March 20, 2014
The Spartans (9-8) are heading to Columbus, Ohio, to open up Big Ten play against the Ohio State Buckeyes (12-6). MSU is 2-3 in Big Ten openers under Jake Boss.
MSU took two of three from the Buckeyes last season, who went 15-9 in conference play and finished second in the Big Ten.
Three of the Spartans' nine wins this season have come vs. top-25 teams (No. 1 Oregon State, No. 21 TCU - twice.)
Jimmy Pickens brings a team-leading six-game hitting streak into this weekend ... Pickens is hitting .267 on the season and is second on the team in RBIs with 12.
The Spartans have 31 doubles through 17 games which is the third most in the Big Ten. MSU's five home runs are tied for third in the league.
Led by Anthony Cheky's team-high seven stolen bases, MSU ranks fourth in the conference with a total of 22.
The Spartan bullpen has combined for seven saves, which is best in the Big Ten ... MSU had just 12 saves all of last season. Junior Jeff Kinley leads the Big Ten with five saves.
Blaise Salter leads the way on offense for the Spartans, owning a team high in both batting average (.295) and RBIs (14). His 14 RBIs are seventh best in the Big Ten.
Starter Mick VanVossen is 4-0 this season and ranks in the top-10 in the conference in several categories, including: Wins (first, 4), ERA (sixth, 1.91), opponent batting average (fourth, .197), innings pitched (second, 33.0) and strikeouts (eighth, 22).
MSU is 4-1 when playing error-free baseball and is 7-0 when carrying a lead into the ninth inning.
After going 12-3 in one-run games last season, MSU is off to another good start in 2014, going 4-0 in one-run games so far this year.
Closer Jeff Kinley picked up saves in both victories over Wright State on opening weekend and has since picked up three more, giving him five on the year, which is tops in the Big Ten ... Kinley, a redshirt junior, made just nine appearances last year after suffering a blood clot in his arm.
The Spartans won at least 30 games for the fourth consecutive season last year ... Entering the season, MSU had more wins (140) than any other Big Ten team over the last four seasons.
About Ohio State
Ohio State enters the weekend 12-6 on the season and riding a four-game winning streak. The Buckeyes hold opposing hitters to a .247 average and have allowed just 149 hits this year, the second fewest in the Big Ten. Ronnie Dawson brings in a team-high .387 batting average that ranks fourth in the conference. Troy Kuhn paces the Buckeys with 15 RBIs and three home runs.
VanVossen Impresses Early
Junior starting pitcher Mick VanVossen is already 4-0 through five starts this season. VanVossen has gone at least six complete innings in four of his five starts, going 3-0 in those outings. In his last start vs. Harvard, VanVossen went seven innings scoreless innings, giving up just two hits and striking out three.
VanVossen ranks in the top-10 in the Big Ten in Wins (first, 4), ERA (sixth, 1.91), opponent batting average (fourth, .197), innings pitched (second, 33.0) and strikeouts (eighth, 22).
Salter Paces The Offense
With a .295 batting average and 14 RBIs, junior Blaise Salter has been the Spartans' most dangerous hitter so far this season. Salter's career-long 12-game hitting came to an end vs. TCU, but not after he belted a go-ahead, two-run homer in the ninth inning of the first game of the series to lift MSU to a 2-1 victory over No. 21 TCU.
Salter has seven extra-base hits and has RBIs in eight games, including five multiple RBI games.
Alleman Settling Into Starter Role
In his first year as a starter, sophomore Justin Alleman is 2-0 with a 2.10 ERA. In five starts this season, he has given up just seven earned runs in 33.0 innings. Opponents are hitting just .202 against the Holt native.
After making 22 appearances all out of the bullpen last season, Alleman won his first-career start on Feb. 16 in MSU's 2-1 victory over Wright State. Alleman threw six-complete scoreless innings and surrendered just four hits to earn in the victory.
On Saturday against Harvard, Alleman threw eight scoreless innings, giving up just four hits and striking out five.
...Young Arms in the `Pen Three freshmen relievers - Jake Lowery, Walter Borkovich and Josh Buchalski - have played big roles for the Spartans. The three have totaled 16.2 innings, allowing just three runs, all of which came in one inning.
Lowery has made seven appearances, which ranks second on the team. Lowery earned his first collegiate win by pitching a scoreless final 1.1 innings against No. 1 Oregon State. He has picked up saves in each of his last two outings, including most recently on March 7 in the 2-1 victory over No. 21 TCU.
Borkovich was named the Big Ten Rookie of the Week on March 3 after tossing 4.2 innings of scoreless relief in the 18-13 win over Eastern Illinois. On the season, Borkovich is 1-0 and has yielded eight hits in 6.2 innings.
Since Jake Boss took over the Spartan program in 2009, the Spartans have a 42-33 record in one-run games, including 4-0 this season. The Spartans were outstanding in one-run games last season, going 12-3.
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's five saves so far in 2014 rank first in the conference. His last save came in the Spartans' 1-0 win over Harvard where he tossed two scoreless innings.
Kinley saw action in just nine games last season 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.
The Spartans' 18 hits and 20 runs in the March 2 18-13 win over Eastern Illinois were their highest totals since producing 25 hits and 20 runs in a 20-10 win over Indiana on April 15, 2012. Jimmy Pickens went 4-for-4 with six RBIs in the win, marking the second time in his career the junior has recorded six RBIs in a game. Pickens' last had six RBIs on May 4, 2012 vs. Illinois.
MSU turned four double plays in the Mar. 1 loss to No. 15 Mississippi State, marking its most double plays in a game since March 10, 2011 when it also had four against Boston College.
Change of Plans
MSU opened the season by going 2-1 against Wright State at Vanderbilt's Hawkins Field in Nashville, Tenn. The Spartans were supposed to begin the 2014 campaign in Cary, N.C., at the USA Baseball Complex, but winter storms forced a change in plans. MSU and WSU were slated to meet once in North Carolina, but agreed to play at the neutral site due to the winter storms.
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.
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.