Mike Minor didn’t need a big lead to be effective. Vanderbilt’s starting pitcher got one anyway – and he was very effective.
His teammates staked the junior left-hander to an early six-run advantage and he responded with a career-high 13 strikeouts as the Commodores defeated Mississippi State 8-6 Friday at Hawkins Field.
“He’s very selfish when it comes to his performance,” coach Tim Corbin said. “He doesn’t care what the score is, he wants to shut people down, which I really like about him. He’s the type of guy, he just wants to do it himself.”
Minor allowed four runs on seven hits with three walks in 7.2 innings as Vanderbilt (25-17, 8-10) won a Friday night home game for the first time since Feb. 27 against Vermont.
He threw 123 pitches – 81 of them strikes – and struck out at least one in every inning he pitched. Five times in the seven innings he completed, he got the final out with a strikeout.
As a team, the Commodores struck out a season-high 17, the last of them by Russell Brewer, who came on after a two-out, two-run home run in the ninth by Mississippi State (21-23, 6-14). Brewer recorded his third save on just five pitches.
“It was a good performance early and enough to hold on,” Corbin said. “It got interesting there at the end, obviously.”
It was Minor’s third straight start (the fourth in five starts) with at least 10 strikeouts. The one time in that stretch he failed to reach double figures was April 3 against Florida. He had nine in that one.
“It was really just my slider and my curve ball,” he said, “My change-up was more just middle of the plate (Friday), so I didn’t throw that much. The fastball, I struggled with a little bit too.”
Whatever issues he had were offset by the fact that Aaron Westlake hit a grand slam in the first inning, and Steven Liddle followed with a three-run home run in the second as the Commodores jumped out to a 7-1 lead.
The last time Vanderbilt hit two home runs in the same game was April 1 at Belmont, and the last time it did so against a conference opponent was March 29 at Auburn.
“Friday nights are usually tough with run support and all that,” Minor said. “(Friday) night the hitters came out and put some runs up early. That was good.”
STARTER UNCERTAINTY: Caleb Cotham’s status for Saturday’s game (1 p.m.) is uncertain because of a minor knee injury he sustained last weekend against Alabama.
If Cotham can’t pitch (Corbin said the knee was not good Friday night), Drew Hayes, who is scheduled to start Sunday, will be moved up in the rotation.
In that case, the Sunday starter will be uncertain. The first choice will be freshman Sonny Gray, provided he is not needed in relief on Saturday.
“We’ll just go into (Saturday) as if we have to win (Saturday) and then go to Plan B on Sunday,” Corbin said.
LONG LONG-BALL DROUGHT: Westlake’s grand slam was just his second home run of the season. His only other one came on March 8 against Illinois-Chicago.
The left-hander took a 1-0 fastball from Mississippi State starter Forrest Moore (also a lefty) and drove the ball deep into the left field bleachers.
“I was smiling all the way around the bases,” Westlake said. “As a team, it kind of puts a punch on the other team.”
Westlake added an RBI single in the fourth and finished with a career-high five RBIs, which was as many as he had in the previous nine games combined.
SUSPENSION COMING: Mississippi State coach John Cohen was ejected with one out to go in the top of the ninth after an animated argument with the home plate umpire.
It was the second ejection of the season for Cohen (he also was tossed against Auburn three weeks ago). SEC rules mandate an automatic one-game suspension for anyone who gets ejected twice.
The SEC office confirmed Friday night that Cohen will not be allowed to coach on Saturday.