By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Some days are better than others for C.T. Bradford. The same can be said for his Mississippi State team.
Bradford, the sophomore center fielder, has been trying to come back from a separated shoulder he suffered March 7. He got back in the lineup for a couple of games last weekend against Arkansas, and he’ll be with the Bulldogs (17-9, 2-4 SEC) as they begin a three-game series at Auburn (15-10, 4-2) today.
If Bradford plays, it will more than likely be as a late defensive replacement.
“It’s just going to be day-to-day,” he said. “I’m going to have my sore days, I’m going to have my days that feel great. Until it feels great in the game, I’m really not going to know.”
A similar uncertainty is present in coach John Cohen’s mind when considering all the young players he’s having to use. Bradford is just one of several beat-up Bulldogs, and the result of that has been a young lineup that’s shown plenty of promise but is still finding its way.
Take Hunter Renfroe. He’s a sophomore, but he didn’t play nearly as much last season as Bradford, and now Renfroe is having to play center field. Against Arkansas he misplayed a fly ball by running too deep, turning an out into a double.
Against Alcorn State on Tuesday, he dropped a routine fly ball.
“It’s early, he’s learning,” Bradford said. “He’s going to be really good, as you can see. He’s a five-tool guy, easily.”
These are the sort of growing pains MSU must endure for now. Freshmen like Tyler Fullterton, Demarcus Henderson and Wes Rea are playing well overall, but the experience they’re lacking has no immediate fix.
So the Bulldogs try to find the shadow’s end and look for the light that’s shining on the future of this program. Come next year, and the next, the talent and experience will dovetail and make a rash of injuries much more manageable.
That’s the hope, anyway.
“They’re going to be able to look back at their experiences and be ready as sophomores should be,” Cohen said. “It’s a good and a bad thing. I think it’s frustrating, though, because I feel like we’re so close.”
The good news is that, in addition to Bradford’s recovery, other injured players are close to returning. Outfielder Brent Brownlee (knee) and pitcher Ben Bracewell (elbow) will be with the team this weekend and could see the field.
Bracewell won’t return to his Friday starter’s role, but Cohen said the sophomore could come out of the bullpen on Saturday.
Eventually, Bradford believes, things will get better.
“Even at the end of the season, if we do have everyone back and healthy, we’re going to have a lot of options either way,” he said. “If someone’s not swinging it, you’re going to have an option. … That’s probably the best situation you could ask for.”
Today, 6 p.m.
Mississippi State RHP Chris Stratton (5-0, 2.21) vs. Auburn RHP Derek Varnadore (1-2, 4.23)
Saturday, 6 p.m.
Mississippi State LHP Nick Routt (1-3, 4.01) vs. Auburn LHP Will Kendall (3-0, 1.98)
Sunday, 1 p.m.
Mississippi State RHP Kendall Graveman (2-0, 2.45) vs. Auburn LHP Daniel Kroger (1-1, 1.67)