By MATTHEW STEVENS
Several Mississippi State players in the everyday lineup are using this week-long break for final exams to help recover from nagging injuries they’ve been dealing with throughout the spring.
Bulldogs head coach John Cohen confirmed in his Monday media teleconference that at least three players in his starting lineup are having treatments as MSU doesn’t have a mid-week game and won’t begin its next Southeastern Conference weekend series till Saturday afternoon.
Senior third baseman Jarrod Parks will be traveling to Jackson, close to his hometown of Madison, in order to have his quarterly epidural treatment on his chronic back injury that he said to Starkville Daily News Monday afternoon is a shot that is “supposed to lubricate the disk and not make it bulge out as much”.
“It’s not really that big a deal – it’s something I have four times a year and I’ll be driving back to Starkville (Tuesday) night not long after the anesthesia wears off,” Parks said.
Parks, a fifth-year senior, is leading the Southeastern Conference with a .409 batting average and a .533 on-base percentage less than a year after having back surgery that eliminated his 2010 season and required him to apply for a medical redshirt.
“To get him out there every weekend, or in the middle of the week, he has to have periods of time off," Cohen said. "The other thing about Jarrod is, there are several things in the weight room he can't do. You're talking about a kid who is restricted in many, many ways, really since the moment he got here. To accomplish what he's accomplishing is a real testament to how much he puts into it.”
Cohen also said senior shortstop Jonathan Ogden may be having a cortisone injection to relieve some pain in his abdomen due to playing throughout the 2011 season with a severely pulled muscle.
Ogden, who leads the SEC with 16 errors in the middle of the infield this season, is leading the MSU offense in home runs (7) and would be the only MSU player to start all 40 games for the Bulldogs.
“They're in significant pain, and they're seniors, and they're leaders, and we want them out there," Cohen said. "Quite frankly, with the position they play, with our depth situation, they know how badly we need them, and they will say or do whatever it takes to get on the field."
Ogden, who is constantly called by his head coach ‘the best defensive shortstop in the Southeastern Conference’, has struggled with his defense and throwing from deep in the hole or up the middle by making nine errors in 18 conference games.
“John Ogden can make 50 errors at shortstop and in the end I know it’s because he gets to ground balls that I can’t get to and nobody else on our team can either,” Parks said. “Every infielder is going to go through a stretch like this but it’s all mental for him.”
Cohen has suggested his abdomen injury makes it difficult for him to get in a defensive stance on fully down on ground balls.
“I didn’t even know about his injury or that he was hurt until (reporters) started tweeting it out this morning,” Parks said. “That’s Oggie for you though. He’s a quiet guy and he’s never been the type of guy that will point out something like that to us.”
In last week’s victory over Ole Miss at Trustmark Park, freshman C.T. Bradford aggravated a hamstring injury and that injury ruled him out of pitching last weekend against South Carolina. Bradford, the 2010 Mr. Baseball selection in state of the Florida, ran down to the bullpen multiple times in the 13-4 loss on Sunday to the Gamecocks at Dudy Noble Field but has only seen action on the mound in two SEC games. The last time Bradford pitched was a one-pitch situation against Florida in a 3-1 home loss to the Gators on April 10.
The week-long break could be the best for catcher Wes Thigpen after catching seven straight games and after talks with the Bulldogs coaching staff the senior, whose average has jumped 40 points in the last month, may be in the lineup without a day off for the foreseeable future.
“When you really watch the film, he has caught so much better on back-to-back days and he’s kind of been telling us that for a while now,” Cohen said. “He’s another coach on the field behind the plate and we just feel like he and Cody (Freeman) need to be in the same lineup and Cody is a bit more of an offensive player. We need the things Thiggy brings to the table on an everyday basis.”
Changes not likely to the MSU rotation
Mississippi State head coach John Cohen said it would be likely that Mississippi State’s 1-2 starting punch would both be on the hill for the first scheduled SEC doubleheader this weekend since 1993.
Sophomore right-hander Chris Stratton and junior left-handed hurler Nick Routt, who have been sent out on the first two days of the last pair of conference three-game sets, will start on Saturday when the series starts with two games starting at 2 p.m.
Stratton and Routt have a combined 8.14 earned run average with hitters batting at a .308 clip in their 11 SEC starts.
“The issue for us is just throwing more strikes,” Cohen said. “If you’re getting hit hard on a 0-0 (count) that’s okay, we can handle that. But our issue is guys are getting in 2-0, 3-1 and then are getting hit hard.”
Stratton has not allowed less than four earned runs in a start since a 112-pitch appearance on March 5 against Georgia State and hasn’t gotten a pitching win throughout the month of April. A few weeks ago, Cohen suggested it may be beneficial for Stratton to sit next to MSU
pitching coach Butch Thompson on the first night while they track pitches and the opponent’s lineup before going out on the mound.
However, the third-year head coach on Monday said the Bulldogs don’t have that luxury without a top-line starting pitcher on the roster.
“We don’t have that luxury – one guy isn’t going to get that luxury – this is something that Butch and I talked about after Sunday,” Cohen said. “I really do think that down the stretch we’ve got two guys that know what’s at stake.”