By MATTHEW STEVENS
Eventually the Mississippi State baseball program is going to have to designate a third starter for the Southeastern Conference season.
Today is just not that day and that point probably won’t be in the near future as well.
“Obviously - we're in a much better situation a year ago,” Mississippi State head coach John Cohen said. “It's still early and I’m not one of those guys that says you can't be successful unless you have a definite three guys because a lot of teams in our league have done that and been fine.”
The reason for the debate as to who will be given the ball on the mound regularly on Sundays starting in mid-March is not for the lack of option but MSU head coach John Cohen must decipher through the list of potential names for that job.
“We’re going to have to pull the trigger on that third guy,” Cohen said.
Some of the options that made an argument for that role in four weekend wins against Lamar and Akron last weekend were freshman right-hander Evan Mitchell and sophomore left-hander Chad Girodo.
In his first appearance in a Mississippi State uniform, Mitchell pitched 3 1/3 innings of shutout relief to earn the victory in State’s 17-2 victory Sunday over Lamar.
“We didn’t want to start Evan Mitchell (Sunday) but boy are we pleased with his development,” Cohen said. “He’s a guy that’s a strike thrower and throws a second pitch in the strike zone with good velocity with a slider as well.”
Girodo may have been only one of two MSU pitchers to give up a run but struck out three Akron batters Saturday while giving up only one extra-base hit.
The one thing that Girodo and fellow southpaw Tim Statz possibly have going for them in the competition for the third rotation is both men throw the ball with their left hand allowing for the possibility of lineups being altered throughout a future weekend series.
Another mystery hanging over this spot in the rotation is the health of junior Nick Routt as the left-hander and former member of the SEC All-Freshman team two years ago continues to rehab his injury to the ulnar nerve in his pitching arm and required surgery.
If Cohen and MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson decide to join Devin Jones and Chris Stratton with another right-hander in the rotation, the choices include today’s starting pitcher.
MSU (4-0) will be handing the ball to sophomore Kendall Graveman today for his 2011 debut when the Bulldogs face Northwestern State at Dudy Noble Field for a 4 p.m. first pitch.
“Whether it’s Statz, Girodo, Routt when he comes back or one of our new guys that all have great stuff, we feel like that person can come in and give us a chance to win the ballgame,” Jones said. “The confidence we have on the mound this year is completely different than in the past.”
As a true freshman, Graveman made three starts in SEC play last year but struggled to a 13.03 earned run average in the league where lineups hit .368 against him.
“Kendall is more of a ground ball type pitcher and if the wind is blowing out, that could be a beneficial factor for him as he matures on the mound,” Cohen said. “We wanted to save him for this start because knowing Northwestern State like I do, their program is just as strong as what we faced this past weekend.”
Cohen coached at Northwestern State from 1998-2001 and winning two Southland Conference Championships in those four years before taking the head coaching job at the University of Kentucky.
Another way to go for the Bulldogs from a right-handed point of view situation is a pair of newcomers from the state of Alabama.
Junior college transfer Andrew Busby from Gardendale, Ala., was not featured this past weekend but Cohen said the hard-throwing 203-pounder will get some innings today against Northwestern State. Busby pitched 75 innings in his freshman year at Wallace State Community College finishing with 67 strikeouts, which was fifth in the Alabama Community College Conference.
The final option could be Daryl Norris, who was named SEC Freshman of the Week Monday, as the 2010 Alabama Player of the Year impressed first on the mound. The
right-hander fanned five of the seven batters he faced in two innings of game-closing relief as State blanked Akron 11-0 Friday in its 2010 season-opener.
However, if MSU were to make Norris a pitcher they would be taking the bat out of his hands in that contest and the Fairhope, Ala., native proved how risky that proposition could be by compiling a team-best .625 batting average, a 1.000 slugging percentage and a SEC-leading eight RBI.
“We felt like he would be a factor as a freshman but certainly he had a great first weekend and put it this way – the first time we let him start a game at designated hitter we put him fourth in the lineup,’ Cohen said. “That shows a lot of belief we have in him as a freshman.”
Norris then made his defensive debut as the Bulldogs’ starting first baseman Saturday, legging out a double and a three-run triple in a 3-for-5 plate performance against Akron. He capped his debut weekend with a 2-for-3, three-RBI showing Sunday against 2010 NCAA Tournament qualifier Lamar.
“All the guys in front of me, just having those guys show me how to do it," said Norris after his debut Saturday. "Taking good swing after good swing and it's good to come out here, get my first start and play well."