The injury bug has followed South Carolina all season, and Wednesday night’s win over Wofford was no different.
First, USC got backup catcher Dante Rosenberg back. On April 14, USC announced that Rosenberg would undergo surgery after breaking the hamate bone in his left wrist – a common baseball injury – and that he was expected to miss six to eight weeks. He ended up missing about three and a half weeks.
But on the night that Rosenberg returned, USC saw its leading hitter, first baseman LB Dantzler, fall while running the bases, and dislocate his left shoulder.
Moreover, the Gamecocks played again Wednesday without right fielder Connor Bright, who has been dealing with a right shoulder impingement since getting hurt in the series finale at LSU, on April 28. Bright played in the first of USC’s three games since then, but not in the two most recent.
Dantzler is first on the team with a .343 batting average, .645 slugging percentage, .452 on-base percentage, 12 home runs and 44 runs batted-in. Bright’s batting average, .309, is tied for second on the team. The only other USC player hitting better than .300 is shortstop Joey Pankake (.309).
Despite Wednesday’s scary fall, Dantzler is hopeful that he can play this weekend when Georgia visits USC. The Bulldogs (18-28, 5-16 Southeastern Conference) have the league’s worst overall and conference records. USC almost certainly needs a sweep in order to stay in the hunt for a top eight national seed – which would guarantee the Gamecocks of not having to travel in the NCAA tournament before the College World Series.
“I feel good,” Dantzler said Thursday. “It’s a little sore. They said today’s supposed to be the worst day, so hopefully tomorrow I’ll be feeling better and ready to play. I’m going to do everything I can to be there (in the lineup) tomorrow. Even if it’s painful, if they give me the OK, I’m going to play.”
It was a blessing in disguise that Dantzler hurt his left shoulder, because, as a left-handed hitter, he relies mostly on his right shoulder in his swing. Dantzler throws righty, so he doesn’t have to strain his left shoulder if he needs to make any throws, which he usually doesn’t have to do, since he plays first base.
“The two things they said is I’d be out for sure this weekend if I played anywhere but first base and if I swung righty,” he said. “I can kind of power through my right hand a little bit (while swinging) and I don’t have to move (the left shoulder) as much at first.”
Said USC coach Chad Holbrook: “LB did not practice today. He’ll get treatment all day today and again tonight and again first thing in the morning. I’m a little bit more optimistic about him playing this weekend than I was last night. That being said, in what role or what capacity, I do not know yet. We’ll know more about LB’s availability for the weekend probably tomorrow around 2 or 3 o’clock. But the door is certainly not closed. I’m more optimistic today than I was yesterday.
“LB will go to the doctor today for some X-rays. I don’t think it’s an MRI. I think it’s more of a scan and X-ray type deal. But based on his mobility today and his strength and all the tests that (trainer) Brainard (Cooper) put him through, we certainly don’t anticipate any damage structurally. We felt a lot better about LB after he met with Brainard this morning than we did last night when we went home.
“You never really know until he swings it, but if you had to pick a shoulder that you’d want injured, it would be the left one, just because left-handed hitters extend with their right shoulder. We’re hopeful that it won’t be as painful as it would have been if it were the injury to his right shoulder. But we won’t know that until he swings the bat tomorrow, or until he tries to swing the bat.
“We’ll probably bring him in here 12, 1 o’clock after his treatments and work him out a little bit and see if he can swing the bat or not. And if he can’t, he’s still going to be on the dress list and we’ll have him in the dugout. He’s a great teammate. He’s one of our captains. So he can help us win even if he’s not in the game. There’s all kind of options on the table for LB today – DH, first base, pinch hitter or just a good teammate in the dugout. So we’ll see.”
If Dantzler can’t play first base, Holbrook would opt for sophomore Kyle Martin, who got 78 at-bats in 40 games last season and seemed to be on track to replace Christian Walker at first base this season. But Holbrook wanted to keep Max Schrock and Chase Vergason in the lineup, so Vergason moved from second to third, to make room for Schrock, and Dantzler moved from third to first. Martin was the odd man out. He has 37 at-bats in 20 game this season, with seven starts, and is hitting .270, compared to .295 last season.
“I do like the way Kyle Martin has been playing,” Holbrook said. “His practices the last seven to 10 days have been really good, as good as he’s had since he’s been here. I even think his at-bats in the game have even looked a lot better. I kind of want to get Kyle some at-bats, not at the expense of LB. If (Martin) is in the lineup, he’s going to be (hitting) fifth, sixth, seventh maybe, somewhere in that range. I don’t know. A lot of it depends on the splits, righty versus lefty and that sort of thing. Kyle has been swinging the bat very well and the kid has had a great attitude. He hasn’t played as much as he would want to play, but I still think Kyle Martin will do some really, really good things for our program.”
Since Dantzler is a senior, Martin again seems like the best option to take over first base next season. Like Dantzler, Martin hits lefty, by the way.
As for Bright’s status for the Georgia series, Holbrook said, “Connor practiced today, swung the bat, went through BP and did OK. I don’t think he’s 100 percent yet. But he said he went through practice today for the first time without pain. So that’s a good thing. I don’t quite think he’s 100 percent yet, but he has another day of treatment, another day of rest and he’ll probably get some work in in the morning to see where he is. But both of those guys (Dantzler and Bright) are on the dress list for the weekend.”
Finally, Holbrook commented on Georgia’s recent struggles under 12th-year coach David Perno. In 2008, Georgia was the national runner-up. But the Bulldogs have just two NCAA tournament appearances since then – and lost in the Regional in 2009 and 2011. They went 31-26 last season and 14-15 in the SEC, and missed the tournament. They are sputtering even more this year.
“A year or two ago, it happened to LSU,” Holbrook said of the Tigers’ 2011 season (36-20, 13-17, with no tournament trip). “No team in this league is immune to a difficult stretch, because of how difficult the league is. Georgia has got some good players. Fan bases do get spoiled, but like I said, you can finish seventh or eighth in this league and be playing in Nebraska in June, just because of the strength of the league, and you’ve got to try to keep that in perspective. But certainly, what we’ve been able to do from a consistency standpoint over the last 13 or 14 years, I think is one of the better runs in the history of this league.”
Dating back through the 2000 season, a span of 13 years, USC has won at least 40 games every season, played in the NCAA tournament every year, made a Super Regional 10 times, made the College World Series six times, finished second in Omaha twice and won the national twice.