It's what he does, after all. Though this January it is what Mitchell is doing after the longest layoff of his pitching career. When the junior lefthander took the Dudy Noble Field mound this past weekend it was his first active outing since the College World Series. A post-Omaha procedure to fix a hip injury largely confined Mitchell to the dugout or at best rehab stints in the bullpen during fall scrimmages.
Now here he is, tuning-up just in time for the 2014 season ahead. "I felt good," Mitchell said of his short scrimmage stint last Saturday. "It was awesome getting to throw again, it's been a while."
It has, and a little rust must remain. Because entering with one out in a fifth inning for a left-on-left matchup, Mitchell's return to action produced a single by Cody Brown. Then another base hit, by Joey Swinarksi. Trouble, right…or left as one might prefer?
Nah. A one-hopper right back to the mound produced an out at second base. And even though Mitchell walked the bases full, well, it was Alex Detz, a Diamond Dog who specializes in reaching base. Wes Rea was up and hacking at the first Mitchell offering, crunching a ground ball to third base for a force and escape.
"I didn't do as well as I would have liked to, I didn't have my control," Mitchell said. "But I was telling Coach Thompson, I hit three and walked three last time the first spring practice. So I'll take a couple of hits over that!"
Good point, because this time Mitchell wasn't wild at all; he just wasn't season-sharp and nobody would really expect it of him. Having forced a few pitches in the initial outing he'll be back in a better groove soon. So, "I'm not too worried about that, I felt good."
Feeling good is what matters more considering how long Mitchell has been away. Though even had he not needed medical attention after Omaha some sort of break was deserved. More than seven months after the fact, his 2013 season has to rank among the most amazing in Mississippi State history. Mitchell wasn't merely unbeaten as a reliever; he was 13-0. Think of it. Zero losses as a middle reliever is special enough; 13 victories out of 34 outings?
Amazing. Nothing less. Especially considering his style which is about opposite of ‘overpowering'. Mitchell is a true lefthander in both delivery and details, using movement and location to baffle batters—even the second time-around in a stint—to get unintended contact and ground ball outs. It's a risky style since he was out-waited for 29 walks in 94 innings last year. But he also struck out 44 who pushed their luck a little too long.
So at least a little off-time was due. The injury made it mandatory and Mitchell wasn't expected to scrimmage in fall. Though, his recover was faster than planned.
"It wasn't as long as I thought it was going to take. I got to start preparing my arm and throwing." And as to after-effects? "Pitching-wise I felt great and I can still run. It still gets sore but on the mound I feel good, I'm 100% when pitching."
How many pitches get thrown in scrimmages these remaining two preseason weeks is uncertain. Thompson isn't rushing anything for sure, though he'd certainly like having his proven long-reliever ready for the opening weekend. At the same time Mississippi State's staff is deeper than ever and many arms need innings before Opening Day.
In fact, Mitchell is aware his own role might not be as extensive as in 2013. He'll work often to be sure, maybe just not quite as often because there are more and more varied options presumably available.
"Yeah, of course I always enjoy pitching but its' going to be good to have other guys. Because once the season starts you have to have guys step up and fill roles. That's just how it is. It's exciting to see how many mature pitchers we have who I feel are going to be able to step in and dominate in the SEC."
And none need worry about this lefty getting lazy between scrimmage stints. He is head of the Bench Mobb after all, and busy reorganizing this group of antics-overseers after key graduations of 2013. The Mobb's influence may be showing in some fresh directions this season too. It's not only Mitchell showing some coloring—yes, that sort of gray counts, and you have to see how long the spikes are to believe—on the club.
Middle infielder Matthew Britton, for example, is flashing a new glove dominated by a bright red section. "It was a model they brought up to check out," Mitchell reported. "And he was like can I just take this one? It's a pretty good looking glove." Though Mitchell has been disappointed so far that he can't wear a gray mitt to match his footwear. "My glove is painted right now."
But it's all good. Because with the Diamond Dogs style doesn't interfere with substance.
Mississippi State re-scheduled Wednesday scrimmage due to cold conditions. The intrasquad game is now Thursday at 5:00. A weekend scrimmage schedule is to be announced as well.