The Spartans had a huge win Friday afternoon, defeating Oregon with a walk-off homerun from Jordan Zimmerman. The bullpen had a critical role in the extra-innings game, and another development took place that further confirms an interesting situation manager Jake Boss Jr. has on his hands.
This situation is the closer role.
Michigan State holds a dominant bullpen this year, made up of many contributing players. Sophomores Alex Troop, who is currently injured, and Keegan Baar are the main secondaries that can add relief when the starter has to leave the game earlier than expected.
But sophomore Dakota Mekkes and junior Joe Mockbee have been the two go-to arms. Expectations coming into the season were for Mockbee to hold the closer role and Mekkes to be the guy before the closer. Each pitcher has had different seasons than expected.
Mekkes has thrived in his role in the bullpen:
12 app, 1-0, 1.27 ERA, 2 saves, 21.1 IP, 6 Hits, 3 ER, 15BB, 38 K’s, .092 oppavg
Mockbee, on the other hand, has not quite reached his expectations.
11 app, 0-0, 3.45 ERA, 5 saves, 15.2 IP, 12 Hits, 6 ER, 11BB, 23 K’s, .200 oppavg
Mockbee’s numbers are still good, just not where they should be. They are also a bit misleading, taking into account the one disastrous game he had against Saint Joseph where he gave up four runs and nearly blew the game. But Mekkes has had an incredible campaign that now includes a Big 10 Pitcher of the Week honor he earned last week.
Mekkes has shut the door on numerous games outside of the two where he earned the save. A conversation has arisen about which pitcher is better at closing out games. Does Mekkes deserve the closer job?
Mockbee came into the game Friday afternoon in the top of the ninth after starter Cam Vieaux allowed a leadoff walk in his attempt to finish a complete game. The walk was to Ducks senior Nick Catalano, and after he stole second base, junior Jake Bennett hit a single into left field that drove Catalano home. The run tied the game at 2-2.
This was not a blown-save for Mockbee because the runner that scored was to Vieaux’s credit. But Mockbee could not effectively defuse the situation and shut the door in a way the closer is counted on doing. He allowed the run to score, even though he was not responsible for it. So it’s not technically a blown-save, but it’s basically a blown-save.
Mockbee finished the ninth and kept the game tied, getting a big strikeout to end the inning with the potential game-winning run on third. He came in the tenth and got another strikeout before giving up a single to center field, which brought Mekkes in the game to take over. Mekkes got the two outs and gave the Spartan bats a chance to win the game in the bottom of tenth, leading to Zimmerman’s walk-off.
A potential closer battle could be taking place for the Spartans bullpen, but when manager Jake Boss Jr. was asked about it after the game, he shut down the idea.
“No, no closer battle at all,” Boss Jr. said. “I think Mockbee is still the closer, but Dakota has swing and miss stuff so if we need a strikeout then he’s our guy.”
Confirming that Mockbee has the job was not a big surprise from the manager, considering he has had a very strong and successful season as the closer, outside of the meltdown against Saint Joseph’s. But Mekkes has pitched at a different level than any other guy on the staff this season.
He earned the Big Ten Pitcher of the Week award for his performance last weekend, picking up two saves and striking out nine batters in 4.2 innings. When winning the award, he was second in the Big Ten in ERA at 1.27 and strikeouts at 39, while holding batters to a conference-low .092 batting average.
It can be looked at as an asset to have two guys with the potential to take the closer role. It’s big for situational pitching, which Boss Jr. touched on.
“It’s one of those things where we can play different matchups,” Boss Jr. said. “We can do some different things without bullpen as far as matchups, and who threw the day before, and when we need a strikeout and things of that nature. So no closer battle at all.”
It does not look like an official change is coming anytime soon. For now, Mockbee is the guy.