Arkansas-MSU Baseball Series Preview

Mississippi State and 9th ranked Arkansas tangle in a three-game Southeastern Conference series this weekend at Mississippi State.

Weather - Friday - The temperatures should start out in the mid 60s, then decrease into the mid 50s by the end of the game. Clear skies are expected. Saturday - The temperatures should be in the low 70s for the game with clear skies. Sunday - Clear skies are expected again Sunday with the highs expected in the high 70s.

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

6-Year Series History - Mississippi State has won 10 of 18 games against Arkansas during the past six seasons.

Coaches - Dave Van Horn is coaching his 8th season at Arkansas, In his first seven seasons he has won one SEC championship. His teams have an overall record of 276-158 and are 110-98 in SEC regular season action. All seven of his teams have advanced to NCAA post-season action with three advancing to Super Regional play. Two of those three teams won the Super Regionals and appeared in the College World Series. His teams are 19-15 in NCAA post-season play.

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 Super Regional play. His teams have an overall NCAA post-season record of 4-4.

Arkansas Road/Mississippi State Home Records - Arkansas is 5-3 on the road while Mississippi State is 14-4 at home.

Expected Pitching Rotations (SEC games stats only) - Arkansas is expected to start sophomore lefthander Drew Smyly (3-0, 1.60) on Friday and junior righthanded pitcher Brett Eibner (2-2, 4.05) on Saturday. Sunday's pitcher has yet to be announced, but my best guess is it will be freshman lefthander Randall Fant (2-0, 2.08).

Smyly, a third-year sophomore, has been the most consistent of the starting pitchers in SEC action, although he did miss a start against Alabama. In his two starts, he has thrown 6 and 7 innings, giving up a total of 2 runs on 6 hits while striking out 10 in the combined 13 innings. If there is one negative about his two starts it's the 12 walks he's given up. But despite those walks, he almost always finds a way to get around them because he's only allowed one of the 12 guys who has walked to score. One other thing about his walks is 6 of the 12 have come after he has gotten two outs in the inning. He appears to lose a little of his focus when he gets two outs, but he quickly regains his composure and usually gets the next guy out.

Eibner is normally going to give Arkansas 6 to 7 innings in his SEC starts. He's thrown 6, 7 and 5.2 innings in his three SEC starts. Other than the 5 runs he gave up to Kentucky in the 2nd inning and the 1 he gave up to LSU in the 4th, he has been very good his first four innings. The 5th and 6th innings are a different matter. In those two innings combined he has given up 9 runs in his three starts. One thing Eibner will do is make the opposing team earn their runs because he's only walked 2 in SEC action.

Fant has started one game in the SEC. In that game, he allowed 4 runs (2 earned) on 4 hits and 2 walks while striking out 1 in his 5 innings of work against Alabama. He gave up all four runs in the 1st inning, then settled down and threw shutout ball the remaining four innings.

Mississippi State is expected to start sophomore righthanded pitcher Caleb Reed (0-2, 4.20) Friday and true freshman Chris Stratton (3-3, 3.75) Saturday. It's likely one of three true freshmen will start Sunday - lefthander Chad Girodo (1-1, 7.15), lefthanded pitcher Luke Bole (1-0, 8.59) or righthander Kendall Graveman (1-2, 6.75).

This will be Reed's first start of the season, although he has been MSU's prime long relief man during SEC action. He has appeared in 5 of the 9 SEC games MSU has played and has thrown 4.1 innings or more in three of the five. His longest outing was against South Carolina last weekend when he threw 8 innings Friday night. He gave up 6 runs (all earned) on 9 hits while walking 0 and striking out 4. What you don't see in those stats is the fact that he gave up 3 of those six runs in his last inning, an inning when he gotten tired. In his other two long outings (Georgia and Florida), he normally was very effective for his first four innings, giving up a total of just 1 run in eight innings of work. He's also thrown in two other games where he only lasted 1.2 and 1.0 innings and gave up a total of 2 runs in each outing. Basically, if this trends continues Friday night you'll know during the first couple of innings how effective Caleb will be.

Stratton, who throws his fastball in the 91-92 mph range, was dominating in his first nine innings of SEC action, 6 innings against Florida where he gave up 1 run on 4 hits and 3 walks while striking out 7 and 3 innings against Georgia where he gave up no runs on 2 singles and 1 walk while recording 7 strikeouts among his 9 total outs. Think about that, 9 innings, 1 run, 6 hits, 4 walks and 14 Ks in his first nine innings of SEC play. But he also gave up 4 runs in two-thirds of an inning in his fourth inning of work in that same game against Georgia before being pulled. He did come back against South Carolina and show glimpses of the pitcher he was against Florida and early on against Georgia, allowing just 2 runs in 5 complete innings before being pulled after throwing to 1 batter in the 6th.

More than likely, Graveman, who throws in the high 80s with an occasional 90 thrown in at times, will be the long reliever this weekend. If Reed and Stratton have solid outings, then I look for Graveman to be the Sunday starter. Kendall has been State's Friday night guy in the first three SEC weekends but has been less effective in each start. In his first start he gave up 5 runs (4 earned) in 5 innings. In his second outing he gave up 5 runs in 3 innings. And last weekend, he didn't retire a batter and gave up 4 runs (3 earned). In his 8 SEC innings he has not only given up 14 runs but also 13 hits while walking 9. But there was a positive in his first two starts. Against Florida, after giving up 2 runs in the first, he settled down and threw shutout ball for the next four innings. And against Georgia, while he gave up a total of five runs, he threw shutout ball his first three innings.

Bole has not started an SEC game so far this season, while Girodo has started one, giving up 5 runs (4 earned) in 3 innings of work against Georgia.

Relief Pitching (SEC game stats only) - Arkansas normally uses five pitcher in relief in SEC games, although you can add a sixth to that mix for this weekend, Mike Bolsinger, a senior RHP who is being moved to relief after starting in SEC games prior to this weekend. The other five pitchers are senior RHP Jeremy Heatley, freshman RHP D.J. Baxendale, sophomore RHP Geoffrey Davenport, junior RHP Jordan Pratt and senior RHP T.J. Forrest.

Bolsinger was used in relief in SEC action for the first time last weekend when he threw 1.1 innings of perfect ball against Kentucky. He's a guy who can either close or throw long relief.

Heatley is one of Arkansas' middle reliever in SEC play. In three of his five outings, he was the first pitcher out of the bullpen. While Arkansas likes to use him, he hasn't been that effective in that role, giving up at least 1 or more runs in all of his outings other than one. I could see him being used less this weekend now that Bolsinger has been moved to the bullpen.

Forrest is also used in long relief and he's been very effective in that role, although he has only been used in three of the nine SEC games. In his three outings, he has given up no runs on 4 hits and 2 walks while striking out 3 in 4.1 innings.

Davenport has been used as a combination middle reliever/closer, closing one of the three games. He has been fairly sporadic, giving up 1 or more runs in 2 of his 3 outings.

Pratt has been seen activity in three SEC games, closing two. And he's been very effective in that role, giving up no runs on 4 hits and 2 walks while striking out 1 in 5.1 innings of work.

Arkansas' closer has been Baxendale who has closed 4 of the 7 games he has appeared in. He has been inconsistent so far, giving up runs in 3 of his 7 outings, with his last outing being his worst. He gave up 7 runs (all earned) in 0.2 innings of work against Kentucky. But prior to that outing, he had been pitching well, throwing in three games, allowing no runs on 3 hits and 2 walks in 3.2 innings of work. But considering he is a freshman you would expect him to be inconsistent.

Mississippi State has used several pitchers in relief in SEC games with the primary ones being senior righthanded pitcher Greg Houston, freshman lefty C.C. Watson, freshman righty Ben Bracewell, sophomore righty Devin Jones, Chad Girodo, Luke Bole and senior righthanded pitcher Tyler Whitney. With Reed starting Friday, you can add Kendall Graveman (see above for his stats) in the mix now.

Houston has been used as a combination middle reliever/closer type guy. If effective, he'll normally give the team a solid 1+ inning. He's pitched four times in SEC play and has been very effective in one of the four outings, striking out 3 in 1.1 innings of work against Georgia while giving up no runs on no hits and 1 walk. In his other three outings, he has thrown 1.2 innings, giving up 4 runs.

Watson has thrown in three games, giving up 1 run in 2.1 innings. His best outing was his first when he threw 1 innings, giving up no runs on no hits while walking 1 and striking out 1. Control has been his nemesis with him giving up 4 walks in his 2.1 innings.

Whitney, Girodo and Bole will be used as setup men. Whitney and Girodo can give you 2+ innings if necessary. All three have been hit fairly hard in SEC action as relievers with Whitney having given up 3 runs (2 earned) in 3 innings, Girodo 7 runs in 2.2 innings and Bole 4 runs in 1.1 innings.

Bracewell and Jones have been the most effective relievers so far this season. Both are hard-throwing righties who are normally used late in the game. Bracewell, who has a low 90s fastball to go along with his outstanding slider, has thrown in three SEC games, all as a closer. His first outing was his roughest, giving up 2 runs in two-thirds of an inning against Florida. Since then, he has made two appearances, throwing 2 innings, while giving up no runs on 1 hit and 2 walks and striking out 3. He earned a save in both games. Jones, who throws in the low to mid 90s, has appeared in four games, two as a closer and the other two as Bracewell's setup man. He has been outstanding in each of his outings, giving up no runs on 1 hit and 1 walk while striking out 6 in 4.1 innings of work. SEC teams are only hitting .077 against him. Both pitchers are usually going to give you an inning of work.

Who's Hot at the Plate and Who's Not in the Last 5 Games - In Arkansas' case, almost nobody is not hot. They have five players hitting .400 or better and 8 hitting .348 or better. And not a single regular is hitting below .333 in the last five games. Of course, their exceptional batting averages can be partly attributed to a 20-for-32 (.625) night against Saint Louis this past Wednesday night.

Leading the Razorback charge is Travis Sample at .692 (9-for-13, 6 RBI), followed by Collin Kuhn at .591 (13-for-22, 9 RBI). Monk Kreder comes in at .429 (9-for-21, 6 RBI), then Zack Cox is hitting .421 (8-for-19, 6 RBI) and James McCann at .400 (8-for-20, 6 RBI). Brett Eibner is not far behind with a .389 batting average (7-for-18, 6 RBI). Bo Bigham is hitting .360 (9-for-25, 7 RBI) and Tim Carver is at .348 (8-for-23, 8 RBI). Matt Vinson has taken over for Jarrod McKinney and he proves hitting is contagious based on his .333 average (3-for-9, 3 RBI). He's got the lowest batting average of all the regulars.

For Mississippi State, Ryan Duffy, thanks to a 5-for-5 night against Jackson State that included 9 RBI, is leading the Dogs in hitting for the five games with a .583 batting average (7-for-12, 10 RBI). Luke Adkins comes in second with a .412 batting average (7-for-17, 2 RBI). Connor Powers continues hitting well, coming in at .375 (6-for-16, 7 RBI). Also above the .300 mark is Cody Freeman at .333 (4-for-12, 3 RBI). In limited action, Jaron Shepherd is hitting .400 (2-for-5, 0 RBI).

Among the Bulldog players hitting below .300, Jet Butler leads the way with a .250 batting average (4-for-16, 2 RBI), followed by Nick Vickerson who sits at .231 (3-for-13, 1 RBI). Sam Frost is right at the .200 mark (3-for-15, 0 RBI).

Several MSU players are hitting below .200, including Ryan Collins at .188 (3-for-16, 4 RBI), Russ Sneed at .158 (3-for-19, 1 RBI), Wes Thigpen at .125 (1-for-8, 0 RBI) and Jonathan Ogden at .067 (1-for-15, 0 RBI).

How Arkansas and MSU Match Up
Arkansas Category Mississippi State
23-6 Record 16-13
.322 Batting Average .281
267 (9.2 pg) Runs 194 (6.7 pg)
43 Home Runs 31
.413 OB % .393
38-45 Stolen Bases-Attempts 36-45
144 (5.0 pg) Walks 140 (4.8 pg)
161 (5.6 pg) Strikeouts 238 (8.2 pg)
237 (8.2 pg) LOB 239 (8.2 pg)
3.82 Team ERA 5.17
8 Saves 5
91 (3.1 pg) Walks 122 (4.2 pg)
241 (8.3 pg) Strikeouts 217 (7.5 pg)
.255 Batting Average Against .283
.962 Fielding % .958

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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