Brown Makes Case For Opening Day Duty

If this was some sort of unofficial audition, Preston Brown certainly stole the show. Now he awaits word whether the baseball will be in his hand first for Mississippi State’s opening day.

Brown gave a strong starting performance Friday to begin three weekend scrimmages at Dudy Noble Field. That the veteran righthander was first up in the intrasquad rotation, at about the same time the real season opens next Friday, could be some sort of sign. Right?

“Obviously that’s the coaches’ decision,” Brown said. “But I think I’m preparing for a start sometime next weekend, I don’t know when yet.”

A sound, safe answer for sure. Then again a junior with 21 games and nine starts on his college resume would seem a sound, safe selection against Cincinnati a week from now. But there is more to Brown’s presumed priority in the pitching order for 2015.

In five full innings Brown faced 18 teammates today. Only two, Cole Gordon and John Holland, hit him and Josh Lovelady worked a walk in a scripted-count innings. Otherwise Brown was dominating, striking out eight with four ground-outs and the rest routine air balls. He even put the glove to good use in the fourth inning. With a runner on second base he snagged a hot comebacker from Josh Reynolds that likely prevented a RBI-single.

“I felt really good out there today,” he said.

Brown wasn’t bad at all in his previous scrimmage start, either. This last practice game was different, though. “Last weekend we were doing some games with the counts, and I thought it was helpful especially to get the hitters more at-bats.

“But today I was really focused more on a game-like experience gearing up towards next weekend.”

Weekend work isn’t new to Brown. He had six SEC starts as a sophomore and for the full season was 4-3 with a 3.00 ERA in 45 innings. So Brown would have been a leading candidate for first pitch duty anyway.

The news now is he has more tools to work with that ought make him an even better starter. “My slider has definitely come a long way since last year. I was more a fastball-changeup, but now that I have that added to my repertoire, I feel if I was to get in a jam I can go to that. I just feel comfortable with everything I’m throwing.”

That was certainly the Friday case. Brown was relaxed, working in rhythm and the ball jumping out of his right hand. Designated counts or not, he spotted his stuff against teammates almost at will.

“I feel I’m really spinning the ball well. I don’t know if it’s the new seams or anything. It just may be my mechanics have gotten better. But I really feel great locating the ball where I want to.”

If he is indeed opening the season it will be to battery-mate Gavin Collins. In this final scrimmage though the veteran backstop took the day off. Brown threw to Cody Walker this time, while Lovelady was behind the plate for the Gray team.

“They’re doing a great job. Gavin has grown since last year. Lovelady has come in from juco and not missed a beat, and Cody is solid as always. I feel real comfortable with whoever is behind the plate.”

Another sound, safe answer there. Push just a little harder though about how special it would be if Brown does get the ball at 6:30 next Friday, and yeah. The smile shows up.

“I guess it’s something that when I came here I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to. But I’d love to have the chance now.”

As for Friday’s scrimmage results, the Maroon came out on top 4-2 in 6.5 innings. Brown worked the first five as noted with no scoring. The two runs were charged to his replacement, LHP Vance Tatum.

RHP Aaron Dominguez started for the Gray and got through the first inning with only a single by Ryan Gridley. A leadoff walk in the second began trouble though. Matt Spruill took second as Gray first baseman Trent Waddell saved a hit with a diving stab at Matt Britton’s bouncer. A short-hop grounder by Wes Rea got under Gray third baseman Luke Reynolds’ glove for a run-scoring error.

Another leadoff walk, in the third, brought LHP Daniel Brown from the bullpen. Maroon Reid Humphreys greeted him with a seeing-eye single up the middle, and both runners were bunted over by Cody Brown. D.Brown got a swinging strikeout of Spruill caught cleanly, but Lovelady thought he had to throw to first base. When he did, Gridley alertly came running home for a 2-0 lead. A strikeout of Matt Britton left Humphreys on third base.

Rea led off the Maroon fourth with a liner down the left-line for a double, with Joey Swinarski going other-way for a single to rightfield and runners on corners. On a 2-2 count RHP Dakota Hudson took over against Walker. He let Swinarski take second on a ball before a called strikeout of Walker. Then, D.Brown returned with bases loaded as Britton was put on first base by the coaches.

With full count Brown struck out Jacob Robson…and was again replaced by Hudson. A Gridley fly ball to right wasn’t far enough to send Rea to home, but on full-count Hudson missed to Humphreys for the run-scoring walk. A comebacker left the bases full with the Maroon up 3-0.

After P.Brown had struck out the side in the top of the fifth to end his stint, the Maroon offense got one more run at Hudson’s expense. With two outs a Rea grounder was misplayed at shortstop, Swinarski singled, and Walker was walked to load the bases. D.Brown stayed on the mound only to walk Robson and force in Rea.

RHP Levi Mintz inherited loaded bases and was able to catch Robson leading too far off first base, the pickoff throw ending the inning down only 4-0.

Tatum took over Maroon pitching in the top sixth and ran into quick trouble. A walk of Heck and throwing error at shortstop on Holland’s grounder had Grays on corners. Rooker punched a single through shortstop to break up the shutout, scoring Heck. Reynolds bunted Rooker to second while Holland held at third.

Rea robbed Lovelady of a base hit with a great running grab and flip back to the bag. Holland still made home for a 4-2 score so Tatum had to strike out Vickerson to end this threat.

RHP Trevor Fitts pitched the top of the seventh, producing two strikeouts around a ground ball.

Friday’s Maroon lineup was 1B Wes Rea, 2B Matt Britton, SS Ryan Gridley, 3B Matt Spruill, C Cody walker, RF Cody Brown and then Joey Swinarski, CF Jacob Robson, LF Reid Humphreys. The Gray lineup was 1B Trent Waddell, 2B John Holland, SS Seth Heck, 3B Luke Reynolds, C Josh Lovelady, LF Brent Rooker, CF Mike Smith, RF Jake Vickerson.

Saturday’s scrimmage is at 12:30 as part of Fan Day, with activities beginning at 11:00am in the Palmeiro Center.

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