If you think State used a lot of relievers…
Mississippi State made it to the CWS National Championship Series with a bullpen that threw more innings than the Bulldogs’ starters.
“Never heard of that,” said Boo Ferriss, a former Mississippi State pitcher and Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer who has played or coached baseball for eight decades.
“It defies baseball logic,” said Jay Powell, another former State pitching star, who won Game Seven of the 1997 World Series as a Florida Marlin.
“You know, you just may see more teams try it,” says Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame coach Hill Denson, who was so successful at Southern Miss and now coaches at Belhaven College.
In fact, if you paid any attention to Belhaven baseball, you could have seen a similar plan at work this past season.
“We had some injuries and lost some starters we were counting on,” Denson said. “We didn’t have many hard throwers. We were short on starting pitchers. We had to do something different.”
In modern baseball, pitchers are generally categorized as starters, long and middle relievers, set-up men and closers. Most of Denson’s pitchers fit the long and middle relief and set-up man roles.
“We came up with a system where we sometimes used as many as nine pitchers, an inning each in games, especially mid-week games,” Denson said.
That’s right. Denson went into games, planning to change pitchers every inning.
“We didn’t have a lot of guys who could go five or six innings, but we had some guys who were pretty good one time through the lineup,” he added.
Back in January, before Belhaven opened the season, Denson said, “We may not have a three-up, three-down inning all season. I’m serious.”
Despite Denson’s moaning, Belhaven finished 37-21, barely missing out on the NAIA playoffs.
The Blazers used what was essentially a pitcher-an-inning system in 14 midweek games. Belhaven won 12 of those, lost two.
“The advantage you have is that the opposition never sees the same pitcher twice,” Denson said. “Every time a batter comes up, he sees a different arm angle, different speed, different pitches. I’m not saying it’s going to work for everybody but it worked for us.”
In some weekend games, Denson went with a plan where he expected the starter to only go three or four innings, and then would switch back to that pitcher-an-inning strategy.
“We mixed and matched, and we had some success with it,” Denson said. “Overall, best we can figure, we were 19-3 when we went into the game planning to use multiple pitchers.”
Denson said he and his coaching staff have successfully recruited several strong arms, potential starters, for 2014, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to junk the plan that was so successful this past spring.
“I think we’ll still do it, especially in the mid-week,” Denson said. “There are a lot of advantages. I don’t really see why it wouldn’t work for a lot of teams.”
Official College World Series T-shirts are still available at your Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.