Thompson Evaluating Arms For Opening Weekend

He's assuredly excited that in five more afternoons the pitches being called are against real opponents. Actually the better word for it is relieved, which is not a reference to any bullpen. Because these are the waning days of preseason. And, "This is the week I'm glad I'm not a head coach!" says Butch Thompson.

What Mississippi State's pitching maestro means is that he is just one part of the coaching staff which has to make some firm and often final decisions this week. Whether setting up an opening-weekend rotation and relief roles, deciding who will pitch and play and who isn't ready, and who ought to sit out the entire season, these next days are when Coach John Cohen has the final say. Particularly in regard to the official 2014 Diamond Dog roster, which must be trimmed to the final 35 by Thursday.

Of course Cohen will lean on Thompson's input in that first item. Though as the pitching coach himself says, the great thing about the game is how often Mississippi State make such decisions by practice and scrimmage results. Sunday afternoon effectively wrapped-up the intrasquad portion of preseason with the Black team rallying for three runs in the bottom of the sixth to win 3-1 over the Gray.

It's been an intense three weeks for all Dogs and the pitching corps in particular. Working around all sorts of weather kept everyone guessing, and Thompson had a literal score of arms to evaluate. When he walked off Dudy Noble Field today, the coach was mulling over what he'd seen in the final full scrimmage; most especially from true freshmen righthanders Austin Sexton and Dakota Hudson who got the start(s). Now the video and charts will be hashed and thrashed along with results from Friday and Saturday starters; and four pitchers projected to start as many opening weekend games.

"I just feel we've been inching closer and closer to being ready to go," Thompson said. "We just feel like the last two days have been a reprieve from the weather a little bit. And I feel the arms turned around a little bit better. And competitive at-bats. The hitters are getting more on-time also but I think it's helping us choose what pitches to get to."

"And the two freshmen starters made you feel like you had more depth today because they've consistently went out and been competitive. Not just in ability to make pitches but also the running game, fielding their position, their awareness. We felt good about them. Then we brought relievers back, I think this was the first time I got Jonathan Holder in twice; a lot of these relievers two appearances in a weekend which down the road is important."

Have you had enough scrimmages and innings to get pitchers enough work?
"Well you always want more time as a coach. But we're not going to change the calendar or anything, we're going to get going. We're still going to be patient. You know, I'm not sure you can win the ‘big one' next weekend nor should you try to. So we're still going to keep pacing it out and building the pitch counts." "You feel like your starters got to 60 pitches. Maybe opening weekend you get 70, 75 pitches into it so it's going to test your bullpen. We purposely put the four games in there to force you to place all your cards on the table in the four games. But that's good, that gives the boys the chance to go pitch and let them make the lineup out instead of all of our guess. Instead of super-coaching you get to put all your guys out there and see how they work together and see how deep you really are."

After having a chance to ‘stretch' Brandon Woodruff and Ben Bracewell this weekend where are they in context of opening weekend?
"I'm just a wee little pitching coach. I'll lay all my thoughts out for Coach Cohen and Coach Mingione and Coach Wells. All of our staff will sit down and look at it. It will be important to do it fairly early in the week where we get the guys lined-up on their days of lifting, of their throwing regime, of their bullpens. So we need to do it pretty quick."

"But Brandon has been a favorite. I'll be begging for Brandon to be in there early. He's worked hard coming back, it's almost a reward for that. So I'll be rooting for that. I might get vetoed for that. I think everything else is up for debate. With us using the piggyback system I don't think it really matters, I keep thinking two years ago the SEC Pitcher of the Year piggybacked a guy until we got to SEC play. So we're in it for a marathon, you want to develop as many pitchers as you possibly can. I really hope that we have to throw over 600 innings this year and find a way to stay strong."

How are Trevor Fitts and Preston Brown at this point?
"I thought Fitts had his best outing yesterday. I think he pitched four-plus innings with the one hit and really got the ball down. He'd had some hard contact with his fastball, it progressively got better. He got a third inning where his slider showed up. So I thought everybody looked sharper. I even told Preston he did a great job, how do you scatter seven hits there?! But he got some sink going, he kind of reminds me of Kendall Graveman at the same stage, a sinker kind of guy."

"The more, the merrier. I want them all to do good. Because our identity from the pitching side is whoever throws the next pitch is our number-one pitcher. So I try not to foster that or get them caught-up in you're the number-one guy. I really think we're only as good as we are the last three innings on a Sunday."

What is your quick evaluation of the two freshmen, Austin Sexton and Dakota Hudson?
"They seemed to be more mature than their age. Both leadoff men got on in the first inning; both those guys went about 1-2 to the plate, they picked six times. We had two pitch-outs. And all this before the first inning ending. A lot of times young guys may have some skills or talent. But they're doing some of the things that more mature pitchers do, in that they're actually executing in a ball game."

"So we won't get over-confident or anything, we'll continue to get ready, we'll start learning about our opponent full-speed now since it's game week. But just whenever they do skills like that you've got more confidence they can have success earlier in their careers instead of having to wait for them to come on."

As decisions are made on who to set-up for this first weekend are there also any thoughts on who might redshirt?
"That's why I'm so thankful I'm an assistant coach! That's one of the things that I'm glad John is the head coach in this situation because that is one of the toughest things we have to do. Now John does a great job sitting down with all of our guys on the roster at the end of the fall and kind of forecasting what to expect. But those are always tough decisions."

"But to me they're always about your development. You look at this thing as a marathon, not a sprint. So we have to make a decision now, what this team is, what that 35-man roster is, and come together as a ball club now. And the other guys get an opportunity to grow, observe. I want all of our guys that wind up in that category to do a ‘case study' for us. Find something to invest in to grow their game."

How is junior college transfer Paul Young?
"He threw today. We missed the outing last week, and he threw so well the first week I was so excited and probably moved his arm a little quicker than his body probably wanted him to. So we've taken a reprieve, he picked the ball back up today and threw. I think he's a perfect example, he's such a special pitcher that I think that was a reminder for us not to jump the gun and to go at the same pace."

"If he's put-back together what a shot in the arm, even if it's a month away or something. So we'll keep working it that way. I'm just glad we're not in a position where we're porous and have so many holes we have to force somebody with their body and their arm when it's not ready. We'll continue that route. But that was positive for him, throwing today."

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