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SEC West baseball notebook: Injuries to Rebels' Graham, Mississippi State's Sims mar week

 Chris Lee   in Baseball

Two of the best players in the Magnolia State may miss some time. 

Kevin Graham photo courtesy of Ole Miss.

Here's a look at what's happening around the SEC West in baseball.

Mississippi State drops series, falls to .500, awaits Landon Sims news

It’s three weeks into the season and perhaps no program has had more ups and downs than Mississippi State.

The defending national champions lost their opening series of the year to Long Beach as both the pitching and hitting were uneven. As the schedule eased up, the pitching got better and it seemed the bats were coming around in last Friday’s 19-2 romp at Tulane. 

And then, State (6-1) lost a pair of one-run games to the Green Wave to drop to 6-6 overall. But the worst news came when Landon Sims--who was on our preseason All-SEC first team--exited Friday’s start with an apparent arm issue and as of Tuesday, we still don’t know Sims’s status. KC Hunt also hasn’t pitched since Feb. 19, which begs some questions. 

State’s starting rotation of Sims (15.2 IP, 1.15 ERA), Cade Smith (17 IP, 2.65, ERA) and Johnson (16.1, 2.76) has been good, but the staff ranks 13th in the league with a 4.49 ERA because of a bullpen that’s been awful, with veterans like Parker Stinnett (6.2, 8.10) and Cam Tullar (2.1, 19.29) performing way below expectations.

One positive for the Bulldogs has been first baseman Hunter Hines (/341/.471/.651) looking like one of the country’s best freshman hitters and hit a home run clocked at 115 off the bat. 

Rebels suffer first defeat, lose Graham 

Ole Miss (10-1) lost its first game of the season when UCF pitchers Connor Staine and Chase Central combined on a three-hit shutout of the Rebels (10-1), who wasted seven scoreless innings from starter John Gaddis, who fanned eight, on Saturday. 

Ole Miss responded with a win Sunday to take the series, but did it without left fielder Kevin Graham, who hurt his wrist in Saturday’s game. Doctors discovered a small fracture in Graham’s wrist and he’s expected to have surgery and miss four weeks. Kemp Alderman replaced him on Sunday. 

The Rebels also announced they’ll move Gaddis to Friday and Derek Diamond (the former Friday starter) to Saturday, and haven’t named a third starter. That spot was formerly occupied by Drew McDaniel

Setting bad news aside, the Rebels have been terrific so far. A pair of sophomores—center fielder TJ McCants (.394/.512/.606) and shortstop Jacob Gonzalez (.257/.480/.571)—have improved offensively from last season, though Gonzalez (three errors, .880) has struggled some in the field. 

The Rebels’ 2.09 ERA is the league’s third-best, with Gaddis (14, 0.64) and a host of relievers leading the way. 

LSU falls twice in Houston as defense becomes a major issue

LSU (9-3) had a disappointing performance in Houston’s Shriner’s Classic, losing to Baylor and Texas while managing an 11-inning over Oklahoma. Starter Ty Floyd allowed four runs in four innings against Texas while four of LSU’s six pitchers used allowed at least a run against Baylor.

Poor defense has been continually been a story in Baton Rouge. LSU made 10 errors over the weekend and now has a league-worst 26 of them, with a .940 fielding percentage that’s unfathomable for an SEC team.  

The biggest positive form the weekend is the continued excellent performance from the slimmed-down Blake Money (0.44 ERA in 20.2 IP), who pitched 6 2/3 innings against Oklahoma while allowing one run. 

DiChiara, Dyal lead Auburn’s hot start

Auburn’s probably been the West’s most pleasant surprise, and for the second-straight week, the Tigers (11-2) had a hitter named National Player of the Week when catcher Ryan Dyal (.300/.473/.550) took honors this week with a two-homer, six-hit, 12-RBI performance last week. 

The prior week, it was Samford transfer Sonny DiChiara (.472/.615/.1.083), who leads the SEC in slugging and on-base percentage and ranks fourth in batting average. 

The bigger surprise may be Auburn’s success on the mound. The Tigers had a staff ERA over 5 last year yet enter the fourth weekend with a 1.80 mark and 140 strikeouts, those figures ranking third and tied-for-second, respectively. Auburn has found starting pitching depth with Trace Bright (17, 0.00), Jordan Armstrong (12.1, 1.46) and Joseph Gonzalez (14.2, 1.84) plus, Notre Dame transfer Tommy Sheehan (7, 1.29) also available as Sheehan gets healthier. 

Alabama finds arms

As with Auburn, nobody expected Alabama (9-4) to be in the upper half of the league’s ERA leaders three weeks in. Jacob McNairy (13, 0.69) leads a pack of improved arms, while JUCO transfer Garrett McMillan (18, 2.00) has also excelled early. 

Offensively, the biggest surprise has been Harvard transfer Tommy Seidl (.405/.444/.548), who leads the ‘Tide in average and on-base percentage and is 4-for-4 on steals. 

Arkansas sweeps doubleheader to win series vs. Southeastern Louisiana 

One of the bigger surprises this SEC season is that Arkansas (55 runs in 10 games) hasn’t swung the bats better. But Oklahoma transfer Jace Bohrofen’s five RBIs in Sunday’s second game keyed an 11-1 win over SELA. 

That said, Arkansas’s pitching was the question, and the Razorbacks (7-3) have a 2.83 ERA so far, sixth-best in the SEC. Starting pitching was perhaps the team’s biggest question, but Jaxon Wiggins (17.1, 2.60), Hagen Smith (15.1, 2.93 and Connor Noland (16.1, 3.31) have all been good so far. 

The Razorbacks (7-3) returned one of the most potent lineups in the country, however, it’s Kent State transfer Michael Turner (.344/.436/.656) who’s been the team’s best hitter so far. 

Texas A&M struggles in Frisco

The Aggies have struggled to score for much of the season, with a league-low 55 runs. This past weekend, however, A&M allowed 20 runs to Washington State, Iowa and Wichita State—three unranked teams—as the Aggies managed just a win over Iowa, as coach Jim Scholssnagle spoke to the uncharacteristic pitching struggles in Texas.

The Aggies’ offensive struggles are rooted in a lack of power. A&M’s six home runs are a league low, and the Aggies (.379) are the only team slugging under .400. Brett Minnich and Ryan Targac have each hit two home runs while Arizona State transfer Jack Moss, who slugged six home runs in 48 games last season, has yet to homer.