March 29, 2013 10:08:09 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- The No. 25 Mississippi State University baseball team knows it will be without its starting catcher this weekend at No. 15 University of Arkansas, but it also could be without its ace pitcher.
MSU coach John Cohen confirmed Thursday in his weekly teleconference that senior catcher Mitch Slauter will not be on the active roster for his team's series in Fayetteville, Ark. The three-game Southeastern Conference series will kick off at 6:35 tonight.
Slauter, who is hitting .286 with seven extra-base hits and 13 RBIs, had an emergency surgical procedure Wednesday to clear air passages in the throat area. As a precaution, he was checked in to the University of Kentucky Hospital last weekend for what he and MSU coaches thought was a viral infection that resembled strep throat, but the condition worsened and required him to have the emergency procedure.
"That is going to hurt our club, but, hopefully, we can rise to the occasion," Cohen said. "Mitch is still in the hospital and had a viral throat issue that required a little bit of surgery. We think in the long term he'll be fine, but it's just bad timing."
Slauter has produced at the plate, but his biggest contribution in the past year and a half has been behind the plate, where he has handled the pitching staff. Last season, MSU (40-24) led the SEC in ERA (2.58).
Senior Nick Ammirati likely will play catcher in all three games, something he hasn't done in a SEC weekend series. Junior Zach Randolph, a transfer from Itawamba Community College, will make his first SEC road trip. Randolph, a first-team MACJC all-state selection in 2012, won't unless Ammirati is injured because the Bulldogs want to preserve his redshirt status and his final two years of eligibility after Slauter and Ammirati graduate.
"We're a little short-handed in that area, but we have tremendous confidence in Nick Ammirati," Cohen said.
Cohen also said sophomore left-handed ace Jacob Lindgren will be pushed back from his usual Friday night start to a Sunday afternoon start. He said Lindgren suffered "complications" Tuesday in his bullpen session with MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson. The Dispatch learned those complications include tightness and tenderness in Lindgren's left elbow. Lindgren hasn't missed a start this season since taking the opening day nod. He returned from a severe bone bruise two weekends ago to make the first SEC start against LSU.
"We have still not decided who we'll pitch (today), but we're probably leaning toward a (Luis) Pollorena and Kendall Graveman in the first two games," Cohen said.
Pollorena (4-0, 1.85), a senior left-hander, said he is excited about his chance to start the series opener.
The plan is for Lindgren (2-2, 3.18) to throw from flat ground Saturday with Ammirati before or after the second game of the series at Baum Stadium to help the MSU coaches make a final determination about Lindgren's status. MSU listed its Sunday starter as "TBD" Thursday when the SEC pitching matchups were announced.
Arkansas (19-7, 4-2) has taken the last four regular-season series from MSU (21-6) . Both programs will look to regroup after starting the season ranked in the top 10 of Baseball America's preseason poll.
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn was especially disappointed with his team's offense after a "lackadaisical" 2-1 victory against Mississippi Valley State on Wednesday in Little Rock, Ark.
"We just didn't do a whole lot and left the bases loaded with no outs without scoring a run in one inning, and the more we didn't score, we gave them confidence over there," Van Horn said. "I figured we'd get after it a little bit better than we did."
Arkansas leads the SEC in ERA and opponents' batting average. It has allowed the fewest extra-base hits this season.
Cohen said Thursday sophomore right-hander Trevor Fitts (3-0, 3.29) will make the travel roster for the first time this season after having a great bullpen session Tuesday, but it isn't known what the emergency plan is if Lindgren isn't able to start Sunday start. Junior Evan Mitchell, sophomore Brandon Woodruff, sophomore Will Cox, and Fitts could be in the mix if Lindgren can't go.
"We just have too many arms for somebody to not step forward with an opportunity," Cohen said. "I think we do have some depth and some names that might not have registered yet with the fans and media that will have the opportunity. On good ballclubs, that happens where guys in the middle of the year do well that haven't received a lot of early playing time."