"He won't even be in our dugout," Cohen said. "That is obviously disappointing." Not just for Bradford, a Florida native and state prep player of the year in 2010; but for a State squad that will miss the only current position player who started a game at last June's super regional shootout with the Gators in Gainesville.
Bradford missed last weekend's series at Alabama already, following an April 28 re-injury to his right shoulder. The sophomore centerfielder hurt the right (non-throwing) shoulder for the first time on March 7. While he returned to action mid-month Bradford was obviously slowed by the injury, particularly his batting. Then in game-two against Ole Miss he slammed flush into rightfielder Brent Brownlee and damaged the same shoulder again.
As of today "I think he's going to have surgery," Cohen expects. "It's in his best interest." But, the coach added, this is not a final decision for anyone as young Bradford and family own the ultimate choice. "But if I had to guess, he would have some type of surgery. It's one of those things to tighten-up (the shoulder) and be better than he was. He's fought back through injury after injury and really played hurt as long as possible."
Still, Cohen said, it is difficult to ask a young player to abruptly end any season and especially one that is coming to crunch-time the way 2012 is. Bradford after all was key to Mississippi State's surprising regional run last June, the MVP of those three wins in Atlanta. With the Bulldogs still looking to lock-up berths in both the SEC and NCAA tournaments it is even harder to scratch the remainder of a schedule. Then there is giving up so much summer baseball after surgery.
"Certainly the paln is to have him back as quickly as possible and get this behind him," Cohen said. "If C.T. is healthy for one entire year, he is one of the best players in our league."
Bradford tops the injury list these Dog days. A trio of teammates continue to play with various degrees of hurt. Or in the case of first baseman Wes Rea numbness due to a shoulder nerve problem. This has had obvious effects on the freshman's offense. Rea was hitless in 13 appearances at Alabama and has had his average drop to .244 after an extended slump.
At the same time, what Rea does with his big mitt at first base is worth a whole lot of batting points taken off other teams' averages. Not only does Rea field his position splendidly but his sheer presence does wonders for teammate's confidence when firing the ball across. "For us to defend and pitch the way we need to, he's such a good defender over there," Cohen said. And it will be a cold May day in Gainesville before Rea admits to any pain anyway.
State gave the big guy most of Tuesday's game off, only putting him on the corner for the top of the ninth to conclude a 6-3 win over Mississippi Valley State. Every bit of break helps. "His shoulder is doing OK," Cohen said today. "It's day to day, some days better than others. But our trainers and doctors are doing a great job managing his discomfort and pain. It did a lot of good to not have him play." Specifically, not swing for one evening.
Third baseman Daryl Norris got the entire evening off, batting and fielding. The sophomore will continue to battle the March 7 kneecap separation all season, playing with discomfort. But he must play because State needs Norris at the plate. And even on a limited leg he still makes a lot of hot corner plays that remind just how capable Norris is when healthy.
"Daryl is not moving around the way he should," Cohen said. "And any time we can give him rest, in practice or games, helps. The knee really started affecting him at the plate and defensively, so we keep him off as much as possible."
Based on his own health-history it ought to be a significant story in itself that, in the Bradford collision, Brownlee was not the one coming out injured. The senior has started in rightfield regularly but got most of Tuesday off too. Yet he still copes with soreness in the repaired knee most times he does play and that can't be helped at this point either.
"So we're going to rest him as much as possible and see if we can get him out there," Cohen said. Brownlee's presence this weekend means more because while he did not start the super regional he did play in post-season. "Brent got some big hits down there and that is a huge help."
The good news is Taylor Stark's return to more than relief pitching duty. In his first at-bat since hurting a hamstring in early March, the sophomore outfielder slugged a two-run triple against Valley. He added a second base hit later and scored. This is welcome word for an offense that needs all the oomph that can be found these days.
"Taylor has got some thunder in his bat, and can really run," Cohen said. Though how hard he runs is part of the problem. So State coaches were relieved watching Stark scamper the paths "under control and didn't push it" as Cohen said. "Every time he runs our staff holds our collective breath."
"He's a very violent runner and you worry he might blow that thing out again." That said, State hopes to keep Stark as a starting option in leftfield or just as likely a flip-batting matchup. Especially this weekend against a Gator relief staff that mixes left and right at a moment's notice.
"It helps having a righthanded option that brings everything to the table," Cohen said. "At this point he could start, it's how loose can they get the hamstring and him not running all-out."
The Bulldogs have an early afternoon practice today, then again just before noon Thursday before flying to Gainesville in the afternoon. Of course the last time State had a flight booked they were left in the lurch by an engine problem to the charter, and had to bus to South Carolina. They hope this time the airplane can say healthy, as it were.
Because as skilled as Wire and assistants are in patching a team and lineup together, some repairs are outside their expertise.