Baseball Heads West for Aramark Pac-12-Big Ten Challenge
Spartans will face Utah, No. 3 Oregon State and Washington.
Feb. 20, 2014
The Spartans head to Arizona to take on Utah, Oregon State and Washington in the Aramark Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge ... The MSU-Utah meeting will be the first ever, while the Spartans will be meeting Oregon State and Washington both for the third time.
MSU opened the season by going 2-1 against Wright State ... The Spartans were supposed to begin the 2014 campaign in Cary, N.C., but winter storms forced a change in plans ... MSU and WSU were able to play three games at Vanderbilt's Hawkins Field.
The pitching staff posted a 2.00 ERA in the three games vs. Wright State, which was the lowest of any Big Ten school through opening weekend ... MSU pitchers limited the Raiders to just 23 total hits and yielded just six earned runs.
In his first-career start, sophomore Justin Alleman threw six-complete scoreless innings and surrendered just four hits to earn in the win in the final game of last weekend's series.
A pair of true freshman relievers in Jake Lowery and Walter Borkovich made their collegiate debuts last weekend and combined to allow just one hit ... Lowery made two appearances totaling 1.2 innings, had two strikeouts and did not allow a hit ... Borkovich gave up one hit in his one-complete inning of relief work.
Closer Jeff Kinley picked up saves in both victories over Wright State ... Kinley, a redshirt junior, made just nine appearances last year after suffering a blood clot in his arm ... In 2.0 innings of work last weekend, Kinley gave up one hit, had two Ks and one walk.
Five different Spartans drove in runs last weekend, led by junior Blaise Salter, who had a pair of RBI doubles.
Michigan State made just two errors last weekend, which was fourth best among all Big Ten teams.
The Spartans won at least 30 games for the fourth consecutive season last year ... Entering the season, MSU has more wins (140) than any other Big Ten team over the last four seasons.
Experience in the Outfield
Michigan State returns all three of its starting outfielders from the 2013 campaign, highlighted by Big Ten Players to Watch Cam Gibson and Jimmy Pickens. Pickens was a second-team All-Conference selection last year, while Gibson earned a spot on the Big Ten's All-Freshman Team.
Gibson, a sophomore, spent much of the 2013 season as the team's leadoff hitter, compiling a .325 batting average, 34 runs and 12 steals. He started 40 games and his .325 average was the 12th best in the Big Ten and third on the team.
Pickens enters his third year as the starting right fielder for the Spartans and is coming off a season in which he was named the team's John Kobs Most Valuable Player. Pickens started all 50 games for MSU and led the team in runs scored (39), RBIs (42), total bases (103), slugging percentage (.528) and home runs (9).
Anthony Checky started 44 games last season and the junior enters his third season as the starting center fielder for MSU. Checky was the league-leader in stolen bases, swiping 23 bags on 25 tries, while his 34 runs were tied for the second most on the team.
Junior Ryan Krill and senior Joel Fisher will serve as co-captains for 2014. Krill, the starting first baseman, ranked in the top five on the team in hits (55), doubles (11), RBIs (25) and batting average (.288) a season ago. Krill made an appearance in all 50 games last year for MSU, starting at first base in 48 of those appearances.
Fisher is the lone senior in the Spartans' current lineup. The catcher threw out 17 runners last year as MSU allowed the second fewest stolen bases in the Big Ten (34). Fisher's efforts earned him the team's Danny Litwhiler Defensive Player of the Year. At the plate, he second on the team in home runs (5) and third in doubles (11), along with 27 RBIs.
Spartans Lead the Big Ten in Wins Over The Last Four Years
Michigan State posted its fourth consecutive 30-win season last year, going 33-17. The Spartans entered the 2014 campaign with a total of 140 wins over the past four years - more than any other team in the conference. Indiana ranked second with 139, while Purdue was third with 132.
Kinley Back Healthy
Redshirt junior closer Jeff Kinley is back healthy after a blood clot forced him to miss nearly the entire 2013 season. Kinley saw action in just nine games and after discovering the blood clot in mid-March, he was unable to pitch the remainder of the season. In 2012, his last full season, Kinley posted a 2.47 ERA in 47.1 innings of work. He had a 6-5 record with two saves and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly 4-to-1.
MSU will play five opponents that took part in last season's NCAA Tournament, including three that advanced to the College World Series. Three of the Spartans' first nine games are against teams that played in last year's NCAA Tournament in Oregon State and Mississippi State (twice). Oregon State, Mississippi State and conference-foe Indiana all took part in the 2013 College World Series.
The Spartans will play their first of 21 home games on March 21 when they open Big Ten play with Ohio State.
Pitching Staff Looks to Repeat 2013 Success
The 2013 Spartan pitching staff posted the 10th lowest ERA in program history at 3.22. The ERA was the lowest by a Spartan team since the 1957 squad (2.57).
MSU ranked in the top 40 nationally in several categories: ERA (36th at 3.22), hits allowed per nine innings (21st at 7.89), walks per nine innings (22nd at 2.73) and WHIP (14th at 1.18).