Florida - MSU Baseball Series Preview

Mississippi State and No. 6th ranked Florida tangle in a three-game Southeastern Conference series this weekend at the University of Florida.

Weather - Friday, it should be in the high to low-60s during most of the game. Saturday should see more of the same. No rain is expected either day. On Sunday there is a 30% chance for isolated thunderstorms. The temperature should be in the low-70s.

Gametimes (All Times Eastern Time) - Friday 7:00 p.m. | Saturday 7:00 p.m. | Sunday 1:00 p.m.

Last 5-Year Series History - MSU leads the series during the last five years 5-4.

Coaches - In two years as a head coach, both at Florida, Kevin O'Sullivan has a 76-46 record and has taken Florida to two NCAA appearances, even making a Super Regional last season. His teams have a 39-24 SEC record and won the SEC Eastern Division last season. In NCAA post-season play, he has led his two teams to a 3-4 record.

John Cohen, who is in his second season at Mississippi State, came to State from Kentucky where he won the overall SEC Championship in 2006. At Kentucky, John Cohen's teams were 175-112 overall and 63-85 in SEC play. Last year's MSU team was 25-29. In five seasons at Kentucky and one at Mississippi State, he has taken two of his teams to NCAA post-season play, although neither team advanced to a Super Regional. His teams have an overall NCAA post-season record of 4-4.

Florida Home Record/Mississippi State Road Record - Florida is 11-1 at home while Mississippi State is 1-3 on the road.

Expected Pitching Rotations - For Florida, sophomore Alex Panteliodis (4-0, 1.10) will start the Friday game and freshman Brian Johnson (1-1, 5.52)will start Saturday's game. Florida has not announced who their Sunday starter will be. My best guess is it will be sophomore Tommy Toledo (2-1, 3.78).

Although his stats are exceptional, this will only be Panteliodis' third start this season. His two other appearances have been in relief. In his two starts he has thrown 5.2 and 7.0 innings and only given up 1 run combined. While his best outing was against Charleston Southern, he was also very effective against Miami, going 5.2 innings while giving up just the 1 run on 2 hits and 2 walks to go along with his 8 Ks.

Johnson started the season on a high note, going 5.2 innings without giving up a run on 3 hits and 0 walks. His last two starts haven't gone as well with him giving up 5 runs in both while throwing 4.2 and 3.2 innings. In those two outings he has allowed the 10 runs (7 earned) on 15 hits while striking out 8 in the 8.1 innings. Give him credit, though, he hasn't walked a batter in any of his three starts.

Toledo has started four games, going 3.1, 5.0, 5.0 and 3.0 innings. Except for his last outing, he's been fairly effective, normally giving up 1 to 2 runs. His most impressive start was against Miami, giving up just 2 runs (1 earned) on 3 hits and 1 walk while striking out 4 in 5 innings of work.

Mississippi State will go with true freshman Kendall Graveman (1-0, 3.78) on Friday, true freshman Chris Stratton (2-2, 2.95) on Saturday and sophomore Nick Routt (1-1, 7.27) will throw the Sunday game.

This will be Graveman's first start of the season after being one of State's two middle relievers. As a middle reliever, Graveman, who throws in the high 80s and low 90s at times, has been fairly effective. In his five outings, he's given up more than 1 run just once, and that was against No. 15 ranked Oklahoma when he gave up 9 hits and 5 runs in 4.2 innings. And even in that game, after giving up the five runs in his first two+ innings of work, he settled down and allowed no runs in his last two. In his other outings he threw a total of 12.1 innings, allowing 2 runs on 10 hits and 5 walks while striking out 7. The last three times out, he has thrown in the 3+ to 5+ inning range. One thing to watch for with Kendall is the fact that he is a high pitch count guy. He normally throws between 15 and 25 pitches per inning which is a little on the high side. If he can keep his inning pitch count in the 15 range, he's usually pretty good. Higher than that, then look for him to struggle.

Stratton, a hard thrower who consistently hits in the 90-91 range with his fastball, has been MSU's most effective starter, although, as you would expect from a true freshman he has been inconsistent. In his first start of the year, against Rhode Island, he was lights out, throwing 6 innings of shutout ball. In his next outing, against Southeastern Louisiana, he struggled from the get-go, giving up 1, 1 and 3 runs in his first three innings. In his next outing, against Southeast Missouri, he was once again very effective, going 7.1 innings, while allowing 2 runs on 5 hits and 1 walk while recording 9 Ks. In his last outing, he was decently effective, giving up 5 runs (3 earned) on 5 hits and 3 walks to go along with his 6 strikeouts in his 5.1 innings of work against No. 10 ranked UCLA. The stats are deceptive because he only gave up 1 run in his first five innings of work. That's something you notice about Stratton, he's normally very effective the first five innings, then, he seems to tire and that leads to runs being scored against him. In three of his four outings, he's given up just one run in the first five innings.

After a great freshman season, Routt (86-88 fastball) has struggled at times this season. And his high pitch count per inning indicates his struggles. After being a low pitch count pitcher last season (about 13 to 15 pitches per inning), he has been in the 19 to 39+ pitch per inning range in three of his five outings. But to Routt's credit, he has also had two great outings, throwing 8 innings against Southeastern Louisiana when he only gave up 1 run and his last outing this past Wednesday when he threw 2 innings and allowed no runs, hits or walks while striking out 4. Considering how dominating he was at times last season, you have to think it's only a matter of time before his consistency comes back and he becomes the Routt of old.

Relief Pitching - Florida uses a lot of relievers, which is expected since their starters normally only throw in the 4+ to 5+ inning range.

So far, this season their primary middle relievers have been sophomores Greg Larson, Nick Maronde and freshman Steven Rodriguez.

Rodriguez has been the most effective of the three, allowing just 1 run in his six outings. Up until his last outing, he has primarily thrown no more than an inning. However, in his last appearance he threw 4 innings, allowing no runs on 4 hits and no walks.

Maronde has had an up and down season so far. He started the season off by allowing 6 runs in 2.1 innings. Then, in his next three outings, he pitched extremely well, striking out 13 in 6.1 innings while giving up no runs, no hits and 2 walks. Then, in his next two outings, he threw 3.1 innings, giving up 2 runs on 1 hit while walking 7. He also threw 93 pitches in the 3.1 innings, an average of around 28 per inning.

The least effective of the three has been Larson. In his six relief appearances he has given up 2 or more run in four of them. In his last two outings he has given up 7 runs on 6 hits and 1 walk in 1.1 innings.

Two other pitchers have been combination middle relievers and closers - senior Jeff Barfield and sophomore Justin Poovey.

Poovey has only given up 1 run in his 8 innings of work. While he has been effective, he's normally going to be a high pitch type pitcher, throwing in the 20 to 22 pitch count range per inning.

Barfield, unlike Poovey, is normally a low pitch count reliever. He usually throws no more than 10 to 12 pitches an inning. In his six outing, he has given up just 3 runs in 9.2 innings. The key for him has been his lack of walks, walking just one batter this season.

Florida's true closer is junior Kevin Chapman. Although not a big-time strikeout pitcher (10 in 11+ innings), he has been very effective in that role, having given up 0 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks in the 11.2 innings. And unlike a lot of closers, he can come in for an out or two or come in and throw 3 to 4 innings if needed in that role. He's effective in either type appearance.

Last season the Bulldog bullpen was almost non-existent. That's not the case this season. Pitchers have defined roles and, for the part, they have been fairly effective in those roles.

I'll start with the long relievers.

Graveman and sophomore Caleb Reed have been installed in that role. Of course, Graveman will start this weekend, so that role will go to Reed. Reed, who has been converted to a submarine type pitcher, has thrived with the new delivery. In his six outings he has been dominating in five, giving up just 3 runs (2 earned) in 14.2 innings in those five appearances. And in his last three outings, he has thrown 9.1 innings, giving up 0 runs on 4 hits while walking 1 and striking out 10. And the competition has been strong - Western Kentucky, No. 10 UCLA and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. He's usually going to be the first guy out when a long reliever is needed. And if need be, he can be used in back to back days and can throw anywhere from 2+ innings to 5+ innings.

Also used as a long reliever is true freshman Chad Girodo. He's also been fairly effective. In his first two relief outings he threw 9.1 innings and gave up 3 runs (2 earned) on 7 hits and 1 walk while striking out 6. His one bad outing was against TAMU-CC when he gave up 2 runs on 5 hits in 2.2 innings. Other than that, he's been solid his freshman season.

Juco transfer Corey Collins has also been used in middle relief, although he is usually going to go no more than an inning or two.

State has used five different pitchers in the late innings, sophomore Devin Jones and freshmen Ben Bracewell, C.C. Watson and Matt Lane and senior Greg Houston.

Jones, who has great stuff and a fastball that tops out at 95 miles per hour, is the guy the Bulldog coaching staff hoped would be MSU's closer but he's struggled in that role so far. In his seven outings, he has given up runs in three. And even when he doesn't give up a run, he's usually got 2 to 3 runners on base. But to his credit, in two of his outings, he has been the dominant closer the coaching staff is looking for. And you'll know very quickly if he's on or not by his strike-ball ratio. If he's throwing strikes he will be very effective, if not, then he will give up hits and runs.

A freshman who has also been used as the closer at times is Ben Bracewell. Bracewell has a fastball that he can throw in the 90-91 mph range and a very effective slider that can make hitters look silly at times. In his six outings, two as a closer, he has only given up runs in one. He's usually going to throw about 13 to 14 pitches in an inning, although he did struggle big-time in his last outing when he threw 45 pitches in 2 innings. But, for the most part, he has been very effective. He's also a strikeout type pitcher (10 in 8 innings), which, obviously, is something you want in a closer.

Another true freshman who has closed at times is lefty C.C. Watson. Watson, who has a hammer curveball to go along with a high 80s fastball, has thrown in five games and only allowed a run in one. In his last three outings, he has thrown 1.2 innings in each (5 innings total) and has not allowed a run or hit while striking out 3. His one nemesis has been walks. He gave up 3 walks in those 5 innings.

Freshman lefty Matt Lane has been used in a closer role in games that were out of hand. Control has been his problem so far; he's given up 4 walks in 4 innings. If he can get his control issues taken care of, he is a guy who could be moved into a long reliever role to help out Reed.

Senior Greg Houston, along with Caleb Reed, have been two of the brightest spots among the veteran pitchers. Greg has not allowed a run in his five outings, a span of 7 innings where he has given up 2 hits and walked 2. He has also struck out 3. He has closed the game in four of his five appearances.

Who's Hot at the Plate and Who's Not in the Last 5 Games - For Florida, seven full-time players are hitting .313 or better. Leading the Gators is Preston Tucker who is hitting .409 (9-for-22 with 13 RBI), Not far behind are two players hitting .400, Austin Maddox (8-for-20, 3 RBI) and Josh Adams (6-for-15, 4 RBI). Matt den Dekker is hitting .333 (7-for-21, 3 RBI) as is Mike Zunino (5-for-15, 7 RBI). Kamm Washington also comes in at .333 (4-for-12, 3 RBI). Nolan Fontana is hitting at a .313 clip (5-for-16, 0 RBI). In limited activity, Daniel Pigott is hitting .429 (3-for-7, 1 RBI). Bryson Smith and Tyler Thompson are the only two Gators who are under the .300 mark. Smith comes in at .235 (4-for-17, 2 RBI) and Thompson is hitting .083 (1-for-12, 2 RBI).

As for Mississippi State, Connor Powers continues to hit the ball well, hitting at a .474 clip (9-for-19, 4 RBI), over the past five games. Not far behind is another senior, Jet Butler, who is hitting .400 (8-for-20, also with 4 RBI). The only other Bulldog over .300 is Cody Freeman, who is batting .353 (6-for-17, 3 RBI). Just below the .300 mark are Ryan Collins at .294 (5-for-17, 5 RBI) and Sam Frost at .286 (4-for-14, 5 RBI). Nick Vickerson is hitting .250 (3-for-12). The other full-timers are hitting as follows; Jonathan Ogden .176 (3-for-17, 1 RBI), Luke Adkins .154 (2-for-13, 0 RBI), Ryan Duffy .154 (2-for-13, 3 RBI) and Jaron Shepherd .077 (1-for-13, 0 RBI). Players who have had limited at bats during the five-game period are Wes Thigpen .200 (2-for-10, 1 RBI), Trey Johnson .143 (1-for-7, 1 RBI), and Russ Sneed .000 (0-for-4, 0 RBI).

How Florida and MSU Match Up
Florida Category Mississippi State
13-3 Record 11-7
.324 Batting Average .290
122 (7.6 pg) Runs 123 (6.8 pg)
18 Home Runs 16
.401 OB % .409
29-36 Stolen Bases-Attempts 25-30
65 (4.1 pg) Walks 88 (4.9 pg)
112 (7.0 pg) Strikeouts 144 (8.0 pg)
129 (8.1 pg) LOB 144 (8.0 pg)
3.84 Team ERA 4.18
7 Saves 2
34 (2.1 pg) Walks 63 (3.5 pg)
133 (8.3 pg) Strikeouts 129 (7.2 pg)
.251 Batting Average Against .271
.982 Fielding % .957

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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