how to play the game. You know different situations. Plus, I think my pitchability has improved since I was a freshman."

Why do you get so many ground ball outs?
"It's a two-seam sinker or whatever you want to call it. The last 10% of it when it gets to the plate has a lot of downward moment. Due that it's hard for them to get underneath it. That's why they beat it into the ground."

Do you know prior to the game if you are going to have that good sink with your fastball?
"Yeah, I do. I've pretty much had it all season long so far. And this past summer I think I really learned a lot especially against wood bats and knowing that I could work people in. Pitching in has helped me a lot this season. It gets the bat angle steep and causes them to hit it into the ground. Then my defense does their job. And they have done a great job this season."

So, summer ball is a very important part of learning to pitch on the collegiate level?
"It was for me. It's different for different people but it was important to me. Going to the Cape (Cod League) and playing against some of the best players in the nation really built confidence. You can't get that if you go home and don't play summer ball. Plus, while I was there I learned to throw a changeup from my summer league coach. I started throwing the changeup the week before the LSU weekend. And it has allowed me to get people out and go deep into games."

Freshman RHP Jonathan Holder

You guys were 5-10 in the SEC. Now you are 12-11. What has caused the improvement?
"I think we are having a lot more fun. We are coming out here and playing ball and having fun."

You have some of your hitters back that were injured earlier in the year. That has to give you some confidence?
"Yeah, guys that were injured and out of the lineup are back in the lineup."

It's been about eight years since Mississippi State won a series at Alabama. What were you doing back then?
"I was probably playing Little League. I was more of a hitter back then. I pitched but it was slow, so I was trying to hit my spots."

You are closing now. Have you and Caleb Reed talked about closing. He's been there as well, so he knows what you are going through.
"No, not really. I just come in when Coach wants me to come in. It doesn't matter to me if I come in before him or after him. I just want to help get the job done."

In the ninth inning Alabama hit a couple of solid balls against you for the last two outs. Did you feel you had good stuff in that inning?
"I felt like I had pretty good stuff, although my velo probably wasn't there today. I really couldn't tell, but it probably wasn't as high as it was (Friday). In the second inning I was throwing more two-seam fastballs to the lefties."

Why did you decide to switch to pitching only after hitting your entire high school career?
"A lot of people have asked me that. It was a touch decision to make but I decided to put down the bat and put all of my time in bullpens, long-tossing and one-on-one time with Coach Thompson."

In high school you could dominate hitters. Now you are having to think out there.
"Yeah, that's why it's good that I can talk to some of the older guys like (Chris) Stratton and Caleb (Reed). They will come in and talk to us about situations that they have been in. They'll talk to me and Jacob Lindgren and the other freshmen about situations that they have been in."

Head Coach John Cohen

Jonathan Holder earned his second save of the series.
"Yeah, he did a great job. This was a gut it out kind of day. It wasn't the coolest day. We had Mitch Slauter laying down in the dugout and we were trying to pump fluids in him. The sun was shinning right in our dugout. I thought our kids gutted it out and did what they needed to do to win."

You won with three hits today.
"I thought we took some good swings. Brent Brownlee took a good swing and (Wes) Rea almost hit one out of the ballpark. (Mitch) Slauter has been taking some good swings for us. But it's just not happening for us. When you look around the league it's not happening for a lot of (teams). I tweeted out the statistic that there had been 43 one-run games in our league. But I think we pitch it and defend it just enough to be able to win every game we play.

"When you have freshmen doing what they are doing for us that is good. I think we had six freshmen play for us last night. And I think we played five today. That is great experience for them as they move forward."

You brought in three pitchers in middle of counts again.
"We really liked the two-strike count matchup against Kenny Roberts. But we like doing that because we feel it puts a lot of pressure on the hitter. And we have enough depth (on the pitching staff) to do that. We had 14 arms on our travel squad. I think by us doing that it sends a message to our staff that we trust the next guy. It's a team thing."

Do you feel more comfortable with Jonathan Holder in the closer type role?
"I do. It's not that Caleb (Reed) is not throwing the ball well. It's just that the sink on his two-seamer is not quite where it was. It could come back at any time.

"We talk about these things all the time. It takes real honesty from (Mitch) Slauter and the pitchers. They tell us how much a pitch is moving and we base decisions on that.

"That is why Slauter is such an important part of what we are doing. He not only calls a huge portion of the game after doing research with (assistant) Coach (Butch) Thompson but he's also telling us in the dugout who is a better matchup against so and so. I can't explain to people the unbelievable job that he is doing for us right now."

Jonathan Holder talked to Caleb Reed in between innings.
"That is taking it to the next level. That is not about mechanics but taking it to the next level. You are playing a game within the game. When you have kids thinking and playing at that level on the mound and defensively it is special. It is fun to see freshmen on that level because the older guys have done it and now they are teaching the younger guys how to do it."

This is the first series that you have won at Alabama since 2004.
"I am proud of our kids. They are on a mission because our season is still in the palm of our hand. We can determine our own destiny. All of our goals are still within reach. And they want to achieve those goals."

What improvement did you see from Jonathan Holder once he became a pitcher only?
"He had about the most miserable fall that I had seen. He had low velocity and the breaking ball that (assistant) Coach (Lane) Burroughs and I saw in high school had vanished. We all wondered what happened. Then, he went home for a month (during the Christmas holidays) and he pitched and long tossed. When he showed up in January he was a different guy. His breaking ball reappeared.

"He is a confident young man, but I think not hitting really has helped him. I think his attention may have been divided in the fall due to also hitting. Now he can focus on just one thing."

He should improve even more once he is completely in pitching shape.
"He's in pretty good shape because he's always going to be a pretty big kid. But, yeah, he will get better in every facet. Right now, his breaking ball is 72 to 75, which is not great velocity. But he has great spin on it and he has a great feel for putting it in the zone. I think his best days are ahead of him."

Do you know who you will pitch Sunday?
"It will either be (Luis) Pollorena or (Brandon) Woodruff. Their lineup is so lefthand dominant that it is very hard to go lefthanded against this club. But Woodruff hasn't thrown in awhile, so we'll see how ti goes after we talk about it."

MSU Athletics Media Relations Game Release

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Mississippi State turned another brilliant pitching performance into another series win in Southeastern Conference baseball action Saturday afternoon. A five-set of Bulldog hurlers held Alabama to eight total hits and made the most of limited run support to post a 3-2 victory at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. With the victory, MSU clinched its third straight conference series win and fourth series win of the season. The Bulldogs also take a series in this stadium for the first time since 2004.

No. 29 MSU improved to 29-17 overall and 12-11 in league play, while Alabama fell to 17-30 and 6-17. The Bulldogs remain tied for second place in the Western Division standings and tied for fifth overall in the league standings.

After collecting seven hits in Friday night's 3-1 win over the Tide, the Bulldogs managed only three hits Saturday. However, in a similar fashion to last Sunday's 4-2 win over Ole Miss (where the Bulldogs managed two total hits), the Maroon and White made the most of its opportunities.

"It's not happening for us (offensively) but if you look around the league, it's just not happening for a lot of people," MSU head coach John Cohen said. "There's been 43 one-run games in our league already right now. I think we pitch it and defend it well enough to win any game right now."

In the MSU first inning, Adam Frazier drew a leadoff walk. Frazier would then aggressively take second on a fly to left field. The heads-up base running paid off as he scored on an RBI-single by Trey Porter.

The lead grew to 2-0 in the third inning. Sam Frost reached as a one-out hit batsman. Frost took second on a ground out and scored on a Mitch Slauter RBI-double.

After Alabama climbed back within a run, the Bulldogs got a critical insurance score in the seventh inning. Once again, MSU made it a one run one hit inning. Brent Brownlee began things with a one-out walk. Brownlee took both second and third on a failed pickoff attempt and scored on an infield hit by Tyler Fullerton.

On this night that would be enough offense for the MSU pitching grouping of Kendall Graveman, Evan Mitchell, Ross Mitchell, Caleb Reed and Jonathan Holder.

In his usual Saturday starting role, Graveman was lifted after allowing six hits and one earned run in 4.2 innings of work. Evan Mitchell (2-1) completed the fifth and worked the sixth to earn the win. Ross Mitchell and Reed combined to work MSU through the seventh inning. Holder faced seven batters in two innings of work to earn his third save of the season and second of the series.

"I need to talk to the older guys like Caleb (Reed) and (Chris) Stratton because they'll come in after situations they've been in and talk to the freshmen like me and Jacob Lindgren about those things," Holder said. "It's so good to learn from guys like that."

A freshman right-hander, Holder has not allowed a run in 19.2 innings of work this season.

"That's taking it to the next level," Cohen said. "That's not (physically) trying to get knuckles aligned and get on top of a pitch. That's playing the game within the game and when you have kids thinking and playing the game at that level it's special."

Alabama finished with eight hits. Taylor Dugas and Jared Reaves each had multiple hits for the Crimson Tide. Dugas is now the Tide's all-time career leader in base hits with 323. Starting pitcher Jon Keller (2-5) worked seven innings and took the loss.

"Our kids are on a mission and know that our entire season is still in the palm of our hands," Cohen said. "We kind of determine our own destiny and they want all those goals that we set forth early on to achieve. They still want all of those."

The series finale is at 1:05 p.m. Sunday.

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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