“It’s just playing loose and just play the game and try to win instead of thinking about my swing and what am I doing wrong?” Bragg said. “Just play hard and just do everything right.”
If Bragg’s doubleheader-day as the new, or re-newed starting third baseman is a fair measure, the junior cornerman has got the right ideas. While Mississippi State did drop both halves of the Saturday twinbill to Auburn, a brighter spot was Bragg’s work with glove and bat.
Forced into Friday substitute action by a late-game injury to 2B Hunter Stovall, Bragg didn’t have to hit in the one Bulldog win of the weekend. He did score running for Stovall.
Now on Saturday with Stovall knocked out by a cracked hand Bragg did bat. Big. He slugged a two-run homer in the first game; then went 3-of-4 in the nightcap with a more routine sort of RBI.
The longball, his second of the season, wasn’t a surprise to Bragg. Or much anyone else. Soon as ball left bat, “I had an idea!” Bragg admitted.
“The wind was blowing out a lot in BP. And I have enough power, so if I can get a fly ball it might go out. So I had a pretty good idea it might go out.”
All who saw Bragg taking big cuts in fall scrimmages knew about the ‘enough’ power for sure. The challenge has been consistent production and here he’s struggled so far. Bragg went into the weekend averaging .265 with 14 strikeouts in 34 official at-bats. That big swing has its holes, naturally.
So besides the blast Bragg 0-of-the other three appearances. “Right, the at-bats right after the home run I tried to get a little ‘big’ with it.
“I just reminded myself stay short and the home runs will come when they do. And try to hit singles and doubles and aim for the gaps.”
It worked. Even as pitchers approached him with more game-two caution Bragg was able to find contact. “I told myself keep seeing it, you’re seeing it well, whatever they throw try to hit it there.”
A literal bad break for one Dog can become a big break for another. That pitch taken off the back of the hand has left Stovall with a fracture, Coach Andy Cannizaro confirmed. “It looks like a clean break. But we’ll be without Hunter for the foreseeable future. It’s a big part of our team.”
It’s also that big break for Bragg. Not that he wants it this way, not a bit.
“Stovie’s a great guy, a huge competitor. It’s a big loss that we don’t have him. I try to fill his spot as much as possible and do what I can to help the team win.”
Yet Bragg isn’t filling either of Stovall’s specific spots. For one thing, he does swing a couple slots higher than #9 in the order. Stovall held that role thanks to his knack for ‘starting over’ an order and setting up Jake Mangum and Brent Rooker in their second turns and so on. Bragg’s power potential merits an earlier opportunity.
Secondly, Bragg is no middle-infielder. He was recruited out of Tacoma, WA, Junior College as a corner-infielder. The 6-4 size says first baseman and Bragg did start three March games there. The position is of course well-filled now by a certain league batting and slugging star.
Fortunately Bragg practiced at third as well. A lot. When Cannizaro decided regular 3B Luke Alexander needed a break last weekend Bragg opened all three Alabama games at the hot corner. He only hit 1-of-6 with an error in the third game.
Yet this didn’t deter Mississippi State from sticking with the big guy, and Braff from practicing this glove-craft. “Oh yeah! Me and Canny have been working hard. Every rep just as hard as you can. That’s what I try to do.”
So in 18 Saturday innings Bragg handled all his fielding opportunities just fine and even came away with a couple of spiffy fielding plays that involved more than a single step or dive. Be sure, Auburn knew who was there and as much as possible kept testing him with hard ground balls to the left side.
Bragg handled it all like an old hand. “It felt great, I was seeing the ball off the bat well and reacting well, too.”
Cannizaro is pleased with the progress. He’s also openly excited about the potential. “Harrison gives you an opportunity to run another ball out of left field. His at-bats are getting better and better, he’s grown up a lot in the last month or two on the field.”
Bragg has to keep progressing over the next month too. With Stovall out, and Cody Brown much more needed in leftfield, it is up to Alexander to take care of second base. Meaning, Bragg can come to the park with increased expectations.
“We’re certainly going to need him to play well down the stretch for us, he’s going to get a chance to play third base every day,” Cannizaro said. “I don’t think he’ll get three hits every day, but if he wants to that’s awesome!”
And if one or two of those hits leave the yard? Yeah, that’d be pretty awesome as well. Bragg insists his approach will be contact and average for now, but…
“When the home run comes, celebrate that.”