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April 29, 2011
Gamecocks Soldier On Without Bradley Jr.
The reactions, a few days after, were surprisingly low-key.
Perhaps they've had time to adjust, but they were still recognizing the absence.
"You kind of get that frog in your throat," left fielder Evan Marzilli said. "You just feel nothing could ever happen to him. It obviously stings -- he's our best player."
Jackie Bradley Jr. won't be on the field tonight when No. 2 South Carolina opens a three-game series hosting Auburn, and he won't be in the dugout. He is scheduled to have surgery on the torn tendon in his left wrist today, and while he will most likely be able to sit on the bench for the rest of the series, his return to the field is doubtful - for the immediate future and perhaps ever.
"I think there is a chance, although it might not be in a role that we would be excited about, necessarily," coach Ray Tanner said on Thursday. "I think he'll be available possibly to play defense toward the end, maybe even run bases."
Tanner did not give a timetable, as in a set amount of weeks from the doctor for a potential return. There are too many factors to consider, the main one being that Bradley Jr., throughout his career, has always returned much quicker than expected from a litany of ailments.
But with only five weeks left before the NCAA Regionals, and Bradley Jr. still expected to be a first-round draft pick, it's very likely the junior outfielder has played his last game at USC.
"We knew that was going to be a big blow, and we're going to miss him offensively and in the outfield," catcher Brady Thomas said. "But at the same time, you can't dwell on it."
USC has already started adjusting to the loss, winning the two games since Bradley Jr. was taken from the starting lineup. Freshman DeSean Anderson has stepped into the center field role and batted leadoff, where Bradley Jr. had been hitting, during a 9-6 midweek win over Liberty and the Gamecocks received some encouraging news on Thursday - they believe that Marzilli, out for the past two games with a rapid heartbeat, will be available against Auburn.
"Never really was kind of a big deal," Marzilli said. "Just taking a precaution. I've had it a couple of times before. I'm good to go."
That substantially increases the Gamecocks' depth, since Marzilli can play any of the three outfield spots and bring an increasing bat (he's hitting .300 in SEC play) to the lineup. Jake Williams, Anderson or Robert Beary could fill in at the other spots and if Beary needs to spell Thomas at catcher for a game, he would be able to.
That could give Thomas a day at designated hitter, which could help the struggling Steven Neff (1-for-14). The Gamecocks could again return to having a couple of options, instead of being forced to play the roster out of position and risk overwork because of health concerns.
"You can't sit around and worry about it, and whine about it, and make excuses," Tanner said. "You either win or you don't. That's the bottom line. We're going to try and approach it that way."
The upperclassmen of the team - Thomas, Adrian Morales, Scott Wingo and sophomore Christian Walker, wielding one of the hottest bats in the country - are approaching it as Tanner wants. "We know we're a good team," Thomas said. "We're confident. We come out here with the same mindset, and that's to win. We're not going to change that."
Then it becomes a waiting game.
Bradley Jr. is completely confident that he will return at some point, his past history and his faith cited as reasons why. "When you talk about injuries, and you spell it out, just like his hand before, just like yesterday he looks at you, and he says, 'But you know I recover quicker than most people,'" Tanner said. "He has that about him that he feels like whatever is being said, he'll probably be back a little sooner."
His role may be as a late-inning defensive replacement or a pinch-runner. It depends on how much his wrist heals, and if he is judged being capable of swinging a bat, he could get the chance to repeat his postseason heroics of last year.
The Gamecocks will sorely miss their most exciting player, but won't use it as a crutch. They'll continue to try and improve without Bradley Jr., and when he returns (if he returns), the team will be all the better for it.
"Will we do that or not? I don't know," Tanner said. "Will he be 100 percent swinging the bat? That remains to be seen. The chances of him coming back are slightly better than they were before, but that's not saying he will be back."
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