Russ McNickle Talks MSU Pitching

I sat down with Mississippi State pitching coach Russ McNickle, who is going into his seventh year as a member of the MSU coaching staff, at the conclusion of the fall practices and talked about the MSU pitching staff.

Russ McNickle discussed the players in alphabetical order.


Redshirt sophomore Ricky Bowen (RHP)
"If you had asked me last year if he would have the most appearances coming out of the bullpen, I would have probably said no. The things that Ricky does is he throws strikes and, for the most part, keeps the ball down in the zone. What he needs to improve is his secondary stuff. And he knew that going out into summer ball. He went out this summer to try and get into a starter's routine so that he would know what it takes to be a starter. If we had to start tomorrow, he would be my Sunday starter. But he was so valuable coming out of the bullpen because he threw a good fastball for strikes. Someone else will have to step up and take that role that he is walking away from. I told him what we start with at the beginning of the season usually doesn't end up that way. During the three years I've been the pitching coach, the rotation at the end of the year is different than how we started.

"I'm pleased with Ricky. He has a bright, bright future."

True freshman Michael Busby (RHP)
"Michael Busby, to me, is Chad Crosswhite in the making with a better breaking ball. He is very similar to Chad coming in because he doesn't have a changeup, didn't have to use a changeup in high school. Now, he's starting to learn it, and he's really picked up the feel of it. He also seems to have a good sense of humor like Chad. He's a guy that I think down the road, as we continue to improve his command, will be an SEC guy, whether he is a starter or a relief guy. Michael, like all the new guys we brought in, has at least one thing that guys will swing and miss at.

"I really think that Michael has a chance. He has the frame to do it, so he's going to get stronger and bigger. And he has the fastball velocity to be a huge factor on the pitching staff."

Senior Jesse Carver (LHP)
"Jesse probably had the best fall of anyone on the staff. His confidence is high and the team's confidence in him is also high. I have always believed in Jesse and always felt like his stuff could be a factor in this league. Maybe this is the year. He went to a different arm angle which has really helped his fastball command, That has always been a question mark for Jesse. He would strike out two, then walk two. But he really worked hard this summer trying to get a feel for the different arm angle. At this point, I would run Jesse out as a mid-week starter and see where that leads him. The good thing about Jesse is if you do that, he can still be available for the weekend.

"I told Jesse I was proud of his fall, but now he is going to have to do it in the spring when people are in the stands, and he is facing a different lineup. It will be interesting to see how he handles that. I hope he has a great year because that will help the entire staff because that takes one of the five starting spots that we are looking for. And you always like to have a sixth guy in the fold just in case someone gets hurt or we need to make an adjustment."

Jesse had a lot of strikeouts during the fall practices. What caused him to have so many strikeouts?
"He started throwing more strikes and the different arm slot added move movement on his fastball. That's the reason the strikeouts started to come.

"I'm really excited for him. And I hope what he did in the fall continues over to the spring. It wouldn't surprise me if he is given a chance to go play pro ball because he's an upper-80's (velocity) lefthander."

Redshirt junior Chad Crosswhite (RHP)
"He came into the fall with a nagging injury that he got during the Super Regional against Clemson. He pulled a hamstring in the Clemson game. Then, he went to the Alaska League and tried to pitch through it, but we had to bring him home. I think near the end was when he finally started feeling healthy.

"The main thing with Chad is his command. The strikes that he throws tend to run back into the zones that we don't want him to throw into. So, he's trying to understand that. That's something that we are trying to spend a lot of time on with him. Hopefully, we can continue to improve his fastball command. His breaking ball is starting to come back to where it was when he was a redshirt freshman.

"The greatest thing that he did last year was taking that Friday night starting job and ran with it. For the most part, he gave us quality starts every Friday night, which is a tough thing to do in this league.

"If we were to start the season tomorrow, I would probably start Chad Friday night for a number of reasons."

Sophomore Drew Hollinghead (RHP)
"He is still post-op trying to come off the labrum surgery. And he's starting to get a little bit stronger, a little bit better feel of his delivery. The jury is still out where he will end up falling into. I think he has a chance to be another Mike Valentine, a guy who can come in as a sink-ball guy that can get some outs, because the one thing he is going to do is throw strikes. He still hasn't gotten his velocity back since the surgery, but he can still spin his breaking ball into the zone for strikes.

"We are playing around with some different movement patterns with him as we continue to develop his delivery since the surgery to see if that helps him with more movement patterns down in the zone.

"At this point, he is going to be a mid-week guy when he gets an opportunity."

Sophomore Greg Houston (RHP)
"He was a guy who had a tale of two seasons last spring. He got a chance to pitch as a freshman last year because he came in and threw strikes. He was really good early in the spring. A times, he had a good slider that he could throw for strikes. Another thing about Greg is he has tremendous movement patterns. He kind of reminds me of (former MSU pitcher) Chuck Holly. He had tremendous movement with his fastball and understood his movement patterns. The one thing Greg and I are really trying to concentrate on is his two-seam fastball.

"He wants a chance to win one of the starting jobs, and I haven't given up on that yet, but at this point, if Ricky (Bowen) was to go to that Sunday slot I would feel that Greg is going to be one of those guys."

I like his Bulldog attitude, but he seemed to get hit hard at times during the fall. What caused that?
"His stuff can be very electric at times, but sometimes you wonder why he is getting hit so much. He's got the stuff, but we have to teach him how to use it. Since the fall, we have made an adjustment. The difference between his four-seam and two-seam fastball is his four-seam fastball is straighter. He tries to overthrow it at times, and when he does that he gets up in the zone. And you can't pitch up in the zone. That's why we have gone a little bit more movement pattern with him."

Junior Jared Koon (RHP)
"Jared is a guy who is battling for a mid-week job at this point. We will put him in the bullpen and see if there are some innings for him."

Senior John Lalor (RHP)
"John had a great year last year after having a sophomore season where he kind of got banged around. His stuff has gotten better every year. He had a great Super Regional. He won that first game for us because he kept us in the game and gave the offense a chance.

"The biggest difference in John, more than anything, is he understood what it meant to play for Mississippi State. He took a lot of pride in that and started playing for what was on the front of his jersey and not what was on the back of it. He's a Bulldog. He likes to compete and is one of the hardest workers that I have. And he does it the right way. I think that's one of the reasons he was voted captain. Three guys were voted captain - Lalor, Pigott and Crosswhite.

"John is a guy that we are going to keep in the bullpen because he is a guy who can throw multiple times during the week. And he really bought into that role last year. I know he would probably like to start, but I think he likes the role that he is in. If you asked him that, he would probably tell you that because he knows he is available everyday as opposed to just once a week."

True freshman Shawn Marquardt (LHP)
"He is one of those two lefthanded pitchers that we wanted to get in this class. For some reason or the other, Shawn kind of lost the feel of his delivery. It actually started at the end of his high school career and got worse and worse. He's just now starting to turn the corner. I'm excited about about where he is now because his delivery is starting to come back, his velocity is coming back and his command is coming back.

"What I like about him is his mound presence, his confidence and he pounds the strike zone. Velocity-wise, in high school, he was 84 to 86 when I saw him. He came to our camp and one night, with Coach Polk and Coach Hedges watching, he even hit 90.

"We are going to redshirt him this year because he's just not ready. But if something happens during the next two months and we get it back to what we signed him as, then we'll make that decision because he's a lefthander."

True freshman Forrest Moore (LHP)
"Forrest has been the biggest disappointment for me because I really felt like he would be sharper, better and crisper. But he's trying to learn how to pitch with a fastball. I think in high school he got away with not throwing as many strikes but still getting outs. Because of that, his command, at times, was not very good. I like his confidence and his Bulldog attitude.

"He's been good in the off-season. His command has improved a bunch. In fact, he's third in command in the fall off-season. I paired him with (Justin) Pigott, which has really helped. Pigott has been working his tail off. That has really helped.

"Once we get him going in the right direction, he's got a chance, with his stuff, to be an SEC starter. That's what we signed him for. He's trying to do both (hit and pitch) and it's tough, in Coach Polk's system, to do both, especially from the pitching side because they are going to spend most of their time with hitters. I very rarely get them in a practice setting. I may get them for 30 minutes out of a four-hour practice."

True freshman Paxton Pace (RHP)
"Paxton had an interesting fall because the first outing he got hit by a line drive off his bicep and rib cage. It took him awhile to get back, and I don't think he ever really got back completely away from the soreness.

"The one thing he showed is he has command of three pitches - fastball, slider and change. He's a valuable guy in the bullpen, at this point, if he is going to be able to pound the strike zone. He's an upper-80's guy when he wants to be. He holds runners well. He's quick to the plate. I think he has a chance to pitch as a true freshman. But I have to see more of him because we have to get him in the strike zone a little bit more."

Senior Justin Pigott (LHP)
"As of right now, Pigott is going to be our Saturday guy. I like the fact that if you lose on Friday night, you have Pigott on Saturday. If you win on Friday night, you have Pigott on Saturday. And if we are going two righties and one lefty, I like to put the lefty in the middle if at all possible.

"The one thing I've spent a lot of time on with Pigott is trying to get his legs back into his delivery. He had hip flexor problems about halfway through the fall and battled through it. He was sore, but he wasn't going to stop throwing. That's the one thing about Pigott, every time he gets on that mound he is going to give you everything he has. Our guys know when he's on the mound he's going to compete and give it everything that he has. He's a warrior. I love that kid to death. He's a coaches dream because he does it the right way. He loves Mississippi State and he loves his teammates. He's just a great leader."

Junior Lee Swindle (RHP)
"The one thing that makes Lee so good is his slider is a swing and miss pitch. He can throw it anytime in the count. He's got a great feel for it. Another thing about Lee is he's starting to get better at understanding how to use his fastball. We are really working hard in the off-season to help him understand what we are trying to do with his delivery. During the off-season is when we spend most of our time actually coaching the guys.

"Lee is a borderline SEC reliever at this point. But I think early on is getting a shot as a reliever mid-week and see where it goes. I know he wants to start, and I'm not going to give up on that. We'll see how that goes. This off-season and the pre-season will determine a lot of things with a couple of the guys."

Junior Aaron Weatherford (RHP)
"Aaron has come a long way since his freshman season. The one thing that Aaron has really improved on is his fastball command. When he first got here he was a thrower. Now he can pitch with his fastball, which sets up so much with his split finger and the breaking that he throws.

"He started off as a starter last year because we felt we could get more used out of his arm. Aaron did what he was capable of doing, but he's got one speed and that is hard and fast. But the night I got thrown out the Friday night against Kentucky, I was sitting in the tunnel and decided that we had to make a change. I felt like Aaron was born to be a closer. I presented that to Coach Polk and he agreed to it and we made the adjustment. And I felt like that was when the pitching staff started to take shape.

"This fall was the first fall where he hasn't been hurt. He feels good and has tremendous amount of confidence in himself and in his stuff. And the team has tremendous amount of confidence in him as well. And he's a humble kid in the fact that he doesn't think he is any better than anyone else.

"He's a guy we hope can pitch twice on the weekend out of the bullpen, maybe an inning on Friday and two on Sunday.

"Hopefully, he has a special year and becomes another one of those first-rounders that have gotten drafted out of Mississippi State."

Junior Jared Wesson (LHP) (He is recovering from shoulder surgery.)
"He's a lot further along than he should be at this point. A lot of that has to do with his discipline in rehab. When we first started the fall, I thought I might be able to get him to throw some batting practice. I never thought he would pitch in an intersquad game. I remember the first night he threw (in an intersquad game), I think he struck everybody he faced with an 89 to 90 miles per hour fastball. So, he could be ready in the bullpen as a short reliever. He's not ready for a long stint at this point because he's still trying to get through rehab and trying to build endurance. But he's a competitor, which he probably gets from his dad who played basketball (at MSU)."

Sophomore Tyler Whitney (LHP)
"Last year, the experience that he got during mid-week games was great for him. Then, he went for a month at the end of the year where he didn't pitch. Then, he pitched very well at (the College World Series in) Omaha. He's got a chance to stay in the mid-week spot, although I know he wants to pitch on the weekends (in the SEC). But his fastball command has to get better. Last year, he was able to get away with giving up runs early in the games because we had an offense that could pick him up.

"The one thing about Tyler is he has great confidence and an attitude about him that allows him be able to handle pressure. But his velocity was down this past fall where it should be. We are trying to make adjustments with his lower half to see if we can get that back.

"We aren't where I think we should be with him at this point, but he's a guy that wants to work hard and wants to work extra. So, we are spending a little extra time with him. I still think he has a chance to be an SEC starter here. Whether it's this year or his junior year, we'll see. I think he has the stuff to do it."

Senior Andy Wilson (LHP)
"Andy has come up with a cut fastball that has been pretty effective for him. He stayed healthy this fall, which he needed to do. I was very pleased with the success that he had this fall.

"I'm going to try and get him some opportunities early in the season as a short reliever during mid-week games and see how he handles it. I'm anxious to see how he does in the spring."


Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.


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