Mike Miller’s not worried about his reputation after a “false positive” for mononucleosis a couple weeks back.
He just wants back on the field.
And with a pivotal series against UC Irvine this weekend, Cal Poly head baseball coach Larry Lee is somewhat comforted to know that his lineup card will finally look like it did on opening day, with names of players like Miller, the team’s starting shortstop, and leadoff hitter and center fielder Bobby Crocker scribbled back in for the Mustangs (20-19, 9-6 Big West Conference).
“We won’t be 100 percent, but we’ll have the bodies that I want on the field,” Lee said. “So, you can live with the consequences. Crocker’s not going to be 100 percent, and there’s other guys that are going to be a little slightly less than healthy, but at least the presence of who’s going to be on the field, that’s all you can ask for.”
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Nursing a hamstring injury, Crocker missed last week’s 2-1 series loss at Long Beach State, a series Lee said could have been flipped had Miller been healthy.
Crocker, Miller, second baseman Matt Jensen and first baseman Tim Wise are all expected to start against the second-place Anteaters (29-12, 8-4 Big West), who are unranked by Baseball America but are included in the top 25 in two other polls recognized by the NCAA and are 19-1 this season at Anteater Ballpark.
The series, which starts at 6:30 p.m. today, could also mark the return of Cal Poly closer Jeff Johnson, who has missed the past 12 games with tendinitis in his pitching elbow. Both teams trail Cal State Fullerton (30-13, 11-4 Big West) in the conference standings.
After being sidelined with flu-like symptoms, Miller was originally diagnosed with mono and was feared to be lost for more than a month and possibly the rest of the regular season.
Miller ended up missing a nonconference win over Fresno State, a 2-1 series victory over the Titans and the series loss to the 49ers.
A relatively quick recovery landed him back in the lineup for Tuesday’s 5-4 win over St. Mary’s and makes the case against mono, which can cause much more prolongued fatigue.
The biggest issue at this point for Miller could be rust rather than illness.
“It was just kind of a frustrating process, having to sit out two weeks, not allowed to do anything,” Miller said. “I wasn’t allowed to stay even a little bit in shape. I just had to sit and do nothing but wait.”
Filling in at shortstop while also playing first and third, J.J. Thompson has hit .326 and is tied for the team high with 11 doubles. But the Mustangs reached a troublesome precipice when Crocker and Denver Chavez, who had been filling in for Jensen at second base and was leading the nation in sacrifice bunts per game, were both injured in the same inning against Cal State Fullerton.
Cal Poly was running out of replacements.
“The guys that have filled in have done a really good job,” Miller said. “J.J. has played all over the field and has done a really great job, but anytime you miss guys like Jensen and Crocker, it’s hard to get in a rhythm up and down the lineup, consistently hitting in a certain spot, behind certain guys.”
That’s why the team is receiving a psychological boost by having its ideal lineup together for the first time since March 11. Lee feels like there are fewer holes in the lineup with the big names on the field, and the team can compete defensively, too.
The health comes at an ideal time. With an at-large berth to an NCAA regional looking unlikely for the Mustangs, Cal Poly needs to stay in contention for the regular-season Big West title, which comes with the conference’s only automatic bid.
The final missing piece is Johnson, who had a 0.74 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 24 innings before getting hurt.
Lee said his closer has been pain free while throwing bullpen sessions over the past 10 days. He does not know how sharp Johnson will be or where his throwing velocity will clock, but Johnson will not be out on the mound until he feels as good as he did prior to the injury.
“You don’t want to go back out there not 100 percent and make anything worse, ruin your future,” said Johnson, who is draft eligible this year. “I’m getting really close to going back in there.
“This is obviously the biggest series we have left. We just have to go in there and beat them. If we do that, we’ll be in good shape to win the conference. It should be a tight race to the end.”