STARKVILLE — Mississippi State pitcher Devin Jones has a world of potential.
He just has to realize it.
That”s the message MSU coach John Cohen has had for Jones dating back to last season when the Eupora native struggled to find the strike zone against Southeastern Conference competition.
Jones turned out to be the surprise of the offseason, though, mastering his control and consistently throwing in the low-to-mid 90s. His slider could make him a coveted Major League Baseball prospect, but only if he continues to get big league-type repetitions in the weekend rotation.
Jones” last two performances on Friday nights — he hasn”t made it past the fourth inning — have been below his shutout form to start the season. Jones (2-3, 3.86 ERA) gave up six earned runs on eight hits in a 10-0 loss to No. 1-ranked Vanderbilt two weeks ago. Last week, he allowed four earned runs and three hits in a win against Auburn.
Jones surrendered four earned runs in his first three starts this season.
“I”ve said this many, many times: There”s just so much ability there, and for whatever reason, it hasn”t happened the last two weekends,” Cohen said Wednesday in his weekly teleconference. “There are times when I think Devin isn”t as confident in his pitches as he should be. When that happens for him, I think he”s gonna be very, very productive. We”re gonna send him back out there on Friday (against Georgia).”
Cohen said he”s sticking with Jones as his Friday starter because he has overcome his issue of throwing strikes, though he”s giving up too many hits.
Cohen and pitching coach Butch Thompson have faith in Jones” ability to regroup, but they will give someone else a shot if Jones doesn”t “flip the switch.”
The Bulldogs have used 16 pitchers this season, and Cohen said 13 have shown considerable progress. Planning for the possibility of Jones having another short outing Friday, Cohen scratched reliever Andrew Busby from his start against Alabama A&M. He hopes Busby can contribute three-plus innings if needed Friday.
—Routt locked in for Sunday
Limited to 53 pitches in a 5-0 win against Auburn on Sunday, junior left-hander Nick Routt showed Cohen enough to remain in the Sunday starter role.
Routt, in his second start of the season, tossed 3 2/3 shutout innings against the Tigers. He gave up two hits, walked two, and struck out three.
Cohen didn”t want Routt, who had elbow surgery last season, to throw more than 65-70 pitches in his last outing. He hopes that total increase will increase this weekend.
“We”re probably going to stretch him out bit by bit, and I would anticipate if he pitches well he”ll be able to go a little deeper into Sunday,” Cohen said. “We”re pleased with what we saw Sunday. (It) wasn”t quite what we”d seen the previous two weeks, but still very promising. I think the fastball is far beyond what it was a year ago in terms of movement and deception.”
Routt (0-0, 1.29) hasn”t had a setback since returning from close to a year-long layoff following surgery. The former freshman All-SEC selection was the team”s Friday starter and top pitcher in 2009, but his role Sunday will be just as vital, Cohen said.
“He”s really found this cutter and curveball, so I think he”s going to be a big part of what we”re trying to do,” Cohen said. “An experienced, older guy on a Sunday — championships are won on Sunday in our league.”
—Brownlee questionable for Georgia trip
Brent Brownlee”s injury problems could force him to miss his second straight league series, Cohen said.
Brownlee injured his foot two weeks ago while running bases at Vanderbilt. He didn”t play in the series finale against the Commodores or last weekend in MSU”s sweep of Auburn.
The junior outfielder, who has started 16 of 18 games this season, had an MRI Wednesday morning after an X-ray last week came back negative.
Cohen said Brownlee could have a stress fracture but won”t know about his status until the results of the MRI are in. He believes Brownlee will return this season but doesn”t know when.
Brownlee has battled injuries since high school, including a season-ending shoulder injury last season in non-conference play.
“If he got to work on his baseball skills as much as he”s unfortunately had to work on rehabbing different things … he”s such a tough kid mentally and has just kept battling through it,” Cohen said.