Battered Bulldogs confident as SEC baseball play begins

MSU's Jake Mangum
Staff Writer

Mississippi State has been playing baseball for one month this season.
Already the year has been hindered by an abundance of injuries. That’s not dampening the Bulldogs’ expectations though as the team begins Southeastern Conference play Friday night in a 6 p.m. game at Arkansas (13-4).
“We’re looking forward to the challenge and opportunity to go face a tremendous Arkansas baseball team,” MSU head coach Andy Cannizaro said. “It’s another awesome opportunity for us to take this team on the road and see what we’re made of.”
So far this season, Cannizaro’s Bulldogs have proven, at the very least, to be a resilient bunch. MSU (12-6) is riding a five-game winning streak, despite a plethora of players out due to various ailments and issues.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the bullpen. More than a half dozen Bulldog hurlers either are out with or coping with injuries. That includes key late inning pieces.
Blake Smith remains out, possibly for the season, with an unspecified arm injury. Ryan Cyr continues to deal with a nagging groin ailment.
Cannizaro said there’s a 50/50 chance for Cyr to play this weekend. Riley Self missed last weekend’s action with an arm issue, but Cannizaro expects him back at Arkansas.
Those situations have been just the tip of the iceberg for the Bulldogs’ pitching woes.
“I guess you can just say that it is what it is,” Cannizaro said of MSU’s injury issues.
State’s arms haven’t been the only component of the team hurting. Hunter Stovall, who is fourth on the team with his .325 batting average, has been in and out of the lineup all season due to a lingering hamstring injury. Catcher Josh Lovelady didn’t play last weekend due to an undisclosed issue. Cannizaro expects both Stovall and Lovelady will be available versus the Razorbacks.
Elih Marrero also remains out for MSU. The backstop hasn’t played in a game since Feb. 21 as he deals with an unspecified situation that Cannizaro called a “week-to-week” issue. Marrero’s return is being left in the hands of some of State’s senior leaders according to Cannizaro.
Despite everything, State is anxious to go to battle in Arkansas.
“I really like where we’re at going into Arkansas,” MSU’s Jake Mangum said. “We’ve still got some guys that can get the job done. Spencer Price continues to come in and slam the door at the end of games. Riley Self hasn’t even thrown the last five games and that’s one of our workhorses.
“A lot of guys are starting to hit the ball really, really well. A lot of experience is starting to come in. I really like where we’re at.”
With all the injuries, especially among MSU’s pitchers, the Bulldog starting staff might have more pressure than usual this weekend. Konnor Pilkington and Peyton Plumlee will shoulder at least part of that load.
Pilkington (2-1, 1.73 ERA) will start for the Bulldogs Friday night. Plumlee (2-0, 1.88 ERA) gets the nod for Saturday’s 7 p.m. affair. MSU hasn’t yet announced a starting pitcher for Sunday’s 1 p.m. game.
The deeper State’s starters can get into games, the less Cannizaro would have to rely on his battered bullpen, however MSU’s first-year leader isn’t putting all of his eggs in his starting pitchers’ baskets.
Even with all the adversity, Cannizaro believes in his team. He’s just ready for the bell to ring on the SEC schedule and put his belief to the test.
“I feel really good about it,” Cannizaro said. “I think the last eight to 10 days have been really good for this team. It’s a young team that is learning from all the experiences that we’re going through right now.
“I feel better now than I did a week ago. I feel good about taking this bunch on the road this weekend and feel like we’re going to play really competitively and really well. We’re going to go up there and expect to win the ballgames.”