ATHENS — The Georgia Bulldogs are going to be without their top pitcher for arguably the biggest series of the season.
The No. 4-ranked Bulldogs (33-9, 13-5 SEC) travel to Starkville, Miss., this weekend to take on No. 9-ranked Mississippi State (33-9, 10-8). But they’ll face the Maroon Dogs on Friday without their Friday night starter, Emerson Hancock. Georgia is having the right-handed ace and reigning SEC pitcher of the week skip a start because of arm soreness.
In a conversation with DawgNation Thursday morning, coach Scott Stricklin said that the move is merely precautionary and not an indication of a serious or long-term arm issue.
“He actually campaigned to go ahead and pitch, but we just made a coaches’ decision that we want him 100 percent now and when we’re in late May and June,” Stricklin said. “It’s just soreness; everything is fine and checked out. There’s no reason to panic besides the fact that your best guy’s not pitching in a huge series. But this about long-term for this year and for his future.”
It definitely sets Georgia back a few steps on the starting line. Hancock, a 6-4, 215-pound sophomore from Cairo, is coming off a performance against No. 21 Missouri last weekend that saw him match a career high with eight shutout innings and strike out 11 with no walks just three hits in a 3-0 win. He retired 19 of the final 20 hitters he faced. On the year, Hancock is 7-2 with an SEC-leading 1.04 earned-run average (ERA) spanning 69 innings with 77 strikeouts and 15 walks. He is on the midseason watch list for the Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s top player.
With Hancock sidelined, Georgia will just move up a day with its regular rotation. However, both Tony Locey (7-0, 2.04 ERA) and C.J. Smitth (3-2, 3.05) will be operating on the same number of days rest as the Bulldogs have played Thursday-through-Saturday series each of the last two weeks.
Stricklin is currently undecided about the third-day starter, but it is likely Georgia will turn to midweek starter Tim Elliott (5.2, 2.59 ERA). The Bulldogs’ pitching staff leads the nation in ERA (2.57), fewest hits per nine innings (5.70) and WHIP (Walks & Hits Per Nine Innings Pitched) at 1.04.
Georgia will still be good on the mound, but it’d be better with Hancock, who reported lingering arm soreness after last week’s game and again after his bullpen session this week.
“If he’d known we were going to shut him down he probably wouldn’t have told us,” Stricklin said. “But we’re protecting the kid. He’s got a huge future, we all know that, and we need him at 100 percent. We don’t want him to be 90 percent and the next week he’s 80. We want him 100 percent whenever he takes the mound, so we just bumped to give him a breather and that’s all this is.”