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SMITH COLUMN: Bulldogs have type of pitching to stay in games

March 21, 2012

Smith

There are some who might look at last weekend's Southeastern Conference opening series for Mississippi State at LSU and think it was a disappointment.

Although taking two out of three games on the road would have been a nice way to start the conference schedule, the fact the Bulldogs avoided getting swept by the Tigers can be considered huge.

Pitcher Kendall Graveman came up with a solid game against the Tigers on Sunday that enabled MSU to win the final game 7-1. That result may be huge to look back on later down the road.

As proves to be the case most of the time in the brutal SEC, its teams can have a pretty good run during the season if it manages to take two out of three or sweep at home and avoid losing all three on the road.

The Bulldogs have the type of pitching staff set up that it's going to be difficult for them to get swept in any series against anyone in the league.

Chris Stratton, who just picked up SEC and National Pitcher of the Week honors, kept MSU in the first game against LSU about as well as one could ask. His 17-strikeout performance was impressive, but some misfortune late in extra innings caused a 3-2 loss.

On Saturday, pitcher Nick Routt wasn't as sharp as he needed to be or as we know he can be and the Bulldogs lost a 4-3 decision.

Either one or both of the Friday or Saturday games could have gone the way of MSU. If that had happened, it would have been considered a great weekend for the Bulldogs.

If the MSU coaching staff continues to go with the rotation of Stratton, Routt and Graveman, it's going to be in most SEC games this year.

The key for winning those outings will be getting timely hitting because some major offensive outbursts will be few and far between for this club. There are just not enough big bats in the lineup to make that happen.

As a team, the Bulldogs are hitting .291 and do have some capable sticks.
There's freshman Tyler Fullerton, who hit .412 (7 for 17) in five games, sophomore Hunter Renfroe, who hit safely in all five games, and junior Trey Porter, who had eight hits in the three games against LSU with four coming Sunday. Keep in mind, that kind of production came against what is usually a pretty good pitching staff for the Tigers.

After MSU (15-7 overall) takes on Alabama A&M in a non-conference encounter tonight (6:30 p.m.), it turns its attention to an SEC home series against Arkansas. The games are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday unless weather causes an adjustment.

The defending SEC Western Division champion Razorbacks are off to another good start with records of 19-2 overall and 3-0 in the league. They bring in one of the toughest pitchers in the conference and the nation in BJ Baxendale.

It won't be easy for the Bulldogs against Baxendale, but they can still have a good weekend even if success isn't achieved against the best hurler of the Hogs.

Being swept at home will not be a good thing, but that's just hard to see happening with the type of pitching staff MSU has in place.

Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.

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