This season the Bulldogs, tied with Ole Miss in the conference at 11-13, head into this Thursday night through Saturday night series in Oxford with an overall record of 29-18. Tonight in Starkville, MSU plays Mississippi Valley State.
Last season Mississippi State was 23-33 overall. Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said the Bulldogs are better this season for a variety of reasons.
"The biggest improvement they've made is on the mound," said Bianco, whose teams have won six of the last seven SEC series against MSU. "They pitch a lot better than they have in the last couple of years. A lot of their pitchers are becoming older. They've defended better. They run better. They seem to have stolen more bases. I haven't checked last year's stats, so I'm going off memory. They seem to certainly play with more confidence."
Bianco said his team understands the importance of the series, both from a standings standpoint and a rivalry one. The Rebels and Bulldogs are tied for seventh with Auburn in the SEC overall race. Eight teams make the SEC Tournament field.
Bianco was asked about his baseball team carrying the banner for the school as far as beating MSU this year when so many other Rebel teams have failed.
"That part we haven't said yet," he said, but then following it up. "We haven't spoken to the team since Sunday night. They've been in finals. Today's the first time we've seen them."
Jake Morgan pitched 2.1 innings Sunday against South Carolina. There was some expected soreness Monday and Tuesday.
"Certainly he was in pain yesterday and was in a little more pain today. But that's not to be discouraging," Bianco said. "He's what we call in the pitcher's world a two-day guy. He usually feels worse two days after he throws. That was kind of to be expected. But he's probably not as sore as we thought he would be. We'll just have to wait until the weekend. There are no secrets. If he can pitch, then we'll pitch him. If he can't pitch, he won't pitch."
Bianco said Morgan himself is the best barometer of how things are going.
"It's kind of hard to understand. Usually when you talk about shoulder injuries, you're talking about rotater cuff or you're talking about labrum or you're talking about soft tissue. (In those cases) there's a chance if you throw more, you can hurt it more.
"His is more in the AC joint, which is where the clavical continues out here. The way the shoulder rotates, he feels it on extension. There's nothing worse that he can do (injury-wise)."
Bianco said Morgan will tell him and the coaches if he can go or not.
"He's a guy that's very honest. If he can pitch, he's going to pitch. We've talked about this. I trust him. He is tough, but it isn't about that. It's more about if he can do it, and that's basically what he said on Sunday. He said, ‘It hurts me now, but is that OK?' I said ‘Yeah.' He said, ‘I can deal with that.'"
Bianco said he and the coaches have to make decisions based on the immediate knowns.
"We have to decide how effective he is," Bianco said. "We're watching the board like you, and we're watching velocity and it's not like the velocity went down to 82 miles an hour or the command was all over the place. He threw with good velocity and command and from that standpoint, I thought he was normal. If his velocity takes a sudden dive or his command is not there, like anybody else we would have to replace him."