STARKVILLE — This is the point John Cohen wanted to get with his baseball program.
The Mississippi State University baseball coach always has thought the best plan for freshmen in the Southeastern Conference is to have them sit and watch veterans while working them into the lineup.
“When I played at Mississippi State, the thing I remember the most is coaches aren’t around all the time,” Cohen said. “I can see our freshman pitchers watch (senior All-America pitcher) Caleb Reed pitch and they say, ‘Got it, that’s what I want to be and emulate that.’ ”
Freshman right-hander Will Cox showed Sunday he is a quick learner, completing the longest outing for a MSU pitcher this season. The former Amory High School standout allowed three hits and struck out eight in a 5-1 victory against Mississippi Valley State University at Dudy Noble Field. The eight strikeouts are the most by a MSU pitcher this season.
“I just like to go out and pump the (strike) zone,” Cox said. “I like to make the hitters beat us and make the defense work.”
Cohen knew Cox had the potential to come in and make an impact after seeing him compete last season as a senior. Cox earned All-State honors as a senior, posting a 12-1 record with a 0.41 ERA. He struck out 147 in 85 1/3 innings.
“We knew we had something special when we saw him pitch in high school at least four or five times,” Cohen said. “The reason is simple: He throws the breaking ball consistently in the strike zone, and very few 18-year-old prospects can do that.”
Jonathan Holder, who gave up being a two-way player in the preseason to focus on pitching, already has the most appearances by a MSU pitcher this season (three), and he still hasn’t surrendered a hit in three innings.
“It was tough, and I love hitting, but I knew it would come down to one or the other, so I picked pitching and it’s turned out a lot better,” Holder said.
Holder, a freshman from Gulfport, has a three-pitch arsenal that includes an 87-90 mph fastball, a curveball, and a changeup.
“We’re so proud of Jonathan Holder because the decision of his baseball career with completely up to him,” Cohen said. “What we love and can clearly see from him is he went home at the break and did nothing but throw every day.”
Holder struck out two in two hitless innings Sunday to earn his first save of the season. Eleven MSU pitchers combined for a 1.29 ERA and 36 strikeouts (10 walks) in 35 innings last weekend to help the Bulldogs improve to 6-1.
Last offseason, pitchers Brandon Woodruff and Jacob Lindgren turned down more bonus money from the professional organizations that drafted them than Cohen makes in salary for one season at MSU and remained committed to their signed National Letters of Intent.
Lindgren has only faced one batter this season, earning a four-pitch strikeout during a 13-5 victory against MVSU in the ninth. Freshman right-hander Tanner Gaines finished the game with two ground outs.
“Jacob is a guy we feel like has a power breaking ball, and if he’s able to throw that for strikes, he’ll be a factor for us later in the season as he continues to develop,” Cohen said.
Woodruff hasn’t taken the mound. He made his debut as an outfielder this past weekend. Cohen said Monday the right-hander could get an opportunity at 4 p.m. Wednesday (100.9 FM) when MSU plays its first mid-week game against the University of Memphis at Dudy Noble Field.
Trevor Fitts (1-0) saw his first action on the mound in his MSU career Saturday against MVSU, allowing only two runs on five hits and striking five in four innings.
n PerfectGame.org ranks MSU No. 18 in the online publication’s weekly top 50 ranking. It’s the highest ranking in any poll since last season, when MSU posted a 38-25 record and was ranked as high as 15th in the final college baseball polls.
MSU also is No. 15 in the RPI (Rating Production Index) and No. 33 in terms of the strength of schedule rankings, according to WarrenNolan.com.