The look on Nick Madrigal’s face said it all.
After weeks of rest, recovery and rehabilitation, the reigning Pac-12 player of the year is nearing his return to the baseball field.
“It’s becoming pretty close,” a smiling, upbeat Madrigal said before ninth-ranked Oregon State’s Tuesday practice at Goss Stadium. “I don’t have an exact date yet, but we are just taking it day by day. It’s all going good so far and we are taking more and more steps to game-like (situations).”
Madrigal suffered a broken left wrist on Feb. 23, just six games into OSU’s season. He has been out of a cast for about two and a half weeks and recently began hitting off a tee.
The junior infielder and 2017 first-team All-American did not say if he will be available for this weekend’s three-game nonconference series at No. 19 Missouri State. The Beavers (24-6) and Bears are scheduled to play a doubleheader beginning at 9 a.m. Friday followed by a single game Saturday.
“We’ll see how it feels,” Madrigal said. “I’m not too sure yet.
“I just want to get on the field as soon as I can. I feel like I can help this team in a lot of ways, whether it’s base-running or in the lineup or defense. I want to be there for my teammates, just like they’ve been there for me the last couple of years.”
Madrigal was a Day 1 starter for the Beavers, hitting .333 with 29 RBIs while winning Pac-12 freshman of the year. He led OSU’s regulars in most offensive categories last season, including batting average (.380), slugging percentage (.532), on-base percentage (.449) and steals (16).
In six games this year, Madrigal is 14 for 25 (.560) with two home runs, eight RBIs and three steals.
“He’s the best player in the country,” coach Pat Casey said. “In my opinion, it’s not whether or not (his injury) is catching up with us, it’s a reality.
“He’s not only a very, very great player, but a very, very great influence on how we play the game. Everything about him is inspiration to our guys, and that’s tough to replace.”
The Beavers are 18-6 without Madrigal but 4-5 in their last nine games.
Sophomore Andy Armstrong (.299 batting average, zero errors) has been terrific in place of Madrigal at second base, but OSU has missed the on-field leadership of its lone captain.
“Nick is a huge part of our squad,” reliever Dylan Pearce said. “I think getting him back and that life back out on the field is really going to help our guys kind of have a little bit more confidence. Nick can’t play the game for us as far as pitching goes … but I think having him back on the field is going to uplift us.”
Madrigal no longer wears a splint on his wrist, which is slowly loosening and returning to full strength. He does plan on using a small pad to give the joint some extra protection during his first couple weeks back.
“I’m an aggressive player, so the last thing I want in my head is to be a little hesitant about sliding or diving for a ball,” Madrigal said. “I think that’s the biggest thing when I come back, I want to be myself and be 100 percent.”
Following its trip to Missouri, OSU returns home next week for the three-game Civil War conference series.
Finding the positives
The last two weekends haven’t been all negative for the Beavers.
Casey did notice a few positives as the team dropped consecutive Pac-12 road series at Utah and Arizona.
“I think Michael Gretler has been playing fantastic,” Casey said. “(Steven) Kwan is starting to swing the bat well, (Cadyn) Grenier is starting to swing the bat well.”
Grenier went 6 for 13 with three doubles, six RBIs and two runs scored as OSU dropped two of three in Arizona. The junior shortstop returned to the two hole for Sunday’s finale after batting ninth the previous four games.
“It doesn’t really matter where I hit in the lineup, and I’ve told (Casey) that 100 times,” Grenier said. “I’ve hit in just about every single spot except the four hole since I’ve been here, so I don’t really care.”
Grenier, one of the best defensive shortstops in the country, is hitting .319 this year with two homers and 21 RBIs.
Casey also singled out lightly-used freshman reliever Nathan Burns, who threw 2⅓ no-hit innings in Saturday’s loss. It was Burns’ third appearance of the season.
“I thought we got a really good performance out of Nathan Burns,” Casey said. “He showed as much or more composure on the mound than any reliever we brought in the game, and he’d only pitched two innings (entering the game). That was a real positive thing.”
Larnach, Rutschman on watch list
Trevor Larnach and Adley Rutschman were added to the Golden Spikes Award watch list, USA Baseball announced on Tuesday.
The award, which is given annually to the nation’s top amateur player, has a midseason watch list that features 40 players.
Larnach leads the Beavers with eight home runs and 37 RBIs. The junior outfielder is batting .325 but is just 3 for 21 in his last five games.
Rutschman, a sophomore catcher, is hitting .383 with three homers and 31 RBIs.
The Golden Spikes Award will name its semifinalists on May 21 and announce the finalists on June 6. The award will be presented on June 28.