March 1, 2017 8:58:31 AM
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State baseball team received a rare break this week from the every-day grind of a season.
With no midweek games before a trip to Oregon this weekend, MSU went four days without a game, the longest break it will have until May, when it has no midweek games between series against Texas A&M and Georgia.
Granted a rare opportunity to get his players a few days of rest, MSU coach Andy Cannizaro took it.
"I think it'll give us a chance to get healthy," he said. "We have several guys that have nagging
Among those nursing minor injuries is center fielder Jake Mangum. Mangum was hit by a pitch early in last weekend's games against Marist and Indiana State, but he played through it.
"He basically played 27 innings of baseball really banged up," Cannizaro said. "When he wasn't on the field, he was sitting on a heat pack for 27 innings."
Second baseman Hunter Stovall, who suffered a hamstring injury prior to last weekend's games, was held out of most of the action. He saw duty as a pinch hitter for the final at-bat of the final game. Cannizaro expects Stovall to be "full go" this weekend.
Add in injuries to relief pitchers Ryan Rigby and Blake Smith -- Cannizaro ruled Smith out for the Oregon series as MSU looks into his elbow injury, but he didn't do so for Rigby, who has a groin injury, so the time off was well timed.
"This was a really good time for us to have a day or two off where we can get healthy, regroup, recharge ourselves and get ready for 27 outstanding innings of baseball against The University of Oregon," Cannizaro said.
The tact seems to have worked.
"I feel really well," third baseman Luke Alexander said. "We have great trainers and a great strength coach that keep us ready to go day in and day out."
Said Mangum, "It's good for our bodies. We've played nine games already, so it's good for our bodies."
Mangum said most of the team went to campus on their own and did a recovery lifting session Monday. Alexander did the same and hit on his time. The team practiced Tuesday before leaving early Wednesday morning for Oregon.
With rest a top priority, the Bulldogs also are finding times to take on projects such as strikeouts. Cannizaro said the team is striking out "way, way, way too much" Sunday after a loss to Marist.
Mangum offered an explanation.
"We have a lot of guys that are still trying to figure out what it's like to think ahead," he said, talking about the freshmen and the newcomers. "If you struggle with an off-speed pitch, you're going to get offspeed. If you struggle with a fastball, you're going to get a fastball. Closing your holes is hard to do because hitting's extremely hard, and there's always something you can work on. You have to be able to adjust."
Despite the youth and mounting strikeouts, MSU is in the top 50 nationally in batting average (.313) and top 40 nationally in scoring (8.4 runs per game). MSU has scored at least eight runs in each of its last eight games for the first time since 1999.
Stovall, Mangum, shortstop Ryan Gridley, outfielder Brent Rooker, and Alexander are hitting better than .375. Stovall, Mangum, and Gridley are over .400. The strikeouts have primarily been an issue in the Nos. 6, 7 and 8 spots in the lineup. Numerous players have seen time in those spots as Cannizaro experiments with different combinations.
n In related news, the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association named outfielder Brent Rooker the National Hitter of the Week.
On Monday, Rooker was named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week and a National Player of the Week by Collegiate Baseball, after hitting three home runs and driving in 14 runs.
Rooker also is nominated for the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award Gold Standard Performance of the Week. Fans can vote for Rooker. The winner will be announced Thursday.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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