Tennessee-MSU Baseball Series Preview

Mississippi State and Tennessee tangle in a three-game Southeastern Conference series this weekend at Mississippi State.

Weather - Friday should see temperatures range from the high-70's at gametime and end up in the low-70's by the end of the game. There is only a slight chance for rain (10%).

Saturday's temperatures should be in the low-70's throughout the game. There is a 30% chance of showers during the game.

Sunday should see the same as Saturday, although the chance of showers increases to 40% during the game.

Gametimes - Friday 6:30 p.m. | Saturday 2:00 p.m. | Sunday 1:30 p.m.

5-Year Series History - MSU leads 5-4 during the last five seasons.

Coaches - This is Todd Raleigh's first season at Tennessee.

MSU head coach Ron Polk will have coached his 29th season at MSU at the conclusion of this season. He is retiring at the end of the season.

Tennessee Road/Mississippi State Home Records - Tennessee is 4-9 on the road while MSU is 11-13 at home.

Expected Pitching Rotations - MSU will start junior RHP Chad Crosswhite (2-3, 9.89) Friday, redshirt sophomore Ricky Bowen (2-4, 7.06) Saturday and senior LHP Justin Pigott (2-1, 4.28) Sunday.

Tennessee will counter with sophomore LHP Nick Hernandez (1-3, 5.10 ERA) Friday, freshman LHP Bryan Morgado (4-2, 3.22 ERA) Saturday and I'm guessing either junior RHP Ty'Relle Harris or sophomore RHP Steve Crnkovich as their Sunday TBA pitcher.

Crosswhite, who battled an injury early in the season, is finally healthy and has started in SEC action the last three weekends. But despite being healthy, he's still not pitching as well as he did last year. In his three outings he has given up 20 runs (13 earned) on 25 hits and 7 walks with 5 strikeouts in 14.1 innings of work. His SEC ERA is 8.16. He has gotten progressively worse each outing, giving up 4, 7 and 9 earned runs.

Bowen's season has been a case of ups and downs. After throwing a two-hitter against Ole Miss in his first SEC action of the season, he has had only one solid outing in his last five SEC starts. Over the course of those five starts he has given up 29 runs (22 earned) in 26.0 of work for an ERA of 7.61. His last outing against Bama showed signs that he may be headed back on the right track with him giving up 4 runs (3 earned) on 3 hits in 5.0 innings. The concern was the number of walks he had in the appearance - five. But he did have 7 strikeouts.

Pigott started the season off really well, but suffered inflammation of the shoulder in his first SEC outing of the year against Ole Miss. His first start since then was last week when he threw 5.2 innings (he was on a pitch count), allowing 2 runs (both earned) on 4 hits and 3 walks with 2 strikeouts. Both runs were scored in one inning. He was outstanding in the other innings.

Hernandez has, up until recently, pitched fairly well in the SEC. Overall, in his six SEC starts, he has an ERA of 4.98 (21 earned runs, 38.0 innings pitched), but in his last two outings he has given up 14 runs (all earned) on 17 hits and 1 walk in 14 innings for an ERA of 9.00. There's really no certain inning that he's the most ineffective in.

Morgado has been fairly consistent, although not great, in his six SEC starts. Other than two outings during the middle of the SEC season when he gave up 9 earned runs in 8.2 innings, he's normally given up no more than 2 to 3 runs in his appearances. And he usually will thrown from 6+ to 8+ innings. He's normally going to strike out at least 1 batter an inning. His last two outings he gave up 5 runs (all earned) in 15.1 innings for an ERA of 2.96.

Harris, a reliever at the beginning of the season, was moved to a starting role, replacing Crnkovich, two weekends ago. In his two starts he has allowed 8 runs (all earned) on 17 hits and 7 walks in 13.1 innings for an SEC ERA of 5.40.

See Tennessee's relief pitching below for Crnkovich's starter stats.

Relief Pitching - MSU primarily uses three relievers on weekends - senior RHP John Lalor, junior RHP Aaron Weatherford and freshman RHP Michael Busby.

Lalor is now the setup man after taking over the closer duties while Weatherford was hurt for a month of the season. And he's done fairly well in that role since moving back into the role. Although he's given up 10 runs (9 earned) on 15 hits and 3 walks in 14.2 innings, in his last two outings he's given up no runs on 1 hit and 1 walk in 3 innings.

One of the top closers in the nation, Weatherford has dominated hitters this season, giving up just 1 unearned run on 2 hits and 2 walks with 14 strikeouts in 7.2 innings of SEC action. He normally doesn't pitch more than an inning or two in no more than a couple of weekend games.

Busby has also been an up and down guy, although he's had more downs than ups. In six SEC appearances he has given up at least 2 runs in four of them. His SEC ERA is 5.87. Walks have been a problem for him with 11 in 15.1 innings.

Other relief pitchers that could see action if any of the games get out of hand are sophomore RHP Greg Houston, senior LHP Andy Wilson and senior LHP Jesse Carver.

Tennessee could use up to six relievers during the weekend with none in a role that is set in concrete. Five of them - junior LHP Joey Rosas, junior RHP Danny Wiltz, sophomore LHP Jeff Lockwood, sophomore RHP Steve Crnkovich, and sophomore LHP D.J. Leffler - have all closed at least one SEC game this season, with another, sophomore LHP Bryan Powell, appearing in two games but neither as a closer. Tennessee's normal closer, junior RHP Aaron Everett, has been out with an elbow injury since April 6th.

Lockwood has been one of the most active of the relievers, but he started a game during the week and threw 6.0 innings, so I'm not sure how much he will be used. I would suspect he won't be brought out of the pen unless it's the Sunday game. He's normally used for about an inning. In 6 SEC games he has thrown 4.2 innings, giving up 2 runs (1 earned) for an SEC ERA of 1.93.

Expect to also see Rosas, but more as a long reliever who will also close. He normally throws 2 to 3 innings. In 5 SEC outings he has thrown 12.0 innings, giving up 4 runs (all earned) on 8 hits and a high 8 walks with 11 Ks for an SEC ERA of 3.00.

Wiltz, in his last four SEC appearances, has closed three of the four. As of late, he has thrown in the 1+ inning range. In his 12.2 innings of SEC relief work he has allowed 6 runs (5 earned) on 6 hits and 6 walks with 10 Ks. His SEC ERA is 3.55.

Crnkovich, who started four SEC games before being moved to relief, has appeared in two games as a reliever, giving up 2 runs (unearned) on 4 hits and 2 walks in 4.0 innings. As an SEC starter, he gave up 22 runs (17 earned) on 28 hits and 9 walks in 19.2 innings.

Powell and Leffler, if used, shouldn't pitch more than once during the weekend and not more than an inning at most based on past SEC outings.

Hitting (Last Five Games) - In their last five games MSU is hitting .310 and averaging 6.0 runs per game while Tennessee is hitting .324 and scoring 7.2 runs per game.

Who's Hot at the Plate and Who's Not in the Last 5 Games - For Mississippi State five players are hitting the ball well in the last five games of the season.

Leading the group is junior Grant Hogue who is hitting at a .500 clip (8-for-16, 1 RBI). Redshirt sophomore Russ Sneed is not far behind with a five-game average of .474 (9-for-19, 6 RBI).

Coming in at .300+ are redshirt sophomore Ryan Duffy .353 (6-for-17, 1 RBI), freshman Ryan Collins at .333 (4-for-12, 1 RBI) and sophomore Jet Butler at .300 (6-for-20, 0 RBI).

Four other Bulldog hitters are batting .250 or better. The top hitter among that group is junior Tyler Moore who comes in at .286 (6-for-21, 6 RBI). Next up is redshirt freshman Ryan Collins at .278 (5-for-18, 4 RBI), followed by two other freshmen - Cody Freeman who is hitting .250 (5-for-20, 4 RBI) and redshirt freshman Jason Nappi also at .250 (5-for-20, 1 RBI).

Tennessee has seven batters hitting the ball well with three hitting an even .500 - sophomore Yan Gomes (10-for-20, 7 RBI), freshman Josh Liles (11-for-22, 6 RBI), and in limited action sophomore Cody Grisham (5-for-10, 1 RBI).

In the .400 range is junior Danny Lima who, also in limited action, is batting an even .400 (4-for-10, 2 RBI).

Just a notch below Lima are three other players - senior Shawn Griffin at .381 (8-for-21, 5 RBI), freshman Kentrail Davis at .350 (7-for-20, 1 RBI) and sophomore Jeff Lockwood hitting .333 (4-for-12, 0 RBI).

Three Vols that are slumping are junior Cody Brown .217 (5-for-23, 4 RBI), senior Andy Simunic .150 (3-for-20, 1 RBI), and freshman P.J. Polk at 111. (1-for-9, 2 RBI) in limited activity.

How Tennessee and MSU Match Up
Tennessee Category Mississippi State
24-17 Record 16-25
.296 (9th in SEC) Batting Average .297 (8th in SEC)
262 (6.4 pg) Runs 270 (6.6 pg)
45 Home Runs 39
.394 OB % .393
51-74 Stolen Bases-Attempts 39-51
180 (4.4 pg) Walks 207 (5.0 pg)
274 (6.7 pg) Strikeouts 323 (7.9 pg)
347 (8.5 pg) LOB 369 (9.0 pg)
4.94 (11th in SEC) Team ERA 6.65 (12th in SEC)
9 Saves 5
160 (3.9 pg) Walks 202 (4.9 pg)
318 (7.8 pg) Strikeouts 331 (8.1 pg)
.277 Batting Average Against .298
.957 (11th in SEC) Fielding % .968 (7th in SEC)
68 Errors 51

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the 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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