Alabama-MSU Baseball Series Preview

Mississippi State and Alabama meet in a three-game Southeastern Conference series this weekend on the campus of the University of Alabama.

Weather - Friday's game should start out with partly cloudy skies with temperatures in the low 80s. The temps should decrease to the mid 70s as the game progresses. There is a 30% chance of thunderstorms near the end of the game. | Saturday, there is a 70 to 80% chance for thunderstorms during the day with temperatures in the mid to high 70s. | Sunday, the skies are expected to be mostly sunny with temperatures in the low to mid 80s.

Gametimes (CDT) - Friday 6:30 p.m. | Saturday 4:00 p.m. | Sunday 1:30 p.m.

6-Year Series History - MSU is 7-10 against Alabama the last six seasons.

Coaches - Mitch Gaspard is in his first year as the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide, but not his first experience as a head coach. He coached Northwestern State from 2002 to 2007 and had an overall record of 211-128. His teams won two Southland Conference championships and one of his teams, the 2005 team, advanced to NCAA postseason play where they went 1-2.

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.

Alabama Home/Mississippi State Road Records - Alabama is 15-4 at home while MSU is 2-9 on the road.

Expected Pitching Rotations - Alabama is expected to start junior RHP Jimmy Nelson (4-1, 3.54 ERA) Friday, sophomore LHP Adam Morgan (4-2, 5.26 ERA) Saturday and freshman RHP Tucker Hawley (1-0, 4.58 ERA) Sunday.

Nelson has normally been Alabama's Saturday starter but has been moved to the Friday night spot for the weekend. He's normally going to give Bama a solid 5 to 6 innings, although he has struggled somewhat in his last three outings, especially in the first three innings of the games when he gave a combined 10 runs. The 2nd inning has been his worst, with him giving up 7 runs in the three outings. He did have a solid outing against LSU last weekend in Baton Rouge, giving up 5 runs (4 earned) in 8.1 innings. His home ERA is slightly better than his road ERA, 5.06 to 5.66. Oddly enough, he has walked 7 in 10.2 innings of home SEC action while walking just 3 in 20.2 innings on the road.

Morgan has started five SEC games and been effective in two of the five, both of which were at home. In fact, he is like a different pitcher at home compared to being on the road with a SEC home ERA of 2.63 and a SEC road ERA of 10.93. Discounting his last outing, which was on the road at LSU, where he gave up 8 runs in 2+ innings, he's been exceptionally good in the first four innings of his SEC starts, having given up just 2 runs in four games. However, when he gets into innings past the 4th, he's normally going to give up around a run an inning.

This will be Hawley's first SEC start. He has, however, gotten his feet wet by relieving in three SEC games, the last being against LSU last weekend when he allowed no runs in 2 innings. He has started three non-SEC games, so starting is not new to him. Give the freshman credit, he doesn't beat himself, having walked just 2 batters in 19.2 innings this season.

Mississippi State is expected to start sophomore RHP Caleb Reed (0-3, 5.47 ERA) Friday, freshman RHP Chris Stratton (4-3, 3.88 ERA) Saturday and freshman LHP Luke Bole (2-0, 6.92 ERA) Sunday.

This will be Reed's third start of the season after being MSU's primary long relief man during SEC action. Reed, a submarine-type pitcher, has been up and down in his first two SEC starts. In his first start, against Arkansas, he performed very well for the first five innings, giving up just one run, then allowing 3 runs in the 6th and 1 in the 7th prior to being taken out in that inning. In his last outing, against Tennessee last weekend, he was hit hard to the tune of 5 runs on 9 hits in 2.1 innings of work.

Stratton, who throws in the low 90s, has been fairly impressive as a true freshman pitching in the SEC. He has faced top 10 teams such as Florida, South Carolina and Arkansas and handled himself well against each one, giving up 6 runs (5 earned) in 17 combined innings of work. And two of those series, Florida and South Carolina, were on the road. In his last outing, at home against Tennessee, he showed how tough of a competitor he is, throwing 144 pitches in a complete-game victory. What impresses you even more is he was throwing harder in the 9th inning (86-89 consistently) than he did in the 1st (86-88). Considering this is a road game for MSU, Chris' road ERA is a positive for the Dogs, 3.27 on the road and 5.30 at home.

Bole, who throws in the upper 80s, started his first SEC game last weekend and performed decently well. He gave up 4 runs in six innings, but during his first 4 innings he only gave up one run. Previous to last week's start, he had been used in various roles (starting and relieving) in SEC and non-SEC games with mixed results, as you would expect from a freshman. His two best outings, both in relief, were against Ole Miss in a non-SEC counting game (IP 3.2, R 1) and against Arkansas (IP 2, 0 R).

Relief Pitching - Look for Alabama to use five to six guys in relief with junior RHP closer Nathan Kilcrease leading the group. Also used quite a bit are senior LHP David Head, junior RHPs Brett Whitaker and Jason Townsend as well as redshirt sophomore RHP Tyler White. Freshman LHP Matt Taylor could also see action.

Kilcrease has been used in 9 of 15 SEC games, almost all as a closer. In fact, all he has done in his last six SEC games is close. And he's been a strikeout pitcher in those six games, striking out 15 in 11.2 innings. In those 11.2 innings he has given up 4 runs (all earned). He's normally going to throw 1 to 2 innings, although he showed against LSU last Sunday that he can throw upwards of 5 innings effectively, allowing 1 run on 2 hits and 1 walk in five innings in a 14-inning loss against LSU.

Head has been used mostly in middle relief and normally throws an out to an inning. Up until his last outing, he had been fairly effective, allowing just 1 run 4.1 innings in four games. In his last appearance, however, he gave up 4 runs (2 earned) in 1 innings.

Whitaker has been used as a closer and middle reliever with mixed results. He's given up 2 runs in each of three of his outings and 0 runs in the other two. He's normally going to throw no more than an inning. He's more effective as a closer (IP 2, R 2) than a middle reliever (IP 2.1, R 4).

Townsend has been used exclusively as a middle reliever, although up until his last outing, when he threw 4.2 innings, he normally threw no more than an inning or two. He's normally going to give up a couple of runs when he's in the game, having given up 2 runs in four of his five outings.

White has been used as combination closer/middle reliever. He started the season a little slow in SEC play, giving up 4 runs (3 earned) on 12 hits in 6 innings that spanned 3 games. But in his last two outings he has thrown 3 innings, giving up no runs on 1 hit and 1 walk.

Taylor didn't appear in the Bama's first eight SEC games, but but has been used three times in the last seven. His first outing was his best, with him throwing 1.1 innings, allowing no runs, hits or walks while striking out 1. But as you would expect from a freshman, he hasn't had the same kind of luck in his last two appearances, giving up 6 runs (all earned) on 6 hits and 1 walk while striking out 4 in 4.2 innings.

You can expect Mississippi State to use upwards of seven pitchers in relief, including senior LHP Tyler Whitney, senior RHP Greg Houston, junior RHP Corey Collins, freshmen Chad Girodo, a LHP, and Kendall Graveman, a RHP, as well as sophomore RHP Devin Jones and freshman RHP Ben Bracewell.

Whitney has taken over the long relief role vacated by Reed. And he's performed well. In his last two outings, against Arkansas and Tennessee, he threw 8 innings, allowing just 2 runs (both earned).

Houston has pitched in 5 of MSU's 15 SEC games. While he's been very effective in non-SEC games, his SEC outings haven't been quite as good, with him giving up 7 runs (5 earned) in 3.2 innings.

Collins has appeared in 4 SEC games and had a couple of good outings (IP 2, 0 R) and a couple of bad ones (IP 2.1, 6 R).

Girodo appeared in relief in 5 SEC games, giving up runs in all five. He'll normally eat up 1 to 2 innings when he's in the game.

Graveman started the season as an SEC starter but wasn't effective in the role (IP 8, R 14) and has been moved to the bullpen in SEC action. He's been slightly better in that role, although he hasn't been quite as effective as the coaches would hope (IP 2, 3 R). Lately, the coaches have brought him in in games that Bole has started (non-SEC and SEC).

Jones, who throws in the low to mid 90s, was initially set to be one of MSU's two closers in SEC games but hasn't been effective of late. While he did well in his first four SEC games in that role (IP 4.1, R 0), in his last two outings he has given up 4 runs (all earned) in 2.2 innings. Six walks really hurt him in those two appearances.

Bracewell, who possesses a low 90s MPH fastball and a nasty slider, is the other closer. And he's been more up than down in the role. Although he had a poor outing against Arkansas (IP 1, R 6), in his one appearance since then and his previous two, he pitched a combined 3 innings, giving up no runs on one hit and 2 walks while striking out 5. As you would expect from a closer, he's averaging a lot of strikeouts, almost 2 an inning.

Who's Hot at the Plate and Who's Not in the Last 5 Games - Alabama has three guys hitting .308 or better with Taylor Dugas leading the way with a .500 batting average (11-for-22, 4 RBI), followed by David Kindred at .467 (7-for-15, 6 RBI) and Joe Kelton at .308 (8-for-26, 4 RBI).

Batting below .300 are Andrew Miller .263 (5-for-19, 4 RBI), three guys hitting an even .250, Clay Jones (5-for-20, 6 RBI), Ross Wilson (5-for-20, 0 RBI) and Cody Trotter (3-for-12, 2 RBI). Josh Rutledge is not far behind with a .240 average (6-for-25, 2 RBI). Trailing them all is Jake Smith at .217 (5-for-23, 2 RBI) and Brock Bennett at .100 (1-for-10, 1 RBI).

In the last five games MSU's hitters have been scorching hot with four guys hitting .556 or better. Leading the way is Russ Sneed who is hitting .667 (8-for-12, 10 RBI), followed closely by Connor Powers at .632 (12-for-19, 10 RBI), Ryan Duffy at .571 (12-for-21, 12 RBI) and Luke Adkins at .556 (10-for-18, 1 RBI).

Hitting at a more earthly pace are Wes Thigpen .385 (5-for-13, 5 RBI), Nick Vickerson .368 (7-for-19, 4 RBI) and Jet Butler at .333 (7-for-21, 7 RBI). In limited action Trey Johnson is hitting .555 (5-for-9, 2 RBI) and Sam Frost is hitting .400 (2-for-5, 3 RBI).

Hitting below .300 are Jaron Shepard at .278 (5-for-18, 7 RBI) and Jonathan Ogden at .200 (4-for-20, 3 RBI). In limited action, Cody Freeman is hitting .250 (2-for-8, 6 RBI) and Ryan Collins comes in at .091 (1-for-11, 2 RBI).

How Alabama and MSU Match Up
Alabama Category Mississippi State
22-15 Record 20-17
.303 Batting Average .299
266 (7.2 pg) Runs 279 (7.5 pg)
27 Home Runs 41
.397 OB % .406
44-61 Stolen Bases-Attempts 44-56
168 (4.5 pg) Walks 186 (5.0 pg)
242 (6.5 pg) Strikeouts 286 (7.7 pg)
306 (8.3 pg) LOB 313 (8.5 pg)
4.60 Team ERA 5.62
8 Saves 5
122 (3.3 pg) Walks 152 (4.1 pg)
299 (8.1 pg) Strikeouts 274 (7.4 pg)
.283 Batting Average Against .297
.974 Fielding % .959

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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