Kentucky - MSU Baseball Series Preview

Mississippi State and Kentucky tangle in a three-game Southeastern Conference series this weekend in Starkville during Super Bulldog Weekend.

Weather - Friday gametime temperatures should be in the low 70s and decrease to the low 60s by the end of the game. There is a very slight chance for showers during the game.

Saturday could see some afternoon scattered thunderstorms (40% chance). Game temperatures should be in the high 60s with southeast winds at 7 miles per hour.

Sunday should see some of the same as Saturday (40% chance of scattered thunderstorms), although the temperatures should be in the low to mid 70s and the wind will be around 9 miles per hour from the west/southwest.

Gametimes (All times are Central) - Friday 6:30 p.m. | Saturday 1:00 p.m. | Sunday 1:30 p.m.

5-Year Series History - MSU is 7-9 against Kentucky, including 4-2 at home, during the past five years.

Coaches - Kentucky is Gary Henderson's first head coaching job in the NCAA D-I ranks.

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 Home/Kentucky Road Records - Mississippi State is 15-4 at home while Kentucky is 3-7 on the road.

Expected Pitching Rotations - Look for Kentucky to start freshman RHP Alex Meyer (1-2, 4.69) on Friday, senior LHP Chris Rusin (4-3, 4.53) on Saturday and junior LHP James Paxton (4-2, 6.07) on Sunday.

Don't let the earned run average of Meyer's fool you because, other than two single innings in the SEC game against Georgia, he's been really, really good. You take away the 4th and 5th inning against Georgia when he gave up 5 runs, and the kid has given up just 8 total runs in the other 24 innings that he has pitched in SEC action. And that was against some of the best teams in the SEC - LSU, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and even three innings against Georgia. But that's the kind of performance you would expect from a guy who was projected to be a first-rounder out of high school if he had wanted to sign, but he wanted to play college ball before going pro. Meyer is at his best in the first four innings, then, as he did against Georgia, he can be gotten to in the innings after the 4th, having given up 10 of his 13 SEC runs in those innings. Control has been an issue with him (24 walks in 24 innings in his SEC starts), but it's that way with a lot of guys who throw their fastball in the low to mid-90s, which is Meyer's average velocity.

Rusin has been the most effective starter of Kentucky's three SEC rotation pitchers. And he's almost always outstanding the first five innings of his starts with the exception of one inning against Ole Miss when he gave up 6 runs in the 3rd inning. Take that inning away and he's given up just 4 runs in 24 innings in his five SEC starts. That is a 1.50 earned run average for those innings. He becomes less effective beginning in the 5th. He's given up 5 runs in that inning. And he's made it to that inning in four of his five starts. On the road in SEC action he has given up 7 runs (all earned) in 12.1 innings which translates to a 5.11 ERA. And in his last two SEC starts (Georgia and Ole Miss) he's given up 13 runs in 12 innings.

Paxton started out like gangbusters in his first two SEC starts, giving up just 4 runs in 13 innings against LSU and Vanderbilt. Then he was pounded by South Carolina to the tune of 9 runs in 2 innings. Since then, he's started to come back but he still gave up 9 runs in 11 innings against Ole Miss and Georgia. The second inning has been his downfall in all three games, giving up 6, 3 and 2 in that inning. But he usually settles down and does well for the next two innings, then loses it in the 5th. His SEC road earned run average is 6.55 (8 earned runs in 11 innings).

Mississippi State is expected to start junior LHP Tyler Whitney (2-3, 4.25) on Friday, freshman LHP Nick Routt (4-2, 3.07) on Saturday and possibly sophomore LHP Forrest Moore (2-0, 4.28) Sunday.

Whitney will once again start the SEC weekend off by starting Friday. For the first time this season, Whitney went over the 7 inning mark in a start with a 7.2 inning performance against Tennessee last weekend in Knoxville. He gave up 6 runs (5 earned) on 11 hits and 5 walks while striking out 5. During his five SEC starts he has given up 6, 3, 5, 5 and 4 runs in 7.2, 6.1, 6.0, 6.1 and 5.0 innings. This weekend's series is at home and Whitney has performed much better at home than he has on the road. In his two SEC home starts against South Carolina and Auburn, he threw 11.1 innings, giving up 7 runs (4 earned) on 14 hits and 4 walks to go along with his 12 strikeouts. His home SEC ERA is 3.18. In his five SEC appearances he has given up at least 1 run in each inning with the 3rd and 4th being his worst innings (6 runs in 5th and 5 runs in the 6th). His best innings are the 1st, 5th and 6th (2, 2, 2 runs in each inning). Once he gets by the 3rd and 4th innings, he usually catches a second breath and performs ok, then starts running into trouble in the 7th. As for how he's done lately, in his last two outings (both SEC starts), he's allowed 9 runs (8 earned) in 14.0 innings.

Routt, 5th in the SEC in earned run average, has thrown complete games in his last four SEC starts (8, 7, 9 and 8 innings). A very efficient pitcher, Routt normally throws an average of just less than 15 pitches per inning. As for his most effective innings, the first four innings are usually his best, although when he's made it to the 8th and 9th innings in his starts he has not given up a run in those two innings. His roughest inning is usually the 5th - he's given up a total of 6 runs in that inning during his five SEC starts. He's a little more effective in his SEC home starts compared to road starts with a 3.29 home ERA and a 4.30 road ERA. In his last two SEC starts he has thrown 17.0 innings, giving up 7 runs (all earned), which is a 3.71 ERA.

Moore, after starting the season as a reliever/spot starter, won the Sunday SEC starting role a few weekends ago. He's usually going to give the team a decent four innings of work, although he had a rough outing at Tennessee last weekend, giving up 3 runs in 2 innings. In all of his starts, SEC and non-SEC, his best innings have been the first four. He's been lights out in those inning, giving up just 7 runs in those innings (a total of 22 innings when you combine all six of his starts). The 5th inning has been a problem for him, with him having given up 7 runs in the four outings that he has made it to the fifth.

Relief Pitching - When it comes to the SEC, Kentucky is a four-man relieving corps - sophomore LHP Logan Darnell (3-2, 3.71, 2 S), junior RHP Tyler Henry (0-3, 5.11), junior RHP Clint Tilford (1-3, 4.79) and freshman RHP Bryan Kapteyn (2-0, 5.30, 3 S).

For most of the SEC season, Darnell has been Kentucky's primary closer, having closed or brought in to close six games. When brought in to close, he's normally going to throw an inning at most. He's even been brought in to get the last out of a game when necessary. In that role, he's only given up 1 run (unearned) in four innings. He's not really a strikeout pitcher, nor does he walk many batters. He simply has a knack for getting guys out.

Henry, for the most part, is the first guy to come in when a reliever replaces starting pitcher Alex Meyer. In fact, he's done that in four of Meyer's five starts. And he's been up and down in that role. His last outing, against Georgia, he gave up just 1 run in 4.1 innings, but the three prior outings he gave up 5 runs (all earned) in 5 innings.

Tilford is used mainly as a middle reliever in SEC action. He's usually going to throw 1 to 2 innings, more often 2. Look for him to give up a run or two when he comes in. I based that on the fact that he's given up at least 1 run, sometimes 2, in everyone of his SEC appearances.

Kapteyn has been used as a closer in SEC games for Kentucky when they needed an out or two, preferably a strikeout. However, in his last two outings, he's seen longer stints as a middle reliever with up and down success. Against Georgia, he threw 2.1 innings, giving up 0 runs. But against Ole Miss, in 2 innings he gave up 3 runs (2 earned). No matter the success or lack of it, expect a strikeout or two each inning he's in the game.

Look for Mississippi State to count on five possible pitchers in relief roles, including redshirt freshman RHP Paxton Pace (1-0, 1.23), senior RHP Lee Swindle (1-1, 5.09, 3 S), senior RHP Chad Crosswhite (0-3, 8.40, 5 S), junior RHP Ricky Bowen (2-2, 5.96), junior RHP Greg Houston (1-1, 5.49, 1 S), and freshman LHP David Hayes (0-0, 6.00).

Pace, coming back from Tommy John surgery, has performed well this year in limited action. In four games he has thrown 8.1 innings, giving up 5 runs (1 earned) on 9 hits and 0 walks to go along with 5 Ks. He could either be a middle reliever or even a closer thanks to a high 80s fastball and a really good changeup.

Swindle has come into his own of late, having given up no runs in his last three relief performances (6.1 innings, 4 hits, 0 walks, 4 Ks) vs Ole Miss, Tennessee and UAB. Look for him to be a guy that could close out a game for MSU if need be.

Crosswhite is the team's middle reliever and sometimes closer, a pitcher who can give the team 1 to 4 quality innings when he's on. While he's had some good outings this season, his last three outings (Ole Miss, Tennessee and Auburn) have been tough on him - 14 runs (13 earned) in 6 innings.

Houston has been an up and down pitcher this season, but his best performances have come against SEC teams (4 runs, 8.1 innings). His best outing this season was his last when he gave up just 1 run in 4 innings against Tennessee last weekend. His normal role is as a middle reliever.

Bowen, who has been a starter for most of his career at State, only pitched 1 inning in his last start (Tuesday night against Ole Miss), so he's a guy who could pitch in long relief if one of the starters runs into trouble early on.

David Hayes hadn't been used much this season, but recently came in against both Ole Miss and Tennessee and did well, throwing two short stints of 1.0 and 0.1 innings, giving up no runs on no hits and 1 walk. A lefthander, he's a guy who can come in and get an out or two if a lefty is batting.

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) - Kentucky has four players hitting the ball well in their last five games - Chris Bisson is hitting .458 (11-for-24, 2 RBI), Chad Wright comes in at .400 (6-for-15, 2 RBI), Gunner Glad is batting .333 (7-for-21, 6 RBI) and Keenan Wiley is hitting at a .316 clip (6-for-19, 4 RBI).

Others - Chris Wade is hitting .278 (5-for-18, 5 RBI), Marcus Nidiffer is batting .267 (4-for-15, 2 RBI), Andy Burns comes in at .250 (4-for-16, 1 RBI), Bryson Rose is hitting .154 (2-for-13, 2 RBI) and Chris McClendon is batting .100 (2-for-20, 1 RBI).

Mississippi State has three guys hitting .333 or better in full-time action with another player hitting at the .500 mark in limited action. Ryan Powers continues to hit the ball well, hitting at a .351 clip (6-for-17, 4 RBI), while Russ Sneed is hitting .333 (6-for-18, 5 RBI), as is Scott DeLoach (5-for-15, 1 RBI). In limited action, Nick Hardy is hitting .500 (3-for-6, 0 RBI).

Others - Cody Freeman is hitting .286 in limited action (2-for-7, 1 RBI), Ryan Duffy comes in at .273 (3-for-11, 2 RBI), Connor Powers is hitting a productive .250 (5-for-20, 6 RBI), Ryan Collins comes in at .200 (2-for-10, 0 RBI), Grant Hogue and Jet Butler are both hitting .200 (3-for-20, 1 RBI for both), and Luke Adkins comes in at .125 (2-for-16, 0 RBI).

How Kentucky and MSU Match Up
Kentucky Category Mississippi State
19-16 Record 19-18
.293 (9th in SEC) Batting Average .292 (10th in SEC)
227 (6.5 pg) Runs 239 (6.5 pg)
31 Home Runs 35
.380 OB % .404
44-57 Stolen Bases-Attempts 49-66
130 (3.7 pg) Walks 174 (4.7 pg)
265 (7.6 pg) Strikeouts 302 (8.2 pg)
283 (8.1 pg) LOB 297 (8.0 pg)
5.10 (9th in SEC) Team ERA 5.65 (10th in SEC)
7 Saves 10
126 (3.6 pg) Walks 172 (4.7 pg)
331 (9.5 pg) Strikeouts 267 (7.2 pg)
.283 Batting Average Against .280
.967 (8th in SEC) Fielding % .968 (7th in SEC)

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by emailing

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