SEC Baseball Report: Injuries piling up on the mound, East division shows depth

By: Matt Jones Matt Jones's Twitter account
Published: Thursday, April 27, 2023
Alabama left-hander Grayson Hitt throws during a game against Arkansas on Sunday, April 2, 2023, in Fayetteville.
( Hank Layton)
Alabama left-hander Grayson Hitt throws during a game against Arkansas on Sunday, April 2, 2023, in Fayetteville.

The injury bug continues to bite SEC pitching staffs hard in 2023. 

Auburn and Alabama are the latest victims. Alabama left-hander Grayson Hitt will require Tommy John surgery for an elbow injury, according to D1Baseball’s Kendall Rogers, and Auburn coach Butch Thompson said this week right-hander Joseph Gonzalez likely will not be able to pitch again during the regular season.

Gonzalez was expected to be the staff ace for the Tigers after a stellar freshman season in 2022, but has not pitched in a game since injuring his shoulder during a five-inning, scoreless start against Indiana State in the season opener. 

Hitt, who is ranked the No. 73 prospect for this year’s draft by Baseball America, had a 4.19 ERA in 38 2/3 innings as a starter. 

Gonzalez and Hitt are part of a long list of high-profile SEC pitchers to miss significant time on the mound. Arkansas’ Jaxon Wiggins, Texas A&M’s Ryan Prager and LSU’s Grant Taylor are medically redshirting due to Tommy John surgery. All were expected to be in their respective starting rotations, with Wiggins potentially being the No. 1 starter for the Razorbacks. 

Taylor is among a number of notable injuries for LSU’s pitching staff. The Tigers also lost right-hander Chase Shores (1.96 ERA through 18 1/3 innings) to a torn ulnar collateral ligament this month.

Shores and right-hander Garrett Edwards have been absent from the Tigers’ bullpen since early April. Edwards, whose injury is undisclosed, has a 1.93 ERA in 23 1/3 innings. Left-handed reliever Nate Ackenhausen missed close to one month for LSU before coming back last week. 

More from WholeHogSports: SEC teams find midweek challenging

Ole Miss’ No. 1 starter, left-hander Hunter Elliott, returned last week from a UCL injury that sidelined him for more than two months. He walked 5 of 10 batters, and allowed 5 runs during his 49-pitch inning against LSU. 

Elliott will reportedly visit a doctor after feeling discomfort following the outing. 

Arkansas right-hander Brady Tygart is expected to return from a similar injury to Elliott's this weekend against Texas A&M. Tygart, who has not pitched since March 1, was the Razorbacks’ closer prior to the injury, but might come back in a starting role. 

The Razorbacks have also been without right-hander Koty Frank since early March after he tore his lat muscle during a game against Wright State. Frank, a senior transfer from Nebraska, was Arkansas' most-used reliever at the time.

South Carolina right-hander Noah Hall has not pitched since March 31 with what has been described as a back injury. Hall was a weekend starter who has twice earned SEC pitcher of the week honors. 

Missouri has been without two of its top relief pitchers for most of the season. Right-hander Sam Horn (strained forearm) has not pitched since February, and right-hander Tony Neubeck reportedly tore his UCL last month. Horn is also a quarterback for the Tigers’ football team and was able to go through spring practice before returning to the baseball team full-time. 

Georgia’s No. 1 starter, right-hander Jaden Woods, missed last week’s series against Arkansas with arm soreness, according to Rogers. He is not expected to pitch this week at Ole Miss. 


The teams that are fifth and sixth in the SEC East standings made the loudest statements in the SEC last week.

Tennessee (Vanderbilt) and Georgia (Arkansas) swept top-five teams on their home fields. The Volunteers entered the weekend with a 5-10 SEC record and the Bulldogs entered 4-11. 

Both series included walk-off home runs. 

Tennessee’s Griffin Merritt homered in the 12th inning of Game 1 to give the Volunteers a 4-3 victory over the Commodores. Vanderbilt led the game 3-1 going into the ninth inning, but Tennessee forced extra innings with solo home runs by designated hitter Kavares Tears and pinch hitter Dylan Dreiling. 

Georgia’s Game 3 victory over Arkansas included ninth-inning home runs in back-to-back swings. Connor Tate’s grand slam tied the game 8-8, and Parks Harber homered on the next pitch to give the Bulldogs a 9-8 victory. It was Georgia’s second one-run victory of the series. 

The Razorbacks did not record an out after taking an 8-4 lead into the ninth inning of Game 3. 

It was the Bulldogs’ second four-run comeback in the ninth inning in as many weeks. A Tate grand slam sparked a seven-run ninth as Georgia won 13-11 at Florida the week before. 

According to SEC Network, SEC teams had lost 340 consecutive conference games when trailing by four or more runs in the ninth inning before Georgia bucked the trend twice in eight days. 

The Bulldogs improved to 6-2 since a series-opening loss to Kentucky on April 7. No SEC team has more conference victories during that time.

Cross-division play

The SEC East is close to guaranteeing at least a .500 record against SEC West teams during the regular season. 

East teams are 32-21 and have won 10 of 17 three-game series. An 18th series, between division leaders LSU and South Carolina, ended in a 1-1 split earlier this month after the third game was rained out. 

SEC West teams won 15 of 28 series against teams from the SEC East last year. 

Vanderbilt (6-0), Florida (7-2), Kentucky (7-5) and South Carolina (3-2) all have winning records in their crossover games, while only LSU (5-3) and Alabama (5-4) can say the same from the West. 

The Crimson Tide have lost two of three series against eastern division teams, but have not been swept and claimed a sweep last week over the last-place team in the East, Missouri. 

Texas A&M has won two of three series over teams from the East, but the Aggies have a losing record against the division because they were swept at Tennessee. 

Both Arkansas and Tennessee have swept and been swept by an opponent from the other division. The Razorbacks swept the Volunteers two weeks ago and were swept at Georgia last week. 

There are three SEC East vs. SEC West series this week — Auburn at South Carolina, Mississippi State at Tennessee, and Georgia at Ole Miss. 

Ole Miss is 0-6 against the East and is the league’s only team without a crossover victory.

Draft update

Baseball America updated its draft prospect rankings this week and seven of the top 12 are SEC players. 

LSU is projected to have players drafted 1-2 in outfielder Dylan Crews and right-handed pitcher Paul Skenes, respectively. Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford is the No. 3 prospect in Baseball America’s rankings. 

Other SEC players in the top 12 include Tennessee right-handed pitcher Chase Dollander (6), Ole Miss shortstop Jacob Gonzalez (8), Vanderbilt outfielder Enrique Bradfield (11) and Florida right-hander Hurston Waldrep (12). 

Skenes (Air Force), Dollander (Georgia Southern) and Waldrep (Southern Miss) have transferred into the conference over the past two seasons. The other top SEC prospects have spent three seasons with their teams. 

The SEC has 11 players ranked in the top 50 and 20 players in the top 100. 

Baseball America’s rankings include high school prospects. Twenty of the high school players in the top 100 are committed to SEC programs and two others are committed to Texas, which will join the league for the 2025 season.

SEC West standings

LSU 12-5

Arkansas 11-7

Alabama 9-9

Texas A&M 9-9

Auburn 7-11

Mississippi State 6-12

Ole Miss 3-15

SEC East standings

South Carolina 13-4

Vanderbilt 13-5

Florida 11-7

Kentucky 11-7

Tennessee 8-10

Georgia 7-11

Missouri 5-13

Series of the Week — 11 Kentucky (30-10) at 5 Vanderbilt (29-11)

The Wildcats are hanging strong in the USA Today Baseball Coaches Poll, but their chances of hosting a regional might be slipping away. 

Kentucky has lost 2-1 in its last three series against Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M, and closes the season with a run of games as difficult as any team in the league. The Wildcats’ series against Vanderbilt begins a stretch of play that also includes three games against South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida — all in the top 16 of this week's coaches poll, and all vying to host a regional. 

Baseball America projects Kentucky as a regional host this week, but D1Baseball does not, citing the Wildcats’ gauntlet to end to the season. 

Despite a bad weekend against Tennessee when it was outscored 31-9 in three games, Vanderbilt still sits strong as a projected top-8 national seed. D1Baseball has the Commodores as the No. 5 overall seed in this week’s projection, and they are the No. 6 seed by Baseball America. 

Vanderbilt should have its starting rotation back intact this week after injuries to Carter Holton and Hunter Owen caused some reshuffling in recent weeks. The Commodores’ three-man rotation of Holton, Owen and Devin Futrell has arguably been the league’s best when healthy. Vanderbilt has only one SEC loss started by that trio.

Small ball will be a theme in this series. Kentucky leads the SEC with 68 stolen bases and 41 sacrifice bunts, and has been thrown out a league-high 21 times. 

Vanderbilt’s 60 stolen bases are tied with Texas A&M for second in the SEC, and the Commodores’ 74 attempts are second to Kentucky’s 89. Vanderbilt’s Enrique Bradfield leads the SEC with 26 stolen bases. 

Other weekend series

Alabama (30-12) at 1 LSU (32-8)

Auburn (23-17-1) at 3 South Carolina (34-6)

Missouri (24-16) at 4 Florida (32-10)

Texas A&M (25-16) at 6 Arkansas (30-11)*

Mississippi State (24-17) at 16 Tennessee (27-14)*

Georgia (23-18) at Ole Miss (21-20)

* Series begins Thursday

Player of the Week: Ethan Petry, South Carolina

The Gamecocks’ star homered twice and doubled, and had 8 RBI during a series sweep of Florida. His 64 RBI are a freshman record at South Carolina. 

Petry is the frontrunner to be national freshman of the year. He is batting .427 with an OPS of 1.389. His 20 home runs rank second nationally. 

Pitcher of the Week: Chase Burns, Tennessee

After being removed from the starting rotation the week before at Arkansas, the right-handed Burns had two great outings in relief as the Volunteers swept Vanderbilt. 

Burns pitched scoreless 10th, 11th and 12th innings during the opening game of the series, and pitched a scoreless inning in the series finale. He finished the series with eight strikeouts. 

As a reliever, Burns has allowed 1 run and struck out 13 in 9 1/3 innings. 

Stat of the Week

LSU has homered to tie or take the lead in the eighth inning or later of three games it has won. 

Pinch hitter Hayden Travinski hit a three-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning last Sunday at Ole Miss. His was the winning run as the Tigers won 7-6 to sweep the series in Oxford, Miss. 

Quote of the Week

“With the exception of the last guy, they’re running guys to the mound that have got 7 or 8 ERAs and opponents hitting .300 against them, and they’re shoving it right up our rear ends. You’ve got to give those guys credit.” — Texas A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle on Sam Houston State’s pitching following a 9-2 loss to the Bearkats on Tuesday. 


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