USC's Bradley remains optimistic about return

South Carolina outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. was hitting a career-worst .259 in 37 games before suffering a wrist injury.

Tracy Glantz

COLUMBIA -- Jackie Bradley Jr. wants to again play baseball in a South Carolina uniform, if only his surgically repaired left wrist will allow him to do so before the season ends.

The junior outfielder, with his left arm in a sling, remained upbeat Tuesday about the possibility of some kind of return in the next month.

"I'm very optimistic about it," said Bradley, who had surgery last Friday on the injured tendon. "I've been known to heal pretty quickly. I'm hoping everything works out the way I know it can."

The Virginian has a checkup Friday, and he's hopeful he can begin a rehabilitation schedule after that. Still, he admitted the earliest he could begin hitting would be six weeks -- and two months isn't beyond the realm of possibility.

Bradley is leaning on his track record of mending fast -- from a blood clot his freshman year and a broken bone in his right hand last season -- as cause for confidence in this case. He said this injury is different than the hand, though, because he could again dislocate the tendon and "be back to square one."

The NCAA tournament begins June 3 and ends in Omaha, Neb., on June 29.

Like his coach Ray Tanner said last week, Bradley echoed he could potentially come back as a late-game defensive replacement or pinch runner. His entrance could provide an emotional lift for the team, too.

"I don't want to be sitting on the sideline in the postseason," said Bradley, the College World Series' Most Outstanding Player last summer. "I want to be playing and contributing."

Without Bradley and a host of other players -- mostly outfielders -- the Gamecocks have still managed to win the majority of their games. Entering tonight's game at Wofford, South Carolina is 35-8 overall and 17-4 in the SEC.

The Gamecocks are ranked No. 1 in the Collegiate Baseball poll, second in the recognized Baseball America poll. They've had yet to lose a series this season, including tussles with the SEC East's other top-five teams, Florida and Vanderbilt.

"This team is amazing," Bradley said. "As you can see, despite all the adversity we've been going through -- mainly the outfielders -- we still continue to win. It shows the fight and the desire this team has to get back to the postseason."

Prior to the injury, Bradley was having the worst statistical season of his three years at USC. He was batting .259 -- worst among the team's regulars -- in 37 games. He's still second on the team with six home runs, but some observers saw a player trying too hard to impress pro scouts. A hitter who typically sprayed the ball to all fields, Bradley had become primarily a pull hitter, a sign he was pressing.

Bradley says that is not that case, although he admits he has had a hard time adjusting to consistently being pitched inside.

"It's different. I've never struggled like this before," he said. "This is a one-year thing. I will overcome it and I will become better from it. I've proven myself multiple years. This one year will not determine the player that I am. I fully can back that up. We'll see in the future."

Bradley is still expected to go before the second round in the June draft, even if scouts have more questions about him than when the season started. Although it would be a shocker, Bradley at least opened the door Tuesday for a return for his senior year.

"There's a lot of options I can weigh when that time comes," he said. "You never know. I could be back here, in Columbia -- home."

For now, Bradley wants to make sure his USC career hasn't already ended.

"It's very important to me," Bradley said of playing again in a Gamecocks uniform. "I want to get back out there and play the game that I love and show everybody that I'm not done. I came here to play and to win."