Two weeks before the start of the college baseball season, the fortunes of No. 10 South Carolina took another hit when sophomore center fielder Jackie Bradley sustained a broken bone in his right hand.
He is expected to be sidelined four to eight weeks.
Coming on the heels of All-SEC first baseman Nick Ebert being academically ineligible to start the season, the Gamecocks will be scrambling to replace their projected third and fourth hitters in the lineup.
“Certainly, in the beginning, it’ll be different than we anticipated,” USC coach Ray Tanner said.
Bradley, a consensus freshman All-American who batted .349 with 11 home runs and 46 RBIs last season, broke his hand in Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage while swinging through a high fastball. Tanner said the swing may have been the final straw for a nagging injury.
“He’s had some problems with that hand. It bothered him at times, and other times it didn’t bother him,” Tanner said. “All you can do is speculate, but that’s probably what happened. There was some damage there, but he had played through it.”
Bradley will have surgery early this week, and his return could come anywhere from early March to early April.
Tanner believes how quickly Bradley gets back on the field will be related to his tolerance for pain. If that’s the case, the return may be sooner rather than later.
“Jackie has a high tolerance for pain, so I think he’ll make a quick return,” Tanner said. “I looked at the schedule today, and he has a chance to be back close to the start of the SEC season.”
With Ebert’s return date an unknown as well, the lineup will sport a different look in the short term.
Junior Whit Merrifield will return to center field to replace Bradley, while sophomore Adam Matthews will move from left field to right field. The left-field job will be filled by junior college transfer Robert Beary or freshman Evan Marzilli, while senior Jeffery Jones remains the front-runner to take over for Ebert at first base.
Tanner put a positive spin on the situation during a discussion with his players after Sunday’s scrimmage.
“It could make our team better in the long run,” Tanner said. “Two players will have the opportunity to get experience that they might not have otherwise. That being said, you still don’t want to start your season with your 3-4 hitters out of the lineup. We’ll just move forward.”
The Gamecocks, who have reached NCAA postseason play 10 consecutive seasons under Tanner, start the season Feb. 19 with a three-game home series against Duquesne.