David Miller/Special to the Dispatch - Nick Ammirati was named Southeastern Conference player of the week Monday.
April 23, 2013 9:47:01 AM
STARKVILLE - One of the things that bothered Mississippi State University coach John Cohen about last season was the inequality in playing time at catcher.
Cohen didn't like the fact Mitch Slauter drew 62 starts in 2012 and felt he had done his junior backstop a disservice by not giving him days off down the stretch of the season. Nick Ammirati, MSU's backup last year, agreed with this assessment and was determined to do something about it in 2013.
"You're talking about a guy that bluntly that he didn't get to play as much as he wanted to or deserved to," Cohen said Saturday after a 6-0 series clinching win against Auburn University. "A lot of 21-year-old men would say the world is against me because of those darn coaches. Instead he worked his tail off this summer to prove to us that he deserved this opportunity."
Slauter was out for the Southeastern Conference weekend series against Auburn after suffering a fracture of one of the metacarpal bones in his left hand at Texas A&M University. Ammirati slid into the catching position for all three games for the 16th-ranked Bulldogs (32-10, 10-8 in SEC) and hit .545 this weekend and only making one error after being behind the plate for all 27 innings.
"It was always there," Ammirati joked about his batting talent. "I just needed more playing time to show it off."
MSU coaches noticed in the fall that Ammirati was earning more playing time by using his already impressive physical skills and improving his ability to navigate a game in terms of handling the Bulldogs pitchers and the opponent's running game.
"His pop time (time to throw to second base from home plate) is so impressive but he is picking everything up in those meetings with (MSU pitching coach) Butch (Thompson)," Cohen said. "Everybody asks if our guys call their own pitches and I say yes but it's because they know what Butch wants back there."
Ammirati sports a .342 batting average in league play, the team's second-highest after six weeks of league play. Four of Ammirati's six multi-hit games have come over his last four contests.
"I'm hard pressed right now to find a better catcher in the country right now than Nick Ammirati," Cohen said. "I'm just so proud of that young man because of what he's worked so hard for this season."
With the NCAA's second-largest on-campus crowd (14,562) looking on at Dudy Noble Field, Ammirati went 2 for 3 and drove in a pair of runs as the Bulldogs blanked the Tigers 6-0 Saturday to nail down their third straight league series.
"I just needed to settle down this season, relax and just worry about playing my own game out there," Ammirati said. "While hitting in the 8-hole, we had a group of guys trying to get it back to the top of the order. I just had a chance to knock in a few runs and took advantage of pitches to hit."
Ammirati will start tonight's game against the University of Memphis as the Bulldogs face their Conference USA opponent at AutoZone Park, the home of the St. Louis Cardinals Triple-A affiliate Memphis Redbirds. Cohen is hoping Slauter can return to the active roster within in the three week timeline for the injury recovery because the fifth-year coach mentioned his depth at catcher as a major reason for MSU's 22-2 non-conference record.
"We've normally been able to run two catchers out there that are elite in college baseball and that's such a rarity in this game," Cohen said. "We'll get back to that for the postseason I know it because eventually Mitch will be bugging me to play everyday here soon whether it's healed or not. That's just his mentality."
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.