Lindgren Regaining His Early-Season Form

Jacob Lindgren won't come right and claim it was his very best outing to-date. "Not really," he said. "I always try to pitch with what I have. But I felt this past Saturday my pitches were really working for me."

Were they ever. And if Lindgren has still better stuff yet to be tapped, well, the Mississippi State outlook for May just improved exponentially. Because the sophomore lefthander was quite good in his latest outing, going 8.0-plus-one-batter in a shutout win over Auburn.

Lindgren scattered the five Tiger hits and two walks well enough to keep hanging zeroes across the board. And those innings not ending on typically-solid Bulldog defense featured strikeouts. Eleven of ‘em, Lindgren's highest tally since fanning 13 Saint Joseph's batters on March 1. That was back when this southpaw was tossing Friday nights and leading the Mississippi State rotation.

Based on how he took care of this rubber game, Lindgren might be on track to regain series-starting status. Not that this is first on his to-do list at the April moment.

"Every season is a long season, you just have to keep grinding through it for your team. The outcome is we're going to be on top at the end, that's all that matters."

Having a full-strength rotation is necessary in any run at the top, not just here in the regular SEC season but the post-season ahead. Three weekends into the schedule it was Lindgren leading the way with a pair of impressive wins against Portland and St. Joe's and a solid 5.1 against Purdue in-between.

Then came the second at-bat against Central Arkansas and a freak line-drive off Lindgren's knee. He battled back and started a no-decision against LSU and got a Bulldog victory at Kentucky underway. An elbow twinge threw Lindgren off-stride for real with a missed turn at Arkansas; and after four scoreless innings against Florida in the Sunday return he rolled an ankle fielding a bunt.

Now he appears to be close to where Lindgren was in early March. He's 4-1 on the season with a 2.54 ERA, and a splendid ratio of 53 strikeouts to 13 walks. Elbow questions were answered in the game-three win at Texas A&M; the ankle took a little longer. "He wasn't as mobile but pitched effectively," Coach John Cohen said. "And Saturday, in front of a huge crowd."

Not just huge. Lindgren found himself taking the hill in front of the second-largest official attendance ever at Dudy Noble Field, which is to say second-biggest campus crowd anywhere ever. As if starting a must-win rubber game wasn't pressure enough, hey?

"The fans really got into it," Lindgren said. "It got my blood rushing, my adrenalin pumping. I was just trying to compete for everybody and for my team."

He did indeed. A strikeout/throw-out erased a first inning baserunner. In the second he had loaded bases and two outs before fanning the nine-hole hitter to strand everyone on a wicked slider. From there Lindgren set Tigers up and sent them down with eerie efficiency and a lot of early swings.

"One inning I threw four pitches, and we got double-plays that inning. I know our defense has a lot of double plays this year and I always try to get the hitters to put it in play." True, yet that eleven strikeouts of SEC batters showed Lindgren can put people away himself. More impressive perhaps was how he handled a tight zone that didn't always reward a well-placed pitch at the bottom of the zone.

Here the true sophomore showed some true maturity. "Every umpire is different. You've just got to find his zone and use it to your advantage. I've got to give a lot of credit to Nick Ammirati. He was making good frames behind the plate and I couldn't have done it without him. He's a good catcher."

Good enough to be named SEC Player of the Week in fact, obviously boosted by his team-best batting in the series. Yet Ammirati was in-synch with all his pitchers all weekend and none more clearly than Lindgren. And catching him is no simple matter.

Not when Lindgren is burying his hard slider. "I'd consider it a power slider. It's a good pitch to have. Because on my fastball I throw a little cutter. And I can throw a two-seam that tails out." Batters have the scouting report of course. It's just that the slider, when on, is so easily mistaken for a standard fastball until too late.

"One of the main things we work on is to get in the bottom of the zone. One of the things we have in our bullpen is a string that runs along the back. It really helps you get down in the zone, it's probably right even with the catcher's knee. It helps you get sink. And hitters really struggle with hitting that low pitch."

"He throws a really tight slider," Cohen said. Which allows Lindgren go ‘backwards' his sequences more than most, too. "You always have to establish your fastball at the beginning of a game," said Lindgren. "And that makes your slider a better pitch."

He's especially efficient against lefties, notes the coach. "I think he's faced 48 left-handed hitters in SEC play and given up one hit. So he's got a really good breaking ball, his fastball moves." Then again Lindgren has had his share of success on the right side of the dish, as long as that slider stays down and umpires read it correctly.

"Each hitter is different. Some hitters can really hit that pitch, I mean you just have to attack the hitters and let them put the ball in play. We have a great defense here and I just want to them to try to make as many plays as they can." As a NCAA-leading 57 double-plays through the weekend show, the Dog defenders do make the plays.

Having Lindgren back in rhythm is a real boost to Bulldog hopes. True, there's a degree of what-if to the season. Despite losing some turns Lindgren was the team's strikeout leader going into this week. But as long as he avoid further trips to the training room Lindgren has four SEC weekends and the post-season to make up for missed time.

Besides, when comparing himself to how he was throwing in pre-league play, "I feel better," Lindgren insists. "I feel great."

The Bulldogs have a couple of days to prepare for their weekend visit to Vanderbilt. They began the road swing well with a romp at Memphis, giving State a 33-10 record and 10-0 mark in midweek contests.

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