Tennessee-MSU Baseball Series Preview

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

Weather - Friday - Under clear skies the temperatures should be in the low 80s to high 70s for most of the Friday game. Saturday - Temperatures should be in the low 70s with cloudy skies. There is a 30% chance for isolated thunder storms during the day. Sunday - There should be mostly clear skies with temperatures in the low to mid 70s.

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

6-Year Series History - MSU leads their series with Tennessee during the last six years 8-7.

Coaches - Todd Raleigh is in his third season as the Tennessee Volunteer head baseball coach. In two seasons he has a 53-58 overall record and a 23-37 SEC record. Neither of his two team's have advanced to NCAA play. Prior to taking the coaching reigns of Tennessee, he was the head coach at Western Carolina where he took 2 of his 8 teams into NCAA post-season regional play. Those two teams were 4-4 in post-season play. He won two regular season championships during his stay at WCU.

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.

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

Expected Pitching Rotations (SEC games stats only) - Tennessee junior lefty Bryan Morgado (2-4, 5.07) will start Friday's game, Senior RHP Stephen McCray (4-3, 1.99 ERA) will start Saturday and sophomore LHP Steven Gruver (1-2, 5.51 ERA) will start Sunday.

Morgado has started every Friday night SEC game for the Vols. And he's been very consistent, going 7 innings in each of his starts except for one when he threw 6 innings. He's not spectacular in any one inning but he is very solid in all of them, having not given up any big innings in any of his starts. The most runs he's given up in any one inning has been 2 and he's allowed that many in 5 of the total 27 innings that he has pitched. Overall, he has pitched a little better at home than he has on the road as evidenced by his home ERA of 4.50 and his road ERA of 5.54. The bottom line with Morgado is he is going to give the Vols a very solid 7 innings and will keep them in the ballgame. BTW, the four teams he has faced in SEC action are all ranked 14th or better - South Carolina (10th), LSU (8th), Ole Miss (14th) and Florida (7th).

While Morgado starts the Friday games, McCray has performed much better. He may not average as many innings per game as Morgado (6 innings per game average to Morgado's 7), but he's much more effective. He's given up no more than 2 runs in any one inning this season and he's only done that 3 times. Like with Morgado, he gives up no big innings to opponents. And like Morgado he's done it against some of the top teams in the country. One other tidbit of information about him - he's got a road ERA of 2.13, while his home ERA is 4.38. And, as you know, this is a road game for Tennessee.

While both Morgado and McCray are very good starting pitchers, Gruver is not as effective. He's usually good for around 5 innings with his longest SEC outing being 5.1 innings. I will give him credit for usually pitching well for the first four innings. During his first four innings of his three SEC starts he has an ERA of 3.00. But when he goes past the fourth he gets hit hard to the tune of a 33.71 ERA. As for his home and road ERAs, he's pretty much the same with a home ERA of 9.00 and a road ERA of 7.71.

Mississippi State is expected to start sophomore righthanded pitcher Caleb Reed (0-3, 4.79) Friday and true freshman Chris Stratton (3-3, 3.43) Saturday. Sunday's pitcher has not been announced but I'm guessing it will be senior lefty Tyler Whitney (0-1, 6.05).

This will be Reed's second start of the season after being MSU's primary long relief man during SEC action. As a long reliever, prior to last week's start, his longest outing was against South Carolina 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. Reed showed a similar pattern in his first start last weekend against Arkansas. During his first five innings, he gave up just one run, then allowed 3 runs in the 6th and 1 in the 7th prior to being taken out in that inning. If that trend continues then you can expect Reed to give MSU a very good 5, maybe 6 innings.

Stratton, who throws in the low 90s, 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. 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 came back in his third SEC start and pitched fairly well against South Carolina, allowing just 2 runs in 5 complete innings before being pulled after throwing to 1 batter in the 6th. He was even better last weekend when he threw 6 innings against Arkansas, giving up 2 runs (1 earned) on 7 hits and 2 walks to go along with his 5 Ks.

Whitney has started once in the SEC this season, allowing 5 runs in 2.1 innings of work. He was used in relief last weekend against Arkansas and did good, allowing no runs on 5 hits and 1 walk in three innings.

Relief Pitching (SEC game stats only) - Tennessee will primarily rely on six pitchers in relief during SEC activity - Will Locante, Matt Ramsey, D.J. Leffler, Steve Crnkovich, Nick Blount and Dylan Hochevar.

Locante has been used the most, seven times. He's usually used from one out to one inning. He's one of the least effective of all of the Tennessee relievers. While he's had a few good outings, he's had more bad ones. In his three good outings he threw 2.1 innings, allowing 0 runs. In his four bad outings, he threw 2.2 innings and allowed 8 run. You will know almost immediately if he's on or if he's off.

Ramsey has been the Vols primary closer. He's appeared in 6 SEC games, all as a closer. He has been fairly effective in that role, allowing 0 runs five of the six appearances.

When Ramsey's not available, Tennessee has used Hochevar as their closer. And like Ramsey, he has been effective in that role. In his three outings he has given up just 1 run and it was unearned.

Leffler is used more as a setup man for the Vols closer. And the Vols have been using him more of late. So far this season he has appeared in five games and he's been exceptional in all five, having not given up a run in any of them. In 4.2 innings he has only allowed 1 hit and no walks while striking out 5.

Crnkovich is Tennessee's long relief guy. In his three games he has thrown 1.2, 3.1 and 5.1 innings. While he hasn't been that effective (8 runs in 10.1 innings) he does eat up some innings for the Vols.

Blount has been used three times in SEC action and has been ineffective all three times, giving up 9 runs (8 earned) in 3.2 innings.

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, freshman lefty Chad Girodo, freshman lefty Luke Bole and freshman righthanded pitcher Kendall Graveman.

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 five times in SEC play and has been very effective in one of the five 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 four outings, he has thrown 2.1 innings and given up 7 runs (5 earned).

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.

Girodo, Bole and Graveman will be used as setup men. Girodo can give you 2+ innings if necessary. All three have been hit fairly hard in SEC action as relievers with Girodo having given up 12 runs (11 earned) in 5.1 innings, Bole 4 runs in 3.1 innings and Graveman recorded no outs and gave up 1 run in his one SEC relief appearance. Bole did have a very good outing against Arkansas last week, throwing 2 innings of 1 hit, no walk, no run ball. Graveman has started three SEC games and given up 14 runs in 8 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 four SEC games, three as a closer. His first and last outings have been his roughest, with him giving up 2 runs in two-thirds of an inning against Florida and 6 runs in 1 inning against Arkansas last weekend. Between those two appearances 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 five games, two as a closer. Other than his one outing last weekend against Arkansas when he gave up 2 runs in 2 innings, 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. 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 - Tennessee is led in hitting for the last five games by Matt Ramsey who is hitting .533 (8-for-15, 3 RBI). He is followed closely by Cody Hawn who is hitting .450 (9-for-20, 9 RBI). Josh Liles comes in at .368 (7-for-19, 3 RBI). P.J. Polk is hitting .318 (7-for-22, 5 RBI) as is Zach Osborne (7-for-22, 2 RBI). In limited activity, Cody Grisham is hitting .600 (3-for-5, 2 RBI).

Players hitting under .300 include Blake Forsythe .263 (5-for-19, 6 RBI), Matt Duffy .227 (5-for-22, 3 RBI), Khayyan Norfork .190 (4-for-21, 0 RBI). And in limited action, Cody Stuffs .200 (1-for-5, 3 RBI) and Matt Hamaker at .143 (1-for-7, 0 RBI).

For Mississippi State, Ryan Duffy continues to have a hot hand, batting .647 (11-for-17, 11 RBI) in the last five games. Nick Vickerson comes in second with a .455 (5-for-11, 5 RBI) average, followed by Connor Powers at .389 (7-for-18, 8 RBI), Russ Sneed at .367 (4-for-15, 2 RBI), and Ryan Collins and Jaron Shepherd at .364 (Shep 4-for-11, 1 RBI) (Collins 4-for-11, 0 RBI). The last Bulldog hitter batting better than .300 is Luke Adkins at .316 (6-for-19, 1 RBI).

Jet Butler is hitting .267 (4-for-15, 0 RBI), Wes Thigpen comes in at .250 (2-for-8, 2 RBI), Cody Freeman is at .231 (3-for-13, 1 RBI), while Sam Frost comes in at .077 (1-for-13, 1 RBI) and Jonathan Ogden is hitting .063 (1-for-16, 2 RBI).

How Tennessee and MSU Match Up
Tennessee Category Mississippi State
17-17 Record 17-16
.286 Batting Average .281
250 (7.4 pg) Runs 214 (6.5 pg)
42 Home Runs 34
.390 OB % .388
48-64 Stolen Bases-Attempts 40-51
166 (4.9 pg) Walks 154 (4.7 pg)
235 (6.9 pg) Strikeouts 262 (7.9 pg)
274 (8.1 pg) LOB 268 (8.1 pg)
5.20 Team ERA 5.36
2 Saves 5
137 (4.0 pg) Walks 138 (4.2 pg)
257 (7.6 pg) Strikeouts 245 (7.4 pg)
.262 Batting Average Against .292
.977 Fielding % .956

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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