COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina baseball was handed a tough bill of health in the course of the past 10 days, but coach Chad Holbrook is hopeful to get one of three key players back from injury this weekend.
Holbrook said he expects second baseman LT Tolbert to return to action as South Carolina opens SEC play at Tennessee this weekend. But the Gamecocks will be could be without center fielder TJ Hopkins and will be down closer Tyler Johnson for the second straight weekend.
“We’re going to be extremely careful with him,” Holbrook said. “We’re not going to push him back until he’s 100 percent. I couldn’t sleep with myself if I tried to nudge him back. But everything is structurally sound. The doctor wants the soreness out before he starts his throwing back.
“It’s going to be a very conservative approach that we take with him. We’ll see how he feels next week. If he starts throwing next week, playing catch or whatever, I don’t know if that’ll make him available next weekend. We may be looking at third weekend of SEC play.”
Johnson had four saves this season before he left in the Saturday’s game against Clemson on March 4 with a sore arm. He has been sidelined since, with Holbrook saying his understanding was it would be a three-to-four week deal. Holbrook was not sure if Johnson would make the trip to Tennessee.
Hopkins left Friday’s game against Michigan State with a quad injury, as he has been battling right leg issues throughout the season. Hopkins has been one of the Gamecocks hottest hitters of late, with an average at .300 with three homers.
“I don’t know if he’ll be able to play the outfield this weekend even if he does go,” Holbrook said. “It might be a pinch-hitter type or DH-type. I’m not counting on him being 100 percent this weekend in any capacity. We’ll work out today and see how he feels on the practice field and when he wakes up in the morning.”
Tolbert left late in Saturday’s game against Michigan State after hitting a two-run double off the first base bag, when he jammed his hand into second base. Holbrook said Tolbert is “fine.”
“He’s banged up,” Holbrook said. “I haven’t let him swing the bat much this week. Just trying to rest him because if you get a jam job on a cold day, that thing will re-aggravate the injury he has. We’re very conservative with him, but I anticipate him being 100 percent ready to go this weekend.”