This is really nice because I’m sure everyone out there is tired of reading about how we lost a series, and I’ll be honest, I’ve gotten tired of writing about that. Well, NOT this week. NOT this time. Nope- MSU picked up a nice SEC series win over the Florida Gators and really, the only disappointment is that MSU didn’t sweep the series.
There has been some bad blood between MSU and Florida ever since John Cohen came to MSU for whatever reason. And because of that, there has always been some kind of drama surrounding the series. Well, this year Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan got that out of the way early before game one when he claimed that the MSU Diamond Girls were a “distraction” to his team.
Now, I’m pretty biased about Diamond Girls, but I think ours are the best in the country, and unless I’m mistaken- I think they are the first in the SEC. So, to me, they are a big part of MSU tradition and they are the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders of SEC baseball. The BEST in the business and the prettiest in the business too. Definitely one of Ron Polk’s best ideas for sure.
I’m sure you are probably wondering WHY a coach would complain because diamond girls, baseball girls, whatever they are called depending on the school and now you see them in the Big Leagues as well, so it’s not an uncommon thing to see. In fact, the Phillies had the Hooter’s girls fielding foul balls during a spring training game. The only thing that I can come up with is sometimes when a coach doesn’t feel good about his team and how they match up against the opponent, they start to get anxious and OCD (that’s obsessive compulsive disorder for you basket weaving majors out there) and normally I see it happen in high school baseball. What a coach will do is they will try to do something to project their “authority”, and usually the umpire is the target but I have seen coaches complain about trivial things such as the cleanliness of a dugout, fans located behind a fence, and etc. and almost EVERY time- the complaining coach’s team loses. In my opinion, that’s what happened here. That and I imagine that there is some pressure on Florida since they have a losing record and they have been known to fire baseball coaches after one losing season. The funny thing was by game three, apparently the Florida assistant coaches got tired of collecting loose baseballs and they decided to let our experts -the Diamond Girls do their job.
Speaking of doing their job- Luis Pollorena and Kendall Graveman. That’s really all I need to say. Pollorena matched up against the Florida ace Jonathan Crawford, who is rated as a top 50 draft pick by MLB.com and basically out pitched him. Crawford was wild, and our hitters did a good job of being patient and we put together some really good at bats and scored seven runs. Hunter Renfroe made a point as to why he should be rated a top 50 draft prospect with his big league throw to nail a runner at third base in the sixth inning and then a blast to right center for his tenth home run. Cohen and Butch did a good job of not overextending Pollorena this weekend, and after an inning of Ross Mitchell, they did something that I LOVED- they brought in the closer Jonathan Holder- and Holder responded big time with four strikeouts. Now, in the big leagues, closers go one inning at a time because they have to be ready for 162 games plus maybe the playoffs. In college, however, you play 56 plus the postseason. So, in my perfect little world, I would prefer our closer to be able to go at least two innings. Depending on how many pitches they throw, you can maybe bring them back for one inning on Satruday and of course, we have Ben Bracewell who can close a game out as well. What was happening to us with Holder is we were getting into entire series where we weren’t really using him, and I think it was starting to affect his performance a little bit. Plus, with us having to move Pollorena to the rotation, it has thinned our bullpen out some.
On Saturday, Kendall Graveman was brilliant. He was in total control from the first pitch until the end. I think he got tired a little bit at the end, but he fought through. Any young pitcher can learn a lot from him- he doesn’t throw 96, but he throws strikes and he changes speeds. And because of that, he will be pitching professionally this summer. He attacks hitters and throws strike one, and if he did throw 96, he would be a first round pick like Chris Stratton last year. As it is, I remember his freshman year we had Kendall pitch against Florida and he really struggled- so looking back, it’s fun to see how far he has come as a pitcher. With all the struggles our starting pitching has had this year- Graveman has really stabilized things and we have now won three of his four SEC starts.
It was great to see Jacob Lindgren back- I was hoping for 3-5 innings from him, and that’s pretty much what we got. And his first four innings were lights out, which is a GREAT sign for us. And then he twists his ankle- but according to Cohen he will be back for Texas A&M. At this point, we really need to work on building his stamina back up- and basically piggy back him with Ross Mitchell who can give us multiple innings out of the bullpen. In fact, I think the reason we didn’t sweep was because we brought Myles Gentry, a freshman with a new arm slot, into a bases loaded no outs situation and to be honest, we need to NOT put him in those situations at this point in his career anymore. First of all, like I said- Ross can handle those situations, so we have someone that can do it and minimize damage. Second of all, pitchers with that arm slot are very vulnerable to left handed batters for whatever reason- I think it’s because left hand hitters are typically good low ball hitters but that is certainly up for debate. So, like Caleb Reed who had a similar arm slot- Myles has to learn how to combat left handed hitters, but since he is just leaning that arm slot he is in the lower three quarters 101 class, and getting left handed hitters out is in the 102 class. It’s an advanced skill that comes with time, but to get there, he has to master the mechanics of that arm slot first. So, we put Gentry in and Florida puts in a left hand hitter who then hits a triple and all hell breaks loose. Again, not Gentry’s fault as much as the coaches in this case.
Another skill that is an advanced level class for most people anyway, is hitting with power. I have seen a lot of discussion about the batting order, and as usual very few people are totally satisfied with it. Some of the discussion seems to be centered around Brett Pirtle hitting fourth. Now, that is certainly not conventional. The problem is, with the hitters we have, we almost really can’t have a conventional lineup. The only way that is going to happen is for us to have more power, and at this point- our power is almost all coming from one player- Hunter Renfroe. If Wes Rea can ever get going, he is certainly capable. I have seen him hit balls off the back of the bullpen at Trustmark Park, which is impressive. Mitch Slauter has occasional power too- but almost all of our hitters not named Renfroe are going to hit five or less this year. When you have a lineup that doesn’t have a lot of power in it, it’s hard to balance it out. I think when you get to the root of the problem- and we can talk about who should be batting where all day- we have to recruit more power hitters if we are going to progress offensively and have that kind of balance. I think bringing in the left field fences is a step towards that, and I also think that we are recruiting some bigger, more physical hitters like Brent Rooker, Reid Humphries, Joey Swinarski, and Gavin Collins that have the potential to develop into power hitters. And some of that is growing our program too- Polk didn’t get Clark and Palmeiro until he had been our head coach for six years.
One thing I noticed about some of our hitters this weekend- Frazier and CT in particular- they all seem to try to take EVERYTHING to the opposite field. And I think that has been at least part of the reason for their struggles, although Frazier seems to have snapped out of his slump a little bit, so maybe I should leave him alone. But CT finally pulled a pitch in game three- and the result was a solid single to right field. Now, you may be thinking- ummm….Todd, didn’t you say a few weeks ago that CT should start hitting the ball to the opposite field? And the answer is “yes”. The thing is, hitting is a constant cat and mouse game and at the higher levels to succeed and excel, you have to adjust constantly. In general, I do believe that a gap to gap approach and adjusting off the fastball is the best because then you are using the whole field and it gives you the opportunity to adjust to breaking and off speed pitches on the fly. But, you have to be flexible and is the other team is pitching you are certain way you have to adjust and after you punish them, then they have to adjust to you for a little while and on and on. The difference between a hitter in Major League baseball and a AAA hitter is the Major League hitter has the ability to adjust. That’s why you sometimes see a player come up and hit really well for a little while and then all of a sudden the league adjusts, and he ends up hitting .200 and back in AAA never to be heard from again.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the great crowds at Dudy-Noble Field this weekend. We need to keep that up, and our next home series is Super Bulldog Weekend, and so I think it’s reasonable to expect even larger crowds for the Auburn series. Up next for MSU is Ole Miss in the Governor’s Cup on Tuesday, and I recently got an e-mail from Trustmark Park saying that tickets are still available. Let’s make this a home field advantage for MSU since Mississippi is OUR state and support out team- for reference MSU will be sitting on the first base side at Trustmark Park and we will be the “visiting” team. The more maroon the merrier! And if you live in the Houston, Tx area, go out and support MSU as they play Texas A&M. Hopefully we will keep the momentum rolling and get better and better as the year goes along!