Let’s go around the horn as South Carolina prepares to play five tough games this week, one each against College of Charleston and Rhode Island at home as well as a three-game road series against top-ranked Florida.
The last thing South Carolina fans expected to do was worry about All-American center fielder Jackie Bradley, who got off to an incredibly hot start this season. But Bradley has struggled for the past five games, going hitless in 18 at-bats over that stretch as his batting average has fallen to .288. His last hit came in the final game of the Cal State Bakersfield series. The slump has coincided with being moved out of the No. 3 spot in the batting order.
At first USC coach Ray Tanner pushed him up to get him more plate appearances – Bradley batted second against Wofford and in the first Georgia game and batted leadoff in the last two Georgia games – when others in the lineup were struggling. Now he’s the one who’s struggling. Tanner has no doubt that Bradley will get his swing turned around, however.
“Jackie is going to be fine. There are a lot of outstanding players that go through some slumps, and he’s having a tough time right now. But he’ll find his way out of it,” Tanner said Sunday.
NOT TAKING THE LEAD
The leadoff spot has proven to be vexing one so far. Tanner has tried five players at the top of the lineup: Peter Mooney, Evan Marzilli, Adam Matthews, Scott Wingo and Bradley. They’ve gone a combined 11-for-77 for a .143 average in the first 18 games while leading off. The breakdown looks like this: Mooney (1-for-16), Marzilli (6-for-33), Matthews (4-for-16), Wingo (0-for-4), and Bradley (0-for-8). Until Marzilli can get things going, it looks like Matthews might be the best fit with his speed and ability to get down a bunt. Tanner was heartened by Marzilli coming off the bench and lacing a two-run double in the eighth inning of the clinching game against Georgia. Perhaps that will play a part in getting him going and making him a candidate to lead off again.
In one of those statistical oddities, the USC pitching staff has exactly 160 strikeouts in 160 innings pitched. Yes, even the mathematically challenged can figure out that’s one per inning, a pretty good ratio for a team. Leading the way are five pitchers – one starter and four relievers -- with more strikeouts than innings pitched: Michael Roth (38 in 33 2/3 IP), John Taylor (20 in 16 1/3 IP), Forrest Koumas (18 in 13 1/3 IP), Matt Price (14 in 11 IP) and Bryan Harper (10 in 6 2/3 IP). Strikeout guys can take pressure off the defense and help teams escape jams with men on base. The only SEC team with more strikeouts than innings pitched is Vanderbilt (205 in 184).
PARENTS AND PLAYERS DO JUST UNDERSTAND
Christian Walker smiled Sunday when asked about his walk-up song this season: “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” the late-1980s hit by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Walker is a native of the Philadelphia area, which also produced rapper and actor Will Smith (aka the Fresh Prince). The pop-rap hit has become a ballpark sensation this season.
“Apparently, the people love it,” Walker said. “They’re dancing and doing stuff. It’s fun. You’ve got to get the crowd involved. It’s good to get some feedback.”
His teammates get involved, too. When Walker, who briefly switched to a different song before going back, came up to the plate Sunday, all the players stood at the dugout rail and waved their arms back and forth to the tune, led by the ever-rambunctious Roth.
TRIAL BY FIRE
In Friday’s 4-2 loss to Georgia, Tanner was looking for a spark of offense in the sixth inning with two outs and runners on second and third. But he didn’t use Robert Beary as his pinch-hitter, probably the most logical choice. Instead he sent up freshman Greg Brodzinski, who had not batted all season. Brodzinski grounded out to third on the first pitch to end the inning, but Tanner said afterward that he likes the young catcher’s ability at the plate. It was a tough situation for Brodzinski to get his baptism, and Tanner lamented not getting him any at-bats in the previous 15 games.