Mississippi State closed out the non-conference portion of its baseball schedule with a 10-8 win over Troy at Dudy Noble Field. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
May 16, 2017 11:51:35 PM
STARKVILLE -- Andy Cannizaro has been eyeing a lineup change for a couple of weeks now. The only thing keeping him from pulling the trigger was Jake Mangum's broken hand.
Entering Tuesday, the only two times Mangum did not bat in the leadoff spot for Mississippi State baseball this season were the two games he missed. The norm had come to be Brent Rooker behind him and Ryan Gridley hitting third.
Cannizaro wanted to switch Mangum and Gridley, but didn't want to do so while Mangum was battling a broken hand. As Mangum's hand turned a metaphorical corner last weekend against Georgia, Cannizaro thought the timing was right.
One game into the experiment, Gridley and Mangum both proved him correct. Gridley hit safely twice and Mangum drove in three runs on three hits Tuesday night as the Bulldogs (34-19) won in comeback fashion, beating Troy (30-22) 10-8.
"Just wanted to make the switch because Gridley has a higher on-base percentage than Mangum does, he's going to take more pitches throughout the course of a game than Mangum will," Cannizaro said. Against Southeastern Conference competition, Gridley has an on-base percentage of .374 compared to Mangum's .346.
"(Mangum) has the best hand-eye coordination in America. He gets hits: it doesn't matter if it's right-handed, left-handed, sidearmers, it doesn't matter. If they walk Brent Rooker, they're going to have to face him, and I like how that looks."
Mangum said last weekend's series against Georgia was the first time his hand has not bothered him since he broke it against Kentucky in early April. Cannizaro added Mangum started taking pregame batting practice for the first time at Georgia since the injury.
Mangum's first start in the 3-hole proved to give him multiple opportunities to inspire the comeback. In the bottom of the third with MSU down 5-1, Mangum delivered with an RBI single. He did it again in the sixth, bringing home the tying run after Rooker got the Bulldogs in striking distance with a two-RBI double.
Mangum credited his comfort in the new spot to its limited differences from where he was before.
"It was different, but you only lead off once, so it's not that much of a difference at all," said Mangum, batting third for the first time since his senior year of high school.
Mangum also drive in the go-ahead run in the eighth and scored an insurance run four pitches later when Cody Brown drove him in.
As for the upcoming series against LSU, beginning Thursday night, Cannizaro said he plans on keeping the lineup as is.
Mangum and Gridley did not represent the only change Cannizaro made Tuesday. Elijah MacNamee started in right field for the first time since April 11, a spot that has been manned in all 17 games since then by Tanner Poole.
Cannizaro has kept Poole there for his defense, but wanted to see what having both MacNamee and designated hitter Hunter Vansau in the lineup together looked like. Poole entered Tuesday with a .232 batting average while MacNamee and Vansau were both swinging hot bats, both slugging better than .450 in the last 10 games.
"The plan was to get those two three or four at-bats, get to the sixth or seventh and get Tanner in the game," Cannizaro said. "It worked out that the minute we tied the ball game, Tanner got back in the game."
For the right field position going forward, Cannizaro said it is, "in flux."
Trey Jolly picked up the win in pitching 2 1/3 hitless, scoreless innings while the MSU offense came alive with seven runs in the final six innings. Cannizaro said it was Jolly's best performance April 9 against Kentucky, when he threw 5 1/3 innings allowing one run.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson