The chatter all week around the South Carolina baseball program was which injured players would be ready to go and which will have to stay seated in the dugout. With first pitch of the SEC Game of the Week just hours away, it’s put up or shut up time.
Jackie Bradley Jr. put on his Twitter account Wednesday night he would play this weekend.
Injuries are not an excuse for losing and South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner has never used them as such. If a player plays, he’s healthy. If he doesn’t, he’s hurt. That’s Tanner's view of things. We’ll find out over the course of the weekend just who is healthy and who isn’t.
“If you play, you’re not hurt,” Tanner said. “If you’re hurt, you can’t play. When you play, it’s all out or you don’t do it. This game is too hard to play if you’re not at full strength. I realize you have to play with bumps and bruises but your hamstring or your back are not bumps and bruises.”
Four players that boarded the bus bound for Knoxville are questionable this weekend. Outfielders Adam Matthews (hamstring) and Jackie Bradley Jr. (back) along with pitchers Tyler Webb (biceps) and Steven Neff (biceps/shoulder) all have lingering injuries that have caused them to miss time. Whether they can go this weekend is still to be determined.
“You don’t want to play a game and take two steps back. Every game is important,” Tanner said. “Tomorrow’s game could be just as important as 30 days from now and vice versa. I don’t want anybody to play when they don’t feel like he can go.”
A total of 12 players have battled injuries that either hampered them during the lead up to the season or has caused them to miss time during the 2011 campaign. But so far, the Gamecocks have been able to work through them. Webb and Neff were both weekend starters but now, both Forrest Koumas and Colby Holmes have quality appearances on back-to-back weekends.
But make no mistake, Tanner would love to have his team at full strength. He’s just not going to listen to the excuses if it’s not.
South Carolina Michael Roth (Jr. LHP) 6-1, 1.44 ERA, 50.0 IP, 12 BB, 50 SO
Tennessee Rob Catapano (Sr. LHP) 2-1, 3.18 ERA, 22.2 IP, 6 BB, 16 SO
South Carolina Colby Holmes (So. RHP) 2-0, 3.91 ERA, 23.0 IP, 8 BB, 21 SO
Tennessee Steven Gruver (Jr. LHP) 3-3, 3.04 ERA, 47.1 IP, 10 BB, 49 SO
South Carolina Forrest Koumas (Fr. RHP)3-0, 2.10 ERA, 25.2 IP, 10 BB, 26 SO
By all accounts, the Volunteers (19-10, 2-7) are relatively healthy but they’re not playing their best baseball of the season right now. A squad that jumped out to a hot start facing weak out of conference competition has scuffled during SEC play.
Tennessee has dropped eight of the last 13 games and lost each of their first three SEC series. The Vols lost 2-of-3 to Kentucky and Ole Miss to open conference play and went on the road last weekend only to be swept by Florida by a combined score of 23-3.
But, despite their lack runs last weekend, the Vols still have some offensive punch. The team is ranked fourth in the SEC with a .304 batting average and they also lead the conference in stolen bases swiping 64 bags in 79 attempts.
“Very difficult,” Tanner said of the task before his team this weekend. “You better play some pretty good baseball if you expect to win.”
Leadoff hitter Khayyan Norfork is hitting .405 this year and has an incredible 20 stolen bases in 23 attempts. He also leads the team in doubles with 11 along with slugging percentage, total bases, and runs scored.
Third baseman Matt Duffy provides the punch in the batting order with eight doubles and a team-high five home runs and 30 runs batted in.
South Carolina begins a three-game series with Tennessee on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. The broadcast can be seen on ESPNU. Friday’s game is at 6 p.m. while Sunday’s game begins at noon.