STARKVILLE — Evan Mitchell”s last start for the Mississippi State baseball team was one to forget.
The freshman right-hander gave up two runs on two hits in 2/3 of an inning against the University of Arkansas on April 17.
On Wednesday, Mitchell will start for sixth-seeded MSU against the third-seeded University of Florida in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference tournament. The game will be the second of the day and will start at approximately 1 p.m. (CSS).
As surprising as the selection might seem — steady mid-week starter Kendall Graveman was an option — Mitchell (5-1, 3.48 ERA) wasn”t taken back by the starting nod. He learned Monday when he got to practice that he would start Wednesday in Hoover, Ala.
“I talked to (pitching) coach (Butch) Thompson and he said you”re probably gonna get the start and just keep doing what you”re doing all year,” Mitchell said. “Keep throwing strikes for us and don”t get caught up in anything. Just do what you”ve been told all year and you”ll be fine.”
MSU coaches opted to go with Mitchell over Luis Pollorena, a left-hander who has been the team”s Game 1 weekend starter for the past three weeks after starring as a specialist out of the bullpen. MSU coach John Cohen said his decision on a starting pitcher would hinge on the matchup against Florida”s hitters. Pollorena would have started the game with five days of rest since his last start.
Instead, Pollorena could come out of the bullpen in the SEC tournament.
“Not that his starts haven”t been good, but statistically they haven”t been as good as his stints out of the pen,” Cohen said. “We”ll see. A lot of it depends on how many innings you”re gonna get out of your starting guy.”
Cohen didn”t indicate who he would start in his team”s second game Thursday, which would set MSU against the winner or loser of Game 1 between Arkansas and Alabama.
“(Thompson) told us all week we”re not gonna have a set lineup,” Mitchell said. “Whoever gets the opportunity, just be ready for anything and go out there and compete your heart out.”
Though Mitchell”s last start was short-lived, his recent relief outings gave MSU coaches confidence to go with the freshman. Mitchell hasn”t allowed an earned run in three relief stints since the Arkansas start, a span that includes nine hits. He has given up just six hits in that stretch and has struck out 14, 11 of which came in an 8-3 win at Memphis on May 17.
“It felt good that night,” Mitchell said. “The fastball, I felt like I was really getting behind it and I had movement on it. My curveball, I felt like I was getting behind it too.”
Mitchell said he and the coaches haven”t discussed strategy against Florida, but as always he plans to concentrate on “both sides of the plate and get your second and third pitch over as much as you can and as early as you can.”
“That”ll get outs for itself,” he said.
Mitchell”s location has been his biggest improvement this season. He credits his ability to locate his fastball inside and out for making his “X-factor” pitch — his curveball — so effective.
“My curveball, I feel like I”ve been able to throw it for strikes when I want to and for a strikeout pitch when I want,” he said. “I feel that”s the pitch that keeps hitters off balance.”
Florida”s lineup features current SEC Player of the Week Mike Zunino, who went 7-for-11 against Kentucky last weekend. He went 6-for-12 with six RBIs in the Gators” series sweep of the Bulldogs in Starkville.
The Gators are ranked No. 2 in the SEC in team batting average, first in home runs, and first in slugging percentage.