MSU baseball battling injuries, internal issues heading into series

MSU's Jake Mangum
Staff Writer

It’s perhaps fitting for the Mississippi State Bulldogs that potential severe weather is in the forecast this weekend.
As MSU (12-10, 0-3) gets ready to begin a three-game series against Tennessee (13-5, 0-3) Friday night at 6:30 p.m., the Bulldogs do so in the midst of internal storminess.
Multiple State players are down with injuries. There have even been suspensions and one dismissal from the program. Yet somehow, the Bulldogs must overcome it all to host baseball at Dudy Noble Field.
“There are a lot of things that kind of take your focus away from wanting to put your best nine out on the field,” MSU head coach Andy Cannizaro said.
More than half a dozen Bulldog pitchers are either out or recovering from arm injuries. Reliever Ryan Rigby will also miss this weekend as he continues to battle a groin ailment.
The injury woes haven’t been limited to pitchers. Second baseman Hunter Stovall and his .302 batting average will also miss the Tennessee series. He’s been dealing with a hamstring issue since the season’s first week.
If all that weren’t enough, there are other distractions. Centerfielder Jake Mangum was suspended last Tuesday for MSU’s non-conference tilt against Southern Miss. Mangum violated team rules, but will return to the lineup tonight.
Two others won’t be with the Bulldogs against the Vols. Pitcher Ryan Cyr has been dismissed from the team for violating team rules. Meanwhile catcher Elih Marrero remains unavailable for the Bulldogs due to an unspecified, off-the-field reason.
“You just have to do a really good job compartmentalizing all the different things that have popped up,” Cannizaro said.
Amidst everything, MSU is faced with the task of trying to overcome it all the next three days against Tennessee. With the offense slumping – hitting just .183 as a team with 35 total strikeouts when the Bulldogs were swept in a three-game set last weekend at Arkansas – pitching might be more critical to MSU’s success than ever. Yet even State’s starting rotation is now in flux.
Ace left-hander Konnor Pilkington (2-3, 2.12 ERA) will make his sixth-straight Friday night start, but Cannizaro seems to be shifting things around for the rest of the weekend. Right-hander Peyton Plumlee (2-1, 3.51 ERA) has started a weekend game in each of State’s first five weekend sets this year, but his typical Saturday slot has now been deemed as to-be-determined. Cannizaro also didn’t announce a Sunday starter.
“We’ve got some really important bullpens that guys are going to throw (on Thursday),” Cannizaro said. “We’re just continuing to look for guys to get better. We need guys to take steps forward.”
The possible distractions are aplenty, but Cannizaro is confident in how his team is progressing. The Bulldogs have lost four in a row and off-the-field issues have taken their toll on MSU’s on-the-field results, but in the end, Cannizaro remains upbeat about his club’s future heading into this weekend.
“We’ve got an outstanding young baseball team that is continuing to get better by the day,” Cannizaro said. “We’ve had an outstanding pre-conference schedule and our guys are getting better and playing so many competitive teams right now really close. We’ve kind of just taken it upon ourselves to keep fighting. Don’t give up, keep fighting and keep throwing punches. That’s one of the things we’re going to continue to do. I feel good about our team right now and I feel good about this upcoming weekend.”