Playing his part
Bulldogs' Mitchell bridge between starters, closer Holder
OMAHA, Neb. -- Throughout the postseason, Mississippi State has had the reputation of being a little different than your average baseball team. The beards, the outgoing personalities and the “we’re here to have fun” attitude have gotten the Bulldogs their fair share of attention.
That uniqueness extends to their pitching staff. Consider the case of sophomore left-hander Ross Mitchell. Mitchell leads the team in wins with 13 -- out of the bullpen.
“A lot of it is just good fortune,” Mitchell said. “A lot of it’s the people who come in after me and also the offense. There are a lot of times that we’re down when I come in and the offense got us back the lead.
“It’s a whole team effort that has made me successful.”
Maybe, but Mitchell’s sparkling 1.27 ERA heading into Monday’s CWS championship series opener certainly doesn’t hurt. He’s second on the team in that category to the man that usually follows him on the mound for the Bulldogs, Jonathan Holder.
While the charismatic Holder may get more attention, the more-understated Mitchell is fine with that.
“A good team is a team with roles and my role is to come in in any situation and keep the team in the game,” Mitchell said. “I’ve embraced it and it’s been something that I’ve enjoyed all year.
“We both like it when each other is in the game. He feels like I help him succeed and I feel like he’s helped me succeed. He’s gotten me out of a lot of tough situations. I feel really comfortable whenever he comes in behind me.”
Holder, despite his larger-than-life presence, was quick in this case to shift the spotlight to his setup man.
“He’s the reason that I’m successful,” Holder said of Mitchell. “He gets people’s bats moving. He throws strikes, people swing and they get used to swinging and he gets the sink and the ground balls.
“Then when I come in the game, usually after him, their bats, he’s got them moving, he’s got them hot so I can maybe throw it a little more out of the zone sometimes and they’ll chase because they’re used to seeing pitches in the zone so it makes my life and my job a little bit easier.”
It also makes the job of Bulldogs head coach John Cohen a little bit easier, as well, when it comes to managing his arms.
“I think you have to deal with a player’s comfort level and I think that’s what it is for him,” Cohen said of Mitchell. “I think he enjoys coming into the middle of a ballgame and being in that role.”
Much like the team he coaches, Cohen said Mitchell's strength comes from his ability to be a little bit unexpected.
“Whoever is starting, he is so different from what you just saw,” Cohen said, “that it makes him more effective. He’s going to go like 80, 82 [mph]. It’s a very fast-paced, kind of hand-trigger delivery. He’s got deception. He’s got movement and he’s also got that late, heavy sink.”
Those differences, according to Cohen, also make Holder as effective as he is.
“As a hitter, you struggle with these vast differences,” Cohen said. “When you’ve just seen a guy throwing 80-82 and then Holder comes out and he’s 90 to 93 with a really good breaking ball, I think you’re constantly having to adjust.”
When he’s not on the mound, Mitchell likes to make opposing players uncomfortable from the dugout as one of the members of Mississippi State’s “Bench Mobb.”
“It’s just a bunch of guys trying to root on their team as best they can,” Mitchell said with a smile. “Also, just try to get in the other team’s heads a little bit, whoever it might be, ya know, third baseman, pitcher, first base. It helps everybody stay involved in all parts of the game.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys on there that could be upset that they aren’t playing, but they’re happy where they’re at and they’re just doing what they can to help the team.”
As far as the championship series goes, Mitchell is expecting quite a battle.
“It’s going to be a pitching duel all the way,” Mitchell said. “I feel like if we can hit their pitchers and get some runs on the board, we have a pretty good chance to win.
“We’ve been working hard for this and we’re ready and I think it’ll be a good matchup.”