Slow down inside Diamond Dog heads and hearts, Cannizaro means. The schedule? That just picks up speed as Mississippi State (3-2) hosts another four-game weekend at Dudy Noble Field.
Four games for the home team, as well as visiting Indiana State (2-1) and Marist (2-1). The guests begin Friday’s action at 11:30 with Mississippi State taking on the Sycamores afterwards. Unlike first weekend, the Dogs play twice on Saturday; 1:00 vs. Marist and a rematch with Indiana State following.
Sunday pits the visitors one more time at 10:00; then State and Marist at 1:00. Those times have been moved-up from published schedules as the MSU women have a 4:00 home game and Senior Day across the street. Basketball parking takes Sunday priority as well.
Cannizaro’s priority of course is his own team. Opening weekend was a pretty solid success, too, with two wins over Western Illinois and a split with ranked Texas Tech. Then came Tuesday evening when a 8-3 lead melted down in an incredible 10-run ninth by Morehead State.
Thus these Bulldogs have experienced highs and lows right out of the proverbial box. What their first-year coach figures will help is settling into game-week routine. “We can get back to just playing baseball. It gets you tunnel-visioned for the weekend.”
So for that matter does an adjusted practice schedule. Cannizaro planed to go shorter Thursday with both visiting teams getting on Dudy Noble Field afterwards. That sight itself he figures will help his team narrow focus.
Cannizaro and pitching coach Gary Henderson have tweaked this weekend’s rotation just a bit. The same foursome will open and the same two veterans get to bookend everything. LHP Konnor Pilkington (0-1, 10.80) again draws Friday duty; and RHP Ryan Cyr (0-0, 9.00) the finale. Henderson also will give RHP Peyton Plumlee (1-0, 1.50) and LHP Graham Ashcraft (0-0, 6.75) the middle games, just in flipped order. True frosh Ashcraft goes in game-two, sophomore transfer Plumlee game-three.
Don’t read anything long-term into such adjustments, Cannizaro said. “We kind of have a core group right now we feel really confident in. Whether it’s Marist or Indiana State we’re just trying to match-up the best we can with those particular teams.”
Matching-up the relief staff is a more intriguing matter after Tuesday’s collapse. “The ninth inning certainly blew-up on us,” Cannizaro said. For that matter the early-Sunday win over Western Illinois saw other bullpen struggles.
The coaching staff and relief staff talked it over Wednesday with no recriminations or accusations. Cannizaro kept it simple. “Don’t allow that to dictate what is going to happen this weekend. That’s over with,” he related. More to the point, everyone keeps their jobs.
“All those guys are going back out on the mound this weekend. Those are the guys that pitch out of the bullpen for us. They’ve won that role during the fall and the spring. I’m not going to hesitate to get those guys back on the mound at all.”
This includes one of their number who did very well in relief and showed the endurance and ability of a starter. But for now RHP Riley Self (1-0, 1.50) will stay in the bullpen. Even though, he has six innings already to his freshman credit with nine strikeouts against a walk and two hits.
In fact, Cannizaro said today the goal is figuring exactly what is the best relief role; closing, long middle-innings, set-up man for RHP Spencer Price? “Those are things we’ve spoken about. But for right now we’re going to leave Riley in a role he’s already had success at.”
RHP Jacob Billingsley (0-0, 3.60) is likely the only arm out of weekend after working five in Tuesday’s start. There is no midweek game after this weekend, and next weekend has just three games at Oregon.
So, “Those are going to be our four starters. We have a lot of confidence those guys are going to throw a lot of strikes and get us into the fifth and sixth innings. Then we can start getting our bullpen going a little bit.”
It will be game-day before 2B Hunter Stovall (.526) knows if he can go after a late Tuesday hamstring strain. Cannizaro called it a day-to-day situation for the leading hitter of the early season.
“We certainly hope we can get him on the field, he’s been such an Energizer Bunny kind of guy at the bottom of the order. And he does a tremendous job playing second base.”
If Stovall stays sidelined “There’s several things we’re talking about doing,” said Cannizaro. “Harrison Bragg is going to get an opportunity to play on the infield this weekend. Dustin Skelton is going to get a chance.” This almost certainly would not be an in-place-of substitution. Both Bragg and Skelton are not middle-infielders.
Both were signed as third basemen, though Skelton has already started at what now seems his ultimate best position of catcher. He is the backstop with the best batting potential so having him on a corner keeps him in the lineup without using the DH role. Bragg has practiced both corners since Cannizaro wants to get his bat in the order as well. “To see if he can drive the ball and be a run producer for us.”
So if either start in the field it would likely mean either sliding SS Ryan Gridley and 3B Luke Alexander both over, which each is quite capable of doing. Alternate C Elih Marrero replaced Stovall Tuesday; and 1B Cody Brown has practiced second base as well and can have his job filled by big-swinger 1B/DH Cole Gordon.
Early-season baseball is a scouting crapshoot. Especially for Southern clubs who are facing snowbirding squads of limited games’ stats and often more-limited video. Cannizaro is going on past trends in preparations, such as Indiana State’s recent track record putting pitchers in professional baseball.
Also, “It’s a program that is going to come in and expect to win. I think they’re 7th or 8th nationally in batting average and offense. They want to be aggressive and swing, they’re going to get their money’s worth at the plate.
“Marist is a northern team, that is going to get better and better every time they’re outside. So I’d anticipate their being better this weekend than last weekend. It’s just going to be a great weekend for baseball, the weather is going to be fine.”
Media-wise, only the Friday game will be on the MSU Network. The other three State games are on 96.1fm locally, with SEC Network-plus video live feed.