Struggling pitchers hurt MSU’s chances

Published 12:31 am Saturday, June 11, 2011

In their five meetings this season, the line between Mississippi State and Florida hasn’t always been clear-cut. Three times, it was a difference of two runs. Twice, things weren’t settled until the last few innings.

Meeting No. 6 showed a clear difference between the teams — pitching.

Florida, the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, had it. Mississippi State, the underdog Southeastern Conference rival, didn’t.

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Florida’s Hudson Randall allowed one run in eight innings Friday, and struck out eight to lead the Gators to an 11-1 victory in Game 1 of an NCAA super regional in Gainesville.

Mississippi State starter Evan Mitchell lasted just two innings and was tattooed for seven earned runs. His replacements, Devin Jones and Kendall Graveman, each gave up two runs over the next five innings.

Those three pitchers, along with Chris Strattion, allowed a total of six walks and 11 hits.

“Obviously, we’re not thrilled with our performance. The thing that we have to do against a great team like Florida is throw the ball in the strike zone immediately,” Mississippi State coach John Cohen said. “Evan has done such a great job in his last four outings. Instantly, the two walks in the first inning score. If you give up solo home runs, it’s not going to kill you. But when walks are in front of that, it’s not going to win for you.”

The short outing by Mitchell (6-2) was a letdown for the Bulldogs, especially after last week’s strong performance in the Atlanta regional.

He threw eight innings in a win over Austin Peay — one of three outings by MSU starters that lasted at least six innings in the regional — and had also pitched well in a loss to Florida in the SEC Tournament two weeks ago.

On Friday, it was a complete 180.

The freshman walked three batters and gave up five hits, including a two-run homer to Nolan Fontana in the second inning. It was the first home run Mitchell surrendered this year.

Mitchell walked two of the first three batters he faced in the first inning, and both scored. The third free pass went to Cody Dent, who scored on Fontana’s homer.

Mitchell was lifted after giving up a solo homer to Mike Zunino leading off the third inning. That bomb gave the Gators a 7-0 lead.

“Most of my pitches were up. Probably half of them were up. You can’t win when you’re doing that, especially getting behind in the count. They’re going to hit the ball hard like you saw today,” Mitchell said.

Cohen said some of Mitchell’s struggles had to do with Florida’s hitters. He credited the Gators for having a keen eye and taking close pitches that allowed them to get ahead in the count and dictate the pitches Mitchell had to throw. Mitchell threw a first-pitch strike to only four of the 13 batters he faced.

Cohen said getting ahead in the count will be crucial if the Bulldogs are to continue their season beyond today’s Game 2. Nick Routt, who threw a complete game in the regional clincher against Georgia Tech, will get the start.

“The thing that separates good teams from great teams is their ability to take pitches that are marginal, that are balls. They do a very good job of that,” Cohen said. “You have got to throw strike one. If you throw strike one, it’ll ruin anybody’s plan. Strike one has got to be our friend tomorrow.”