By MATTHEW STEVENS
A change at the top of Mississippi State's pitching rotation could be coming soon.
Bulldogs third-year head coach John Cohen suggested as much in his Monday media teleconference after junior right-hander Devin Jones continues to struggle on the mound in Southeastern Conference play.
After having a solid run in the first two months of the season, the junior from Eupora has a 10.05 earned run average with league batters hitting .367 against him this season.
“Devin is one of those extremely talented kids and I think really has every coach in the league has a Devin Jones type kid where you know he’s going be a great pro prospect,” Cohen said. “He’s a kid that doesn’t have great, great success in college but could be successful
as a big leaguer. I liken him a little bit to (current Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan) Papelbon.”
Papelbon, who is entering his sixth season as the Red Sox closer, had a 2.28 earned run average and seven saves in 47.1 innings as a senior in the MSU program before signing with Boston for a signing bonus that nearly reached $265,000. The right-handed closer, who is in the final year of his current deal with Boston, made his major league debut less than two years later.
Cohen said he expected to meet today with MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson about possibly moving both sophomore right-hander Chris Stratton and left-handed Nick Routt to the Friday and Saturday night spots at No. 25 Arkansas this weekend while leaving wiggle room for the Sunday position.
Stratton (4-3) leads MSU with wins with four but the sophomore from Tupelo has yet to pitch in the Friday night role, normally reserved to face the opponents' ace pitcher, in his MSU career.
The right-hander gave up the second-most runs of his 22-start career against Florida Saturday by giving up seven earned runs in only 1 1/3 innings. Stratton hadn't been roughed up like that since Alabama crushed him for eight in Tuscaloosa last season. In less than 50 pitches, he saw his earned run average skyrocket from 3.04 to 4.22.
"There's several factors to what happened (last Saturday)," Cohen said. "The umpire's zone on that day. how Stratton is on that day. He pitched very similar against Vanderbilt and all of sudden there he found it. Pitching (Chris Stratton) on Friday is probably something we
should look to do at this point and time."
Mississippi State has not made the decision official but Cohen said that release would be coming today at the latest.
"Devin is special and if we could pinpoint one thing that's wrong with him in conference play, that would be easy to fix but he's still got a role," Cohen said.
In his longest outing of the season, Routt took a no-decision against the fourth-ranked Gators Sunday giving up one earned run on just one hit in five innings of work that included five strikeouts and 88 pitches.
“I was working (the fastball) to both sides of the plate, working it up and down, changing speeds on it,” Routt said. “My arm felt good and I wanted to go back out there but the pitch count was a soft 80 today.”
Cohen said that on whatever day he pitches against the Razorbacks the junior's pitch count could get up to 100 if needed.
"What Nick did that was really impressive (Sunday) was he was throwing his fastball by really good hitters and that speaks to his movement and staying on his pitches," Cohen said.
The suggestions given for the Sunday spot besides Jones are arms that have already seen starting experience during the 2011 season in freshman right-hander Evan Mitchell or sophomore southpaw Tim Statz.
Brownlee expected to play this weekend
Mississippi State junior outfielder Brent Brownlee is expected to be active this weekend against Arkansas for the first time this month after suffering a severe foot injury on March 20 at Vanderbilt.
Brownlee was a late defensive replacement in center field late in Sunday’s 3-1 loss against Florida when freshman C.T. Bradford came in to pitch in the ninth inning.
“We’re pretty optimistic he’ll be able to play maybe this weekend,” Cohen said. “Obviously we’ve playing guys in the outfield that don’t have much experience out there.”
Since Brownlee's injury in the last game of the SEC opening series, Mississippi State has used five different left fielders in his place including seniors Trey Johnson, Nick Vickerson and Jaron Shepherd along with freshman Taylor Stark and Hunter Renfroe.
In 19 games, Brownlee is currently hitting .283 with three doubles, walks and RBIs along with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage.
Mississippi State's next action to get Brownlee playing time could be in a restarted game Wednesday against Alabama-Birmingham when the contest will start in the top of the sixth inning with MSU having two runners on and nobody out.
"I really like that a lot because instead of practicing something like that, we get to play a simulating game this week," Cohen said. "I think it'll be really neat preparation for us to go to Arkansas."