After the second weekend of baseball competition, all within the friendly confines of Dudy Noble Field, Mississippi State’s process of assimilating the newcomer majority of its roster smoothly into the returning core remains ongoing.
As the saying goes, there have been some plusses and there have been some deltas. That is, some things exude good vibes, and others suggest a change has gotta come.
The gaudy batting averages and ERAs of small sample size have begun to level off, but seasonal marks in a game of streaks and slumps probably won’t clarify themselves until conference play at least.
A couple of the plusses have been newcomers Colton Ledbetter and Amani Larry in the outfield and second base, respectively. The two have continued their steady play turned in previously at Samford and New Orleans, if not added to it in the challenge of playing for an SEC school. Ledbetter leads the team in batting average (.406), hits (13), RBIs (16) and home runs (3, including a grand slam against Arizona State in game 8). Larry is second with a .375 BA, 12 hits, and in a three-way tie with Ledbetter and team captain Luke Hancock for second with 3 doubles.
Though he’s appeared in just half of the eight games, catcher Ross Highfill leads the team in slugging percentage at .833, by virtue of his team-leading four doubles out of six hits. Highfill and Hancock have both been behind the plate, as Head Coach Chris Lemonis continues to seek effective combinations of Kellum Clark, Hunter Hines, and Bryce Chance, the trio currently second in home runs with two each. Chance and Larry are the only two besides Ledbetter with double-digit RBIs, at 11 each.
Defensively, the team has some catching up to do following 13 errors in the first 8 games, a team fielding percentage currently at .956 with two starters below .900. The good news is that after not having a 0 at the end of their line score in any of the first six games, the Bulldogs have turned in errorless performances the last two times out, both convincing wins that yielded only four earned runs given up, total.
And, speaking of pitching, that may be where the spectrum of plusses and deltas has emerged the widest. The team ERA of 5.25 probably should be lower, considering that Tuesday’s opponent, Southern Miss, will be the first ranked one of the year. But, while disappointing showings from veteran hurlers is still of concern, there has also been a pleasant surprise from so many new pitchers toeing the rubber at DNF for the first or second time.
Of course, everyone oohs and ahhs at the versatility of switch pitcher Jurrangelo Cijntje, who despite the spectacle of his ambidexterity is a serious pitcher with serious stuff from both sides. Fans with dreams of him starting two games a weekend were disappointed, as Lemonis explained it’s not that simple, but all indications are that the staff intends to be very judicious about utilizing a special asset at just the right pace.
And, just when an opponent may think they’ve figured out both of Loo’s arms, here comes Nate Dohm, teasing triple digits on the gun, or veteran closer Aaron Nixon. Add in Evan Siary, who teamed with Dohm to shut down Arizona State late Saturday in relief of Graham Yntema, who did likewise starting that game; Bradley Loftin, another highly touted and promising southpaw freshman; Sunday starter Landon Gartman, the “old man” of the pitching staff as Lemonis affectionately calls him; Tyler Davis and Colby Holcombe, both working effectively in the 16-3 Sunday win over ASU to reduce somewhat misleading ERAs; and Will Gibbs, who ended that game and still resides in “Blutarskyville” as one of seven MSU pitchers that have “Zero point zero zero” in the first stats column next to their name. As a team, the pitching staff has surrendered a “delta” 48 walks so far, but it also has 98 strikeouts, with the only double digit totals being Gartman with 15 and Yntema with 10.
Following the neutral site contest against the 2022 Super Regional host Southern Miss Golden Eagles at Trustmark Park in Pearl, MS (AA Braves), the road turns west on I-20 to Dallas suburb Frisco, TX, for Friday-Saturday-Sunday games at another minor league park, vs. Ohio State (6:00 pm), Oklahoma (1:00 pm), and California (11:00 am). State then returns home to Dudy Noble Field for a Tuesday game against Valparaiso and the final non-conference weekend series, facing Lipscomb, before SEC play begins on the road at Kentucky.