By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Mississippi State is about to step out of its comfort zone, and without its full roster.
The No. 21-ranked Bulldogs (14-3) played their first 17 games of the season at Dudy Noble Field. Now they must play two games – today and Wednesday – at Southeastern Louisiana (11-5) before opening SEC play on Friday night at No. 13 LSU.
Right-handed starting pitcher Ben Bracewell and outfielder C.T. Bradford will both travel with the team, but they might not play due to injuries.
Fellow starters Brent Brownlee (outfield) and Daryl Norris (third base) are out for several weeks, and now outfielder and pitcher Taylor Stark has joined them on the trainer’s table.
Stark, a sophomore, pulled a hamstring running the bases Sunday against Mercer, and he will not be available this week.
So coach John Cohen must turn to some unproven players.
“The positive is these guys get opportunities,” he said. “The concerning part is if you knew you were going to have five injuries to critical people in your lineup, you would’ve given these guys an opportunity a long time ago.”
Cohen was hoping to redshirt certain players this season, but that’s becoming less of an option. He played freshman infielder Phillip Casey for the first time on Sunday, and freshman outfielder Tyler Fullerton could be next.
“When we play in Baton Rouge this Friday, there’s a very good chance that we’ll have one player on the field who has started in an SEC game,” said Cohen, referring to sophomore infielder Adam Frazier.
Tonight’s probable starting pitcher for State is redshirt freshman Tanner Gaines (1-0, 1.35 ERA). The Baldwyn native earned his first career victory last week by tossing 42/3 innings of hitless, scoreless relief against Penn State.
Cohen reaches 100
MSU moved up two spots in this week’s Baseball America poll. It’s the second week in the rankings for State.
That came a day after Cohen reached a milestone. With MSU’s 3-1 win over Mercer on Sunday, he has 100 career victories at his alma mater.
“It’s really just an insignificant little blip on the radar screen,” he said. “I’m not saying that to be modest, I’m saying that to be realistic. It’s just not a big deal.”
With all the injuries in the outfield, Cohen has had to turn more often to redshirt freshman Demarcus Henderson. He’s made 10 starts and is hitting .414 in 29 at-bats.
Last week, he went 7 of 16 at the plate with five runs scored. That earned him SEC freshman of the week honors on Monday.
“We’ve already lost three outfielders, so we really need him to step up, and he has,” Cohen said. “He’s worked really hard at it also.”