The Diamond Dogs opened their first weekend of team practices and scrimmaging today with a five-inning game. A Gray team came out on top of the Maroons 3-1, having scored twice in the first inning for all the runs they would need.
RBI hits from OF Reid Humphreys and IF Hunter Stovall plated that pair, at the expense of Maroon starter Dakota Hudson. Coach John Cohen and new pitching coach Wes Johnson matched junior Hudson against his classmate Austin Sexton for the first scrimmage. If not necessarily a sign of how the coaches hope the rotation shapes-up, both righthanders showed in different ways why they are expected to be one-two, either/or, come the real season.
Hudson was putting up big numbers on the guns in his two innings, striking out three including the first two he faced. He also walked one, while getting his other outs with a ground ball, a fly ball, and a tag at home plate.
Sexton didn’t throw as hard but did throw more efficiently and worked 3.0 scoreless frames. He was hit once, a leadoff single in the second by OF Brent Rooker; and issued a leadoff walk in his first inning. That free base was erased immediately because ball-four was a wild pitch and runner Mike Smith tried stretching it to second base. Gray catcher and freshman Elih Marrero wasn’t having any of that, making the throw from the backstop for the out.
Sexton’s only strikeouts came in his last two batters faced, fanning both C Josh Lovelady and OF Jake Mangum.
Hudson’s stint began well with strikeouts of OF Jacob Robson and OF Cody Brown. It was a two-out single by 3B Gavin Collins that started the trouble. Hudson walked 1B Nate Lowe to bring up Humphreys. His blooper fell behind first base to plate Collins, and Stovall followed with a drive to left-centerfield good for a double and RBI. Humphreys almost made it 3-0 but centerfielder Smith’s strike to the plate was in time.
Lefthander Kale Breaux took over pitching for top-third and had Brown reach on a one-out grounder mishandled at first base. A dirtball put Brown on second before Collins walked and Lowe drilled a shot that shortstop Luke Alexander could only knock down.
With bases loaded Humphreys grounded to third base where Luke Reynolds fielded and came home for a force of Brown. The sacks were still stuffed for Stovall, and Breaux got him to ground to shortstop. Alexander made a fine charging grab and throw to keep anyone from scoring.
For the top-fourth righty Blake Smith threw for the Maroons. After two easy outs OF Brant Blaylock singled, only to be left stranded on a strikeout of Robson. Smith returned for the fifth to walk Brown, then give up a high-fly double to Lowe that carried over leftfielder OF Tanner Poole for the RBI. A Humphreys grounder to third kept it 3-0.
After Sexton finished his three turns, lefty Trent Waddell was touched for a two-out double in the bottom of the fourth by Jack Kruger, and stranded him with a swinging strikeout of Reynolds.
The Gray was cruising 3-0 into the fifth when righthander Jacob Billingsley threw the Gray fifth and lost the shutout. He allowed a leadoff single to Rooker and with two outs drilling Josh Lovelady in the helmet. Inning still alive, Mangum singled to left and Brown errored the ball so Gordon could score the unearned run.
A bases-loading walk brought in righthander Ryan Rigby to face Smith. He got the swinging strikeout to end the scrimmage.
Friday’s scrimmage starting lineups with later-substituting positions and in the10-man batting orders were:
GRAY TEAM: Jacob Robson CF, Cody Brown LF/RF, Gavin Collins 3B, Nate Lowe 1B, Reid Humphreys LF/1B, Hunter Stovall 2B/3B, Elih Marrero C, Ryan Gridley SS/2B, Jacob Barfield 1B, Brant Blaylock LF.
MAROON TEAM: Mike Smith CF/LF, Jack Kruger C/1B, Reynolds 3B/LF, Brent Rooker RF, Cole Gordon 1B, John Holland 2B/SS, Luke Alexander SS/3B, Josh Lovelady C, Jake Mangum LF/CF, Tanner Poole LF.
After the scrimmage Coach Cohen spoke with media.
“We feel like we got a lot done today. Obviously getting Dakota and Sexton out there and some situational right- and left-, I’m pleased with that. I thought we had our moments offensively and had some good situations happen for us. So a pretty productive first day.”
What do you like about Elih Marrero behind the plate? “Oh, man, he’s just a fast-twitch athlete who is really competitive. He has arm strength, he’s been in a big-league clubhouse and has a parent who caught in the big leagues. So there’s a lot to like there. He a guy that really understands the game and I think he’s got a very bright future at Mississippi State.”
Is there good competition at catcher with him, Kruger and Lovelady? “Yeah, Love got hit in the head and I think he’s going to be OK. He’s really competed very very well and does a nice job handling our staff. Kruger is as good an offensive catcher as we’ve had at Mississippi State in a while. Of course Collins can still catch for us, but we’ve moved him to third base and he’s moving around at third base really well. And it protects his hand a little bit more. So yeah, we have some competition there. But certainly our options are very good.”
How has Hudson handled the expectations? “Dakota has really matured so much. The level of his stuff, 96, 97 in the first inning and his cut-fastball. He’s throwing essentially a version of a slider 90 and 92. And he did not locate as well, he can’t be a guy that’s throwing 45 pitches into two innings, that’s not going to work for us. But it was his first time-out, it got a little chilly out here and I think he’s a pretty confident young man. And he deserves to be confident after what he did this summer and this fall.”
What do you like about Jacob Robson as a team leader? “Jacob ran some balls down in the gap. He’s another guy that has a lot of confidence coming into this year and has been very productive. He’s working hard on his swing every day. So yeah, very productive.”
Is Robson a leader? “I think he’s a great leader for us. I think (Brent) Rooker is a great leader for us. I think Gavin Collins is a great leader. I think we have much more leadership. And when guys are healthy and they’re confident it really adds to their value as a leader. It’s not only what you say and how you act, it’s also the production level on the field. Those guys are being pretty productive for us.”
Sexton said he added a curveball and a different type of grip with Coach (Wes) Johnson? “Yeah, it’s kind of a slurvy, slider-type of pitch. I think he needed another pitch, his changeup is as good as anybody’s and he’s added velocity as all of our pitchers have with Coach Johnson. I think the breaking ball was good and that’s something that can really extend him. If you’re a two-pitch guy in the Southeastern Conference are you a four-inning, or a five-, six-inning guy if you add the extra pitch that gives you extra innings. Certainly that’s what he wants and that’s what we want out of him.”
Is it odd walking out there not having Wes Rea, but having guys developing at first base? “Yeah, I was really impressed with (Nate) Lowe today. I thought he had a good plan and the ball came off his bat really, really well. Certainly (Cole) Gordon is a guy that is going to continue to get better, too. You know, is Jack Kruger a guy who can play first base for us while we wait for his arm to get back to 100%? That might be a possibility. But Reid Humphreys might even be a possibility for at first base as well. I’m really looking forward to seeing Reid pitch because the two or three outings he had in the fall were really spectacular.”
How is it different with Coach Johnson at pitching coach, is there any learning process? “I’ll tell you something, we spent so much time together already for the last two months. Yesterday is an example. We’re at the office at 6:30am and when he left my house last night at 8:30pm. So it’s almost like our entire staff has known Wes for 30 years! It really hasn’t been that much of a transition.”
Is everyone healthy? “Yeah, I think heath-wise we’re in a pretty good position right now.”