The first thing I learned this weekend was that there isn’t much that feels better than a SEC sweep on the road. Texas A&M is not a bad team either- of course, thanks to Larry Templeton none of the SEC teams on our schedule are easy, but I digress. This sweep was great for us because you had some of college baseball’s dignitaries at the game watching it- like Aaron Fitt and Kendall Rodgers, and that helps us with rankings and national exposure which in turn helps us to recruit better players and continue to build on our program. One thing I really noticed was that the players seem to be having fun right now, and they are playing loose- and that is almost always a very good thing. To be successful, yes- you have to work hard but at the end of the day, it’s still a game and it’s meant to be fun. I remember during Cohen’s second season we won a game on a walk-off home run, and the team didn’t seem to really care- it seemed like I was the only one in the ballpark happy- and that really worried me. Sure enough, that team collapsed at the end. However, the past two years the teams we have had seemed to have a lot more fun and the results have been much better. So, I am really excited to see what this team has in store for us.
With the pitching the good news is we used five pitchers the entire weekend. The bad news is we used five pitchers the entire weekend. It’s good because that means we got three quality starts- in my opinion not talking about the stat quality start- from our starting pitchers. Pollorena battled again and beat their ace, Kendall Graveman continues to do his Greg Maddux impersonation, and Jacob Lindgren extended his outing and pitched into the sixth. It would be really nice if we can continue to extend Lindgren’s outings into say, the seventh or maybe even the eighth to continue to help the bullpen out. And yeah, that’s being a little nitpicky. But what else can I say? Graveman leaves the ball up sometimes when he gets tired? Not getting quality starts was an issue for us, and now that we are getting them, we are now starting to win and even sweep series. Jonathan Holder has really turned it on lately, and I like using him more than just the ninth because that also helps our bullpen out. His ERA is 1.85 overall and drops to 0.79 in SEC play- which doesn’t include his Governor’s Cup performance. Ross Mitchell pitched 2/3 of an inning and the defense let him down, but we had a big lead and we worked through it. Now, the reason why I said it’s bad that we used five pitchers is because we need to at least try to make sure that we get some other guys in. It’s not like we have Holder, Ross and the Gascan Gang. Ben Bracewell and Chad Girodo have been pretty effective this year. And yes, they have had their struggles in SEC play- both have ERA’s over 3, although that includes Bracewell’s awful starting assignment against Arkansas and his relief ERA should be much better. And yes, I can understand the reluctance to use Evan Mitchell and Brandon Woodruff with their struggles, and then you have some young guys like Preston Brown, Myles Gentry, and Will Cox who all have ERA’s over 10 in SEC play that are still making some adjustments. But what about some guys that haven’t really gotten a chance? Like Trevor Fitts? On the year his ERA is 1.00 and in SEC play it goes all the way down to 0.00. He looked very good and confident against Florida in mop up duty. And what about John Marc Shelly? His ERA is 0.00 and he hasn’t appeared in a SEC game yet. If I was the coach, I would make darn sure that I make a conscience effort to get Bracewell, Fitts, and Shelly in if the opportunity presents itself and also make darn sure to put Gentry and Girodo in a situation where they are likely to succeed- which means right vs. right for Gentry and left vs. left for Girodo. Now that said, I do understand where Cohen was coming from. We had a 9-0 lead, and then we lose focus and allow four runs gibing us a five run lead. I think Butch and Cohen- knowing that a sweep on the road, and being on the road I think played a large part in this decision vs. being in Starkville- I think they wanted to make darn sure that they got a sweep. And they knew that Holder was going to shut them down. The thing that they didn’t know was that we were going to expand the lead to eleven runs. And yes, the could have taken Holder out, but when you do that to a closer, you risk messing with their closer mojo- and that’s usually not worth it. So, right or wrong- that’s why they did what they did. Do I worry about Holder getting burned out? Not at this point- Chad Girodo still has more innings pitched as I type this and that’s with us significantly increasing Holder’s workload.
One worriesome thing that occurred was Mitch Slauter getting hit by a pitch and possibly breaking a bone in his hand, although as I am typing this, his status and the diagnosis is unknown. Hopefully he will be OK. But if he isn’t- thank Goodness Nick Ammirati is having a good season. And now, he has a grand slam! I don’t think anyone questions whether Nick can do the job or not- he actually has a higher batting average and one more RBI than Slauter at this point- although Sluater did have a higher slugging percentage and a higher OBP there’s very little difference between the two. The question is what happens if Ammirati goes down? We have two inexperienced catchers that are being redshirted, although that can certainly change. The first one is Zach Randolph who is a JUCO transfer from Itawamba CC via Amory who is a walk-on. Randolph is a good catch and throw guy who hit .370 last year for ICC. Daniel Garner is a freshman from Huntsville, Al. who while he was highly touted, he really struggled in the fall behind the plate and also with his hitting. I would suspect that the coaches would burn Randolph’s redshirt before they burn Garner’s. Hopefully, Mitch will be fine.
Offensively, this was probably the best we hit in one series under Cohen. We tore them up. The Johnson Space Center in Houston probably picked up Hunter Renfroe’s home runs on their radar and had to alert the White House. Wes Rea got in on the act too- hopefully he has turned the corner and is finally healthy. I think this weekend, people are seeing the power that he has. I think he is kind of like Hunter in that he just has to put it all together, but he has a lot of skill. If he can stay healthy and put it together, I really believe he has the ability to play in MLB. He’s not a five tool guy, but he defends first base as well as anyone and he can hit the ball a mile. Alex Detz got in on the action with a home run, and I mentioned Nick Ammirati’s grand slam. Adam Frazier almost hit for the cycle. In game one, we get down 2-0, and then we come back scoring one run in the seventh, eighth, and then the ninth and Hunter Renfroe does what an All-American first round pick does- he hits the game winning home run. Then the next day, we start the game off with one run in the first, then a four run inning in the second, and then a two run third, and then we finish it off with two runs in the ninth. And then we decide to outdo that the next day. We get one run in the first and then we explode for an eight run inning in the fourth- most of the damage being done with two outs mind you because I guess we wanted to challenge ourselves, and then we finish off with a four run eighth and a two run ninth. What I REALLY liked is we didn’t go to sleep after we got a lead we had several multiple run innings and just kept pouring it on. When you look at the stats on paper, I think people would be really surprised at how balanced our lineup is- we’re third overall in batting average at .298, we’re third in the SEC in home runs (thanks Hunter Renfroe), but we’re also fourth in stolen bases and fourth in sacrifices- which means we can play small ball or we can handle being in a slugfest. Personally, I think we are going to carry this over into Super Bulldog Weekend.
Hunter Renfroe won SEC player of the week- here’s something crazy- he has more home runs than five SEC TEAMS. And some of those teams play in cigar boxes for ballparks. I have to laugh because some people told me he would never hit because he has a toe tap and it needed to be eliminated. A toe tap is simply a timing mechanism for a hitter. Hitting is very much an individual thing- I HATE that thing that Kevin Youkilis does. But instead of eliminating things from a stance usually it’s more effective to work on starting the hitting process sooner- in other words do the toe tap sooner in the at bat rather than later to get in a proper hitting position at the right time so that you are hopefully striking the ball with maximum effort and in a position. A lot of people want to talk about hitting mechanics- and that is certainly important- but sometimes people forget that hitting is also about the timing, and ultimately if you are not in a good hitting position by the time the ball gets to you, you will not be able to hit no matter what your mechanics are or how good your swing is. Sometimes when you eliminate things from a stance, you make the hitter worse because now the hitter isn’t comfortable. And as much as I dislike Youkilis’s stance, I still wouldn’t ask him to change because I know he’s comfortable with that. When I first saw Hunter at MSU, he seemed almost intimidated and looked like he felt like he didn’t belong- although he looked like a big leaguer physically. But now, he has gotten comfortable and it’s been a lot of fun to watch his confidence and his physical ability come together over the years.
This weekend is somewhat of a holiday for MSU fans as it is Super Bulldog Weekend! And Thursday is a HUGE day for MSU baseball. We will be televised on ESPNU and we need to fill the stands up. And I will say this- I have been to some games and the attendance is MUCH better. We’re headed in the right direction. It’s great to see the students coming out, as well as the fans. We have come close to 10,000- but folks, we need to blow it out this weekend like it’s a regional. And if you show up on Thursday, you get a free t-shirt, and after the game you will get to see fireworks. I LOVE what the MSU AD is doing- they’re doing stuff to get people to come out, so let’s go out and have a great evening and hopefully the hitter’s for MSU will put on their own fireworks show.