Polk Names Weekend Rotation, Lineup Unsettled

Their first pitch is only some 48 hours away. So, exactly when will the Diamond Dogs find out specifically who is—and who is not--in the starting lineup for Mississippi State's 2007 season opener? "Friday, when I post it in the dugout," says Coach Ron Polk.

The skipper isn't exaggerating the situation, much. As of Wednesday noon Polk and State's staff were still evaluating a number of choices to be made about both the defensive lineup and batting order for the opening game and series against Murray State. Friday's gametime is 4:00 at Dudy Noble Field, with the first pitch to be tossed by Bulldog football Coach Sylvester Croom.

It wouldn't be too surprising if Polk was consulting his gridiron counterpart by now, as he tries to put names into places for the first action of '07. "I can't tell you yet," said Polk about the opening-day lineup. "We've got another scrimmage game today, then we'll have some decisions to make."

One—or rather, three—choices are made and don't depend on the final pre-season scrimmage. Polk said sophomore righthander Aaron Weatherford will get the ball Friday; junior lefty Justin Pigott will start Saturday's 2:00 game; and senior righty Josh Johnson starts Sunday's 1:30 game.

"And all of them will be on pitch-counts," Polk added. This is not only to protect arms in the early-season, but because there are several more hurlers who need to see live bats as soon as possible. Polk has made it clear that these first three weeks and 14 games of the schedule will be used to settle the SEC rotation before State heads to Florida.

But the MSU staff had hoped to have their lineup more established by opening day. It hasn't worked out that way. "Some things we know for sure, and some we won't know until after today," Polk said.

The process has been hung up by health concerns. All fall and pre-season the debate has been over how best to use senior Jeffrey Rea, either at his three-year starting job of second base or in the outfield to make room for redshirt middle-infielder Brandon Turner. Now, though, there are complications.

Turner was slowed in fall ball by a hamstring problem. "We think he's almost 100% now," Polk said. And even less than full-strength the second-year freshman needs to be in the batting order. Besides, he has already redshirted. But Ryan Powers has not. The true frosh was signed to contend for the starting shortstop job and might have won it outright in fall if not for a knee problem. It appears to have lingered into the spring semester.

The result is now the coaches are considering giving R.Powers his rookie-year off, something nobody had anticipated. "Right now we're thinking about redshirting him," said Polk. "It's not totally decided. But we have enough people there." Such as Turner, a secondary shortstop; or true freshman Jet Butler. If Powers was to play then Butler would almost surely redshirt. And veteran Michael Rutledge, a primary third baseman, played short in May-June 2005 and seemed more relaxed there than on the corner.

Another complication has arisen with a wrist injury to redshirt sophomore outfielder Nick Hardy. "He's out for a week or week-and-a-half," Polk said. "It's no cartilage damage, just a bone nick there. But he can't swing the bat."

Hardy had been the first choice at leftfield, with Rea the alternate if Turner were able to take over second. Now things aren't so clear. "With Hardy out that makes it tougher," Polk said. "And I don't know if Murray State is going right or left yet." There are others who can play leftfield, such as Joseph McCaskill or Matt Richardson. But transfer centerfielder Mark Goforth has had some struggles in the transition and Richardson might be needed there.

Thus the delays in several starting decisions, with the only for-sure things (pending Wednesday scrimmage results and barring last-minute injuries) being Edward Easley at catcher, Mitch Moreland at first base, true frosh Conner Powers at third base, and Andy Rice in rightfield. The DH will almost surely be Brian LaNinfa regardless of which way Murray State pitches because this lefty-slugger is equally confident swinging at either side.

And come 3:00 Friday the rest of the slots and spots will have a name penned on the sheet Polk sticks in the third base dugout. Until then, everybody plays a waiting game.

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