Tennessee - MSU Baseball Series Preview

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

Weather - Strong storms are expected Friday afternoon and into the evening. During gametime, the temperatures should be in the mid-60s. Rain should start decreasing around 10 pm.

Saturday's highs should be in the low-60s with clearing skies and 10 mph winds out of the north and northwest.

Sunday should see temperatures increasing to the high-60s although cloud cover should be more prevalent during the game. But there is very little chance for rain.

Gametimes (All times are Central) - Friday 6:00 p.m. | Saturday 12:00 p.m. | Sunday 12:00 p.m.

5-Year Series History - MSU is 7-5 against Tennessee during the past five years.

Coaches - Todd Raleigh, in his second year as Tennessee's head coach, after being the head coach at Western Carolina for eight years. In his eight seasons as their head coach he led the team to an overall record of 257-209 including a 132-101 conference record. Two of his teams won the conference championship. Those same two teams earned an NCAA Regional bid, although neither team advanced to a Super Regional. His first Tennessee team was 27-29 with a 12-18 conference record. Overall, his NCAA postseason record is 6-6.

During his five years as the head coach at Kentucky, Cohen, in his first season at Mississippi State, quickly turned a program around that had won just 126 games in the previous five seasons (47 in SEC play) to a program that had a 175-112 W-L overall record and 63-85 in SEC play. His teams won one SEC Championship during that period, the first in Kentucky history. He also produced a school-best 44-win season twice (2006, 2008) while there. In his last three seasons at Kentucky, his teams were 127-55 overall, with the 127 wins tied for second best among all 12 conference teams, trailing only Vanderbilt's 133 wins. Two of his five teams appeared in NCAA Regional play, although neither team advanced to the Super Regionals. His teams overall record in NCAA postseason play at Kentucky was 4-4.

Mississippi State Road/Tennessee Home Records - Mississippi State is 3-10 on the road while Tennessee is 13-11 at home.

Expected Pitching Rotations - Tennessee will probably start junior RHP Aaron Tullo (1-4, 5.59) Friday, LHP Nick Hernandez (1-4, 5.64) Saturday and probably junior RHP Stephen McCray (3-3, 6.19) Sunday.

Tullo is starting just his third SEC game. In his two previous outings, he has given up 5 and 4 runs in 3.1 and 4.0 innings. Home runs have been his nemesis, though, with him having given up 3 in those 7.1 innings. And seven of the nine runs he has given up have scored on those home runs. He's usually pretty effective the first three innings, having given up just 1 run in those innings but then the home runs usually come.

Hernandez had started three of the Friday nights for Tennessee. His only Saturday start was last weekend. He normally throws 6 to 8 innings in his SEC outings. He has given up at least 3 runs in each start, having given up 5, 8, 3 and 4 runs (earned and unearned combined). In his two home SEC starts he has given up 12 runs (11 earned) in 11.2 innings on 16 hits and 0 walks while striking out 14 for an ERA of 8.48.

McCray has started three SEC games, two on Saturday and one on Sunday. His outings were 5.0, 2.2 and 4.0 innings each, and he gave up 3, 9 and 6 runs. He has been most effective at home, throwing 9 innings while giving up 5 runs (earned) on 9 hits and 4 walks with 4 Ks.

Mississippi State is expected to start junior LHP Tyler Whitney (2-2, 3.89) on Friday, freshman LHP Nick Routt (4-1, 2.83) on Saturday and sophomore LHP Forrest Moore (2-0, 3.69). Sunday

Whitney has been Mississippi State's Friday night pitcher the entire season. He normally goes 5 to 6 innings, more often 6. In each of his SEC starts he has given up between 3 and 5 runs. His best inning has been the first, with him giving up just 1 run in his four starts. Innings 2, 3 and 4 are normally when team score most of their runs against him with him giving up 3, 5 and 4 in those innings. In away SEC games, which this series is, his ERA is 7.29.

Routt, who is among the league leaders in five categories (earned run average - 3rd, opposing batting average - 8th, innings pitched - 2nd and batters struck out - 5th, complete games - 1st), has pitched extremely well in SEC action. After throwing 4.2 innings in his first SEC game, he has throw three straight complete games in his last three outings. He has a 3-1 won-loss record in SEC action. In his two SEC away game starts he has an earned run average of 4.20. In SEC starts he is most effective in the first four innings, having allowed just 3 total runs in those innings. In the 5th, 6th and 7th innings, he has given up a total of 4, 3 and 3 runs.

Moore has started two SEC games, going 4 innings in both. His SEC earned run average is 7.88. In all starts (SEC and non-SEC) he has been solid in the first four innings, allowing a total of 5 runs. Teams usually score most of their runs against him in the 5th inning (7 runs have been scored in that inning).

Relief Pitching - Tennessee has no true closer and have used numerous players in that role as well as numerous relief pitchers in middle relief roles in SEC action. Pitchers who will probably throw include sophomore LHP Bryan Morgado (1-1, 6.12), senior RHP Ty'Relle Harris (3-2, 5.40 ERA, 1 S), freshman LHP Will Locante (1-1, 4.91), freshman RHP Matt Ramsey (0-2, 5.09), freshman LHP Steven Gruver (0-1, 7.47), senior RHP Danny Wiltz (0-1, 4.61, 1 S), junior RHP Steve Crnkovich (0-0, 8.22) and junior LHP Jeff Lockwood (0-0, 4.66).

Morgado has been used in every role a pitcher could be used in in SEC action - starter, closer and middle reliever. In a starting role he has been the least effective, giving up 12 runs (10 earned) in 9.0 innings for a 12.00 ERA. In a relief role he has thrown 6.0 inning, giving up 0 runs. He could close or be a set-up man.

Harris has been used as both a middle reliever and a close but will probably fit more in as a middle reliever this weekend since that's what his role has been of late. And he's had mixed results, giving up 0 runs in 2.0 innings and 5 runs in 2.0 innings.

Locante has been brought out of the bullpen mostly as a middle reliever. He'll normally thrown to a batter or two or possibly an inning. And he's been decent in that role, giving up 2 (unearned) runs on 2 hits and 0 walks in 1 inning. One thing you can count on with him and that is he will throw strikes.

Ramsey is probably the closet pitcher that Tennessee has that you might consider a closer. In 2 of his 3 SEC outings he has come in to close the game, and he's been very, very effective in that role, giving up 0 runs on 0 hits and 0 walks while striking out 4 in 2.0 innings. The two outings were in Tennessee's last two weekends, so it looks like they are starting to count on him to be their closer the rest of the way.

Gruver appears to be one of the guys they use out of the bullpen when the game has gotten out of hand either as a set-up man or a closer. He's actually been more effective as a closer in that situation. In his two closing outings in SEC play he has not given up a run in 1.1 innings.

Wiltz has also been used in out-of-hand games as well. Expect him to throw an inning or two in that role.

Crnkovich is a guy that can close or do long relief. In his two SEC outings, he has thrown 0.2 inning and 3.0 innings. He's only given up 1 run in those two appearances.

Lockwood has been used twice in SEC action, both times as a closer. And he's been effective in that role, giving up no runs on 2 hits and no walks to go along with his 2 Ks in the 2.0 innings.

Look for Mississippi State to count on six possible pitchers in relief roles, including redshirt freshman RHP Paxton Pace (1-0, 1.42), senior RHP Chad Crosswhite (0-3, 7.27, 5 S), junior RHP Ricky Bowen (2-1, 5.40), junior RHP Greg Houston (1-1, 6.32 1 S), senior RHP Lee Swindle (1-1, 5.95, 2 S) and junior RHP Justin Bussey (1-2, 9.58).

Pace, who had Tommy John surgery late last season, has just started pitching and has been very effective in his three outings this season. After throwing 2.1 innings and allowing no runs in his first two appearances, he was given the chance against Southern Miss this past Wednesday night to throw long relief. While he gave up 4 runs (1 earned), he didn't walk a batter. In fact, in his three relief appearances this season he has yet to walk a hitter and that is something the MSU coaching staff has been looking for in their relievers. Look for Pace to fit in as a middle reliever or closer if need be.

Another pitcher who seems to be throwing well is Bowen. After struggling throughout the season, he started against UAB, a team that hits the ball fairly well, last Tuesday night and pitched well, giving up 0 runs on 3 hits and 5 walks while striking out 5 in 6 innings. He could very well be used in relief this weekend, possibly even in long relief if one of the starters doesn't perform as well as the coaches hope.

Crosswhite, who leads the team in saves, has been up and down of late. The odd thing about it is in his last 6 outings he's had three bad outings and three very good outings. There's no in-between. In the ineffective outings he has thrown 7.2 innings, giving up 21 runs (20 earned), while in his three effective outings he has thrown 9.1 innings and given up just 3 runs (all earned). That's a 24+ ERA compared to a 2.89 ERA. If you go by that pattern he's due for another bad outing his next time on the mound. Hopefully, he changes the pattern this weekend.

Swindle, who is next in saves with two, has seen his performances improve as of late. In his last six outings, he's only allowed more than 1 run once. If you exclude that outing, he's given up just 2 runs in 12.1 innings. However, all but one of those relief appearances have been in non-SEC action. But with the ineffectiveness of the Bulldog bullpen of late, don't be surprised to see him pitch in middle relief if needed.

Houston had been MSU's main set-up reliever for most of the season but he's gone into a tailspin of late, giving up 11 runs (all earned) in 5.1 innings of work.

Bussey has been more of a middle reliever but control problems have hindered him all season long, including his last few outings. In his last five times on the mound he has walked 8 in 5.1 innings and given up 7 runs (4 earned).

Who's Hot at the Plate and Who's Not in the Last 5 Games (Hitters have to have 5 or more at-bats in the 5 games to be added to this list) - Tyler Horne leads the Tennessee team with a .600 batting average (9-for-15, 3 RBI). In limited action, Cody Hawn is hitting .750 (6-for-8, 4 RBI) and P.J. Polk is hitting .400 (2-for-5, 2 RBI). No other Vol is hitting .300 or higher.

Others - Zach Osborne is batting .267 (4-for-15, 0), Cody Brown comes in at .214 (3-for-14, 1). Several hitters are at the .200 mark - Josh Liles (4-for-20, 3), Kentrail Davis (4-for-20, 3), Mike Hornsby (2-for-10, 2), Cody Grisham (2-for-10, 1). Below the .200 mark are Charley Thurber at .118 (2-for-17, 3), Blake Forsythe at .105 (2-for-19, 2) and Jeff Lockwood at .100 (1-for-10, 2 RBI).

Mississippi State's hitters, as a group, are very hot with 5 batters hitting .417 or higher. Russ Sneed leads the way with a .474 average (9-for-19, 6 RBI). Grant Hogue isn't far behind with a .453 average (11-for-24, 5). Also over the .417 mark are Ryan Powers at .438 (7-for-16, 3), Connor Powers at .429 (9-for-21, 9) and Ryan Duffy at .417 (5-for-12, 2).

Hitters who come in at or above .300 are Luke Adkins at .385 (5-for-13, 4 RBI), Scott DeLoach at .333 (4-for-12, 1) and Ryan Collins at .300 (3-for-10, 1).

Others - Jet Butler is hitting .267 (4-for-15, 9 RBI), Cody Freeman at .250 (2-for-8, 1) and Brent Brownlee at .000 (0-for-7, 0 RBI).

How Tennessee and MSU Match Up
Tennessee Category Mississippi State
13-20 Record 18-15
.285 (12th in SEC) Batting Average .300 (7th in SEC)
211 (6.4 pg) Runs 225 (6.8 pg)
46 Home Runs 30
.375 OB % .409
27-34 Stolen Bases-Attempts 48-65
133 (4.0 pg) Walks 159 (4.8 pg)
218 (6.6 pg) Strikeouts 258 (7.8 pg)
274 (8.3 pg) LOB 270 (8.2 pg)
5.83 (12th in SEC) Team ERA 5.52 (10th in SEC)
2 Saves 9
109 (3.3 pg) Walks 150 (4.9 pg)
306 (9.3 pg) Strikeouts 243 (7.4 pg)
.283 Batting Average Against .276
.974 (2nd in SEC) Fielding % .967 (8th in SEC)

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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