Just when Mississippi State appears to be finding their stride and the new faces are getting settled into their roles within the team, the injury bug strikes the Diamond Dawgs.
Wednesday night, the Bulldogs saw a pair of sophomores go down with injuries that will cause Daryl Norris and C.T. Bradford to miss significant action over the coming weeks. Bradford, MSU’s starting centerfielder, suffered a right shoulder subluxation in the fifth inning when attempting to stretch a single into a double.
As he slid into second base head-first, he landed awkwardly on the bag, causing his shoulder to pop out of socket. In the seventh as the Bulldogs were mounting a rally, Norris stepped to the plate and fouled off a pitch and twisted his knee in the process causing his knee cap to pop out of place.
Like Bradford, Norris’ injury is being labeled as a subluxation. Bradford’s injury requires his arm to be in a sling and is expected to cause him to miss up to two weeks of action. Norris’ injury is a bit more significant and will cause the Bulldog third baseman to miss four to six weeks. The injuries suffered against Penn State only compound the problems for the Bulldogs as they were already without starting outfielder Brent Brownlee.
The Oxford native has missed the past four games with a knee injury that led to surgery which took place Thursday.
"Injuries are a part of the game, but it really hurts when you lose two guys who are at the top of their game," said MSU head coach John Cohen. "We'll be a much better club when we get them back. It's disappointing, but now we have to come together as a club and have some players step up in their absence."
As Cohen stated after the game on Wednesday night, injuries happen when players play as hard as these guys do, but it won’t make them any easier for the Bulldogs to replace for the next few weeks. Bradford is hitting at a .309 clip and shares the team lead with 13 RBI, while Norris owns a .375 batting average and ranks second on the club with 21 hits and 12 RBI. Brownlee has drawn six starts and played in seven games this spring, compiling a .250 batting average.
MSU is faced with having to adjust without that production. In order to replace Norris, the Bulldogs have a couple of options to choose from.
First, they could opt to go with Brayden Jones, who entered the game in place of Norris on Wednesday. As a redshirt freshman, Jones has seen precious little playing time this season, but did show promise during fall camp.
Cohen could also move Demarcus Henderson from right field to third base. Henderson is a more proven option at the plate for MSU, and has spent time working on the hot corner in recent weeks.
In center, it's expected that Hunter Renfroe will slide over from his spot in left field, setting the table for Taylor Stark and Brandon Woodruff to work the other two positions, assuming Henderson is moved to third base. Defensively, there is no doubt losing Brownlee, Bradford, and Norris hurts the program, but the moves in their absence should prove to be adequate in the field.
However, at the plate, the Bulldogs are losing three of their most experience and productive players. It won't be no easy task to fill their shoes at the plate, especially considering the road swing State embarks on next week (Southeastern Louisiana and LSU).
No. 23 Mississippi State (12-2) wraps up a 17-game season-opening homestand this weekend with a three-game series against Mercer University (11-3). Tonight's first game of the series is set to begin at 6:30 p.m., weather permitting.