After Wednesday’s 12-4 win over Davidson, which improved South Carolina to 15-2 entering this weekend’s Southeastern Conference opener at Missouri, Gamecocks coach Chad Holbrook said that he does not expect to have ace left-hander Jordan Montgomery until the April 5-7 series at Tennessee.
Montgomery missed last weekend’s series against Rider with a bone stress reaction in his throwing elbow. Before that series, he was already ruled out for the Missouri series. Montgomery will be reevaluated, as planned, next Tuesday or Wednesday – two weeks since his injury, which is a less-severe version of a stress fracture.
Holbrook said last week that he didn’t expect to have Montgomery for next weekend’s home series against Arkansas. On Wednesday, Holbrook said he doesn’t plan to have Montgomery for the following weekend’s home series against Texas A&M either. USC’s next series after that is Tennessee.
“Jordan will get seen Tuesday or Wednesday of next week when we return (from Missouri),” Holbrook said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be another MRI or not, but we’ll get an update in the middle of next week. I think he’s feeling better. The physical tests that they’re putting him through, he’s having a lot less pain symptoms than he had when the injury occurred, so that’s good news.
“But you’re also dealing with a stress reaction, which means you can’t hurry a kid back. As much as we’re impatient about getting Jordan back in the fold and pitching for us, we also have to think about the rest of our season and the young man’s future. So we’re not going to rush him back.
“Obviously, I don’t think there’s any way possible he’ll throw Arkansas weekend, and whether or not he throws Texas A&M, I don’t know. I’ll just have to wait and see what his report is next week. But as I sit up here, and I’m not a doctor, I don’t think he’ll throw the Texas A&M weekend, either. I think the best-case scenario we’re looking at (is) the weekend after that (at Tennessee). But hopefully, that will change.”
“We said we’ll re-evaluate him in two weeks. It wasn’t that his timetable (for his recovery from the injury) is going to be two weeks. In the two weeks, his re-evaluation is Tuesday. After the re-evaluation of him next week, then they have a plan for him, his throwing program, his bullpens, his pitch counts. He’ll probably have to go in stages, so it might take some time.”
And that’s why Holbrook said he doesn’t expect to have Montgomery starting for any of the first three SEC series – Missouri, Arkansas, Texas A&M. But his status for the Texas A&M series is still up in the air. It depends on his re-evaluation next week. You can rule him out for sure against Arkansas, based on what Holbrook said Wednesday.
Against Rider, Holbrook plugged Evan Beal into Montgomery’s Friday spot and pitched Colby Holmes on Saturday and Nolan Belcher on Sunday – their usual spots. Holmes struggled for the second straight start, and Belcher shined for the second straight start. Now, Holbrook is moving Belcher up a day – as he said he probably would after Sunday’s Rider game.
So for the Missouri series, USC will go with Beal, Belcher and Holmes. Freshman Jack Wynkoop has thrown well (0.64 ERA in four appearances, with two starts), but Holbrook decided to stick with Holmes, a senior.
“He’s had two rough starts, but we’ve got a lot of confidence in Colby,” Holbrook said. “He’ll keep us in the game and he’s had some good mound work and some good flat-ground work with (pitching) coach (Jerry) Meyers this week. They tried to iron a few things out mechanically, and I think he’ll throw very well this weekend.”
Beal has a 0.00 ERA in 9 2/3 innings pitched, highlighted by his lone start, against Rider. He has pitched in three total games this season. Though Holbrook likes the way Beal has thrown, he would prefer to not pitch a guy in the Friday night SEC opener who has just two career starts – one last year, one this year.
“You feel good that his appearances have been very, very solid,” Holbrook said. “He’s thrown strikes. It was impressive the way he started the game last Friday against Rider. And he’s got Friday night stuff, if there’s a term for that. If he’s throwing strikes, he’s tough to handle.
“We would like, in a perfect world, based on experience and starting experience in this league, we’d like to start Nolan on Friday. But you can’t move him up two days, especially with the pitch counts he’s had (the past two Sundays) and the innings that he’s pitched.
“So we love the way that Evan’s throwing. He’s got Friday night stuff. He could throw Friday the rest of the year, but Nolan could get in that mix, too. We’ll just take it week by week. We’ll just go with Nolan on Saturday and we’ll re-evaluate it after we get back from Missouri, as far as the next weekend is concerned. But hopefully, we’ll get good news on Jordan and we can get him playing catch here soon. Obviously, we need him.”
USC’s other key injured player is center fielder Tanner English, who has missed the past five games with a sore throwing shoulder.
“Tanner is getting better,” Holbrook said. “He swung the bat today for the first time since his injury. I don’t think he’s going to be in the starting lineup Friday, but if he has a great workout tomorrow (Thursday) when we get to Missouri, then I could change my mind on that. I think he’ll help us in some capacity this weekend, whether it’s starting or defensive replacement or pinch runner. I think he’ll be in some games this weekend. I don’t know if he’ll start and play center field, but I think he could help us win. He’s come a long way in the last 48 hours.”
For all five games of English’s absence, Holbrook has moved TJ Costen over from right field to center. But Costen is hitting just .225 this year. Connor Bright has come off the bench to be the right fielder for the past five games. He is now hitting .281, and even though he was 0 for 4 against Davidson on Wednesday, Holbrook liked how he swung the bat.
“He squared every ball up,” Holbrook said. “He swung it as good as anybody in our lineup. It was an impressive performance today and he didn’t have a hit to show for it. Connor, he’s going to play Friday night in right field, I would guess. I don’t want him coming out of the lineup right now, the way he’s swinging it.
“I don’t know who’s going to play center if Tanner can’t go. I like the way Shon (Carson) came off the bench and laced that ball down the line (for a double), and TJ (Costen) gave us some productivity in these two midweek games, too (wins over USC Upstate and Davidson). We’ll work out tomorrow and a little bit of it is a matchup thing with Missouri’s pitching staff and I need to find out how that park plays. I’ve never been to that park. I’ve been in the state of Missouri, I don’t think. We need to get out there and work out and see.
“We’ll make that decision (about center field) Friday. Hopefully, Tanner will have another good day tomorrow and he’ll be chomping at the bit to get in the lineup. I think Friday would be probably asking a little bit too much for that to happen, though.”