April 18, 2013 9:44:17 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State University baseball team will be without its starting catcher for the second time this season.
MSU (30-9, 8-7 Southeastern Conference) will be without Mitch Slauter at 6:30 tonight (ESPNU) when it plays host to Auburn University (23-14, 5-10) in game one of a three-game SEC weekend series at Dudy Noble Field.
Slauter was hit by a pitch Sunday in a 15-4 victory against Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. Slauter, who missed four games two weeks ago with a cyst in this throat that required minor surgery, had to leave the game. MSU coach John Cohen confirmed Wednesday afternoon his senior catcher fractured one of the metacarpal bones in his left hand and will miss "at least" three weeks.
"We are confident Mitch will be back in time for the postseason, but the X-ray confirmed he broke that metacarpal bone in his glove hand," Cohen said.
Without Slauter, MSU will turn to senior Nick Ammirati. In case of an emergency, junior Zach Randolph will be added to the active roster, but he Bulldogs would prefer not to use him to preserve his redshirt season. The Amory native is a transfer from Itawamba Community College.
"We'll activate Zach as a precaution but also know we have Hunter Renfroe, who was a high school catcher, as a option as well if we have to go that route," Cohen said. "The plan is to have Nick all three games (this weekend)."
Tonight, MSU will kick off its part in Super Bulldog Weekend by giving out free T-shirts to the first 8,000 fans who attend the game.
"I think our kids are excited about being on national television even though they've gotten used to the television cameras around them this season," Cohen said. "Two things are critical to them this week. One is we don't have to gear up for a mid-week game. Two, and this is really important, they're going to enjoy having a Sunday off to do whatever they want. I know our guys will enjoy having that day to themselves."
Garrett Cooper leads Auburn in hitting (.333), and has been on base in 35 out of 37 games. He also leads the team in slugging percentage (.520), on base percentage (.471), RBIs (29), home runs (four), total bases (64), and walks (27).
Auburn didn't name a starting pitcher for any of its games this week due to a reported widespread illness that has made its way through the team. The Tigers have gone with three left-handers, including Conner Kendrick (2-1, 1.93 ERA), Michael O'Neal (7-2, 2.40), and Will Kendall (0-4, 6.75), but their status will be a game-time decision.
"Don't really know what it is," Auburn coach John Pawlowski told The Birmingham News. "Not really sure what we're going to do. There are several guys that are sick. ... We're just going to have to look at it tomorrow and assess where we're at and try to figure it out."