Girodo Maintains Class Act In Bulldog Bullpen

His teammates are done with school for a while. Chad Girodo, now, he's still in classes. Not taking them though, he's teaching.

Yes, while the rest of the Diamond Dogs can set the schoolwork aside and concentrate entirely on baseball, here is Girodo continuing his senior-spring semester as a student instructor. "I like it," said the lefthanded relief pitcher, even though "The time management is big-time!"

No kidding, just look at what Girodo's normal week-day is like in his current assignment to Armstrong School in the Starkville system.

"I have to be there every morning at 7:00am, I'm there ‘til 3:00 and right after that I go straight to the field, practice, go through our routines. Get home later that night, and get up and do it again!"

And again and again and…you get the idea. Girodo, a senior kinesiology major at Mississippi State, is already experiencing life in the working world. Call it his week-day job, because on weekend evenings and afternoons Girodo is increasingly busy taking care of better-known business at Dudy Noble Field.

Here, too, he's getting the job done as this past weekend's successes show. Called upon twice in tough situations, and in must-win games, Girodo did the job. First came the tenth inning of game-two against Alabama, a team which has a special—and not exactly fond—place in Girodo's heart. With a go-ahead runner on third base, two outs, and a left-handed batter up, Girodo was given the matchup.

Technically he ‘lost' that one with a full-count walk, though setting up another force wasn't a bad thing either. Regardless in the past Girodo would have yielded mound, ball, and situation to a righthanded teammate with that sort of swinger coming up. The number-three Crimson Tide batter, at that. Pitching Coach Butch Thompson even took a couple of steps towards the sideline.

Funny thing though. Girodo wasn't ready to exit. "I was well, I'm just going to step on the mound and maybe they'll let me go!" Which State did, and on 2-2 count Girodo got a swinging strikeout. This put him on the record too, so when LF Jacob Robson knocked across the winning run Girodo had his fourth victory of the season facing just two batters.

Sunday was a different matter, as Girodo got the call with one out and one on in the sixth inning and the Bulldogs trailing 5-3. He managed to get through that frame with just one scoring, which would be the last Alabama run of the series. Because Girodo went 2.2 total turns with two hits, a couple of strikeouts, and handed a tied game to RHP Jonathan Holder to ultimately win.

It was a weekend which couldn't have gone much better for Girodo, now 4-1 and with the second-best ERA on the staff at 1.16. "I'm a senior this year and I've been waiting for those kind of moments. It felt great to be in and have the game on my shoulders."

Mississippi State is confident putting such a load on the senior's shoulders, too. Where up to now Girodo has been regarded as primarily a left-on-left matchup man, he's rounded-out his repertoire and earned more and longer opportunities. Not that he hasn't seen frequent action before. In fact, a fan could likely win a bleacher-seat bet on game day by asking who has the most appearances on this staff.

Girodo, with 24 of them this year. For that matter his 71 career stints is also most among active Bulldog pitchers. But this is by-far his best year, after posting ERAs of 7.40, 5.76, and 5.87 in previous seasons. What's made the difference in 2013?

Maturity and just plain grit is part of it. More technically, Girodo isn't giving the same look as before. "He's throwing from a different arm-action, he dropped his slot a little bit," Coach John Cohen said.

To be clear, Girodo was showing strong signs even before adjusting his delivery. Fans were intrigued last summer by reports how effective the southpaw was and his impressive numbers. That was while Girodo was still coming over-the-top as before. "And my stuff was decent over-the-top."

Back on campus, "We were just playing around one day, trying to find a plan-B in case that didn't work out. So I dropped my arm a little bit. Then we started doing it right at the beginning of spring when we were intra-squading. And it just felt better, looked better, everything was better. So we said why not go there now?"

Just in time, one may say. The altered slot has made a remarkable difference, not least against SEC opponents who have had to throw out most of the three-year ‘book' compiled on Girodo. Certainly right-siders are seeing something different, and effective. The two outings with Alabama were proof.

"He's been a left-on-left specialist, but he really dominated some righthanded hitters," Cohen said. "He did that by pitching inside along with his slider."

Give greater credit where due, though. Girodo is clearly a confident man on the mound against either side. Take Sunday, when he inherited one runner in scoring position and put another on via walking. With two outs Girodo and cleanup batter Ben Moore just plain battled, the righthander fouling off everything until chipping a single for that sixth run.

"It was a 3-2 count, you can't have a big miss and automatically put him on," Girodo said. "You just have to lock-in and throw your best stuff." Cohen for his part thought some of those pitches had been good enough for called strikes, but never mind. Girodo kept it a three-run margin and that was close enough for the Bulldogs to rally. Yes, the Hartselle, Ala., native took some serious satisfaction in how his two games and the whole series went.

"Alabama never did really look at me, I kind of had a chip on my shoulder to be honest. Just getting to pitch against them, I enjoyed it." Beating them made it so much better.

Hopefully the success was also shared with Girodo's students the next morning as he was right back to the job. Before this year he worked at Sudduth School in town before moving to Armstrong, exposing Girodo to an older audience.

"It was a challenge at first. The little kids, the biggest problem you have is going to the bathroom! But the junior high kids it's a little different, a little adjustment."

Girodo's pitching adjustment might well open other avenues to his post-college career, according to Cohen. "There's not a lot of lefthanders with a low arm slot, and there's been a ton of interest from scouts because he can get it up there 88, 89 from a low slot. He's also got a slider there. Really he's found a niche and that's something Coach Thompson has done a great job."

Every Bulldog niche will be needed in the weeks to come. Mississippi State (36-13, 13-11) is hitting the closing stretch of SEC season with showdown series at Ole Miss and against South Carolina, two of the teams the Diamond Dogs are directly contending with for NCAA Regional host rights. This also reminds that tournament time is not far away, with State set to defend its SEC Tournament title.

"The post-season is what we look forward to anyway," Girodo said. "This is the best time of the year. We're out of school, this is the big games that you really enjoy playing and train for all season long just to get here."

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