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As LSU Reaches Final Month of Regular Season, Recovery Can't Be Overlooked

Johnson says he's never dealt with so many small injuries on a team, balancing work and health a fine line

Jay Johnson admitted he hasn't been a part of a team with as many "small things" in terms of injury the Tigers have had to deal with this season. This team is 40 games into its season and there has definitely been an increase in both long and short term injuries as its progressed.

Outfielder Gavin Dugas has barely played the last month with a wrist injury. He and catcher Alex Milazzo, who's also missed a good chunk of the season due to a leg injury, will not play against top 25 Georgia this weekend. Then there's the long term injuries to pitcher Javen Coleman and hitter Cade Beloso, who have been out the entirety of the season due to more serious injuries. 

Getting this team as healthy as possible for a postseason run is just one goal and with a number of guys nicked up, the importance of recovery plays a major role into how the Tigers prepare on a daily basis.

"It's really important and for this team, for whatever reason, we've had more small things than any team I've ever been a part of," Johnson said. "They're accountable for what they do off the field and the choices they make in the betterment of their health and readiness to play."

In talking with reporters, the LSU players understand the importance of keeping their bodies right at this stage in the season. For outfielder Dylan Crews, his postgame routine usually consists of an ice bath and some treatment from trainer Corey Couture, who works with pretty much all of the players on a daily basis. 

For pitcher Riley Cooper, who has appeared in eight of the last nine SEC contests for the Tigers, the importance of treatment on his arm after an outing is extremely important and usually consists of a massage after his outing. Part of what the players have appreciated since the arrival of this new staff is the responsibility put on them in terms of controlling their health and workload to get them prepared for the next day's work.

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"I've gotten used to it from last year and doing what the team needs," Cooper said. "Definitely need that massage and then just in the training room doing different recovery.

"They're the best fed team in LSU baseball history and the reason behind that is trying to keep them healthy," Johnson said. "Hydration, management is more individually based. We practice in shorts most days, especially as it gets a little hotter."

Johnson gave the example of Tre Morgan this week, who was used in the batting order as a designated hitter instead of first base against UNO to help better manage a hyperextended knee he's been playing on for the last month. Johnson's philosophy was that Morgan is still going to compete at the plate, with runners on base despite the injury but the point is to give a little relief to being in the field and on that leg all day.

As a result, freshman Luke Leto earned the start but it's not a situation where Johnson and the staff are looking at that as a permanent move. Striking that right balance between work, rest and recovery is a particularly important part of Johnson's job this late into the season and is a daily process he discusses with his players and coaches. 

"We've pushed them hard everyday in practice but you have to be mindful of those sort of things. It's a unique spot as a coach because they've gotta improve and the only way I know to do that is through work but you have to take that piece into consideration," Johnson said. "It's on my mind constantly and we have to make a decision daily about balancing those things."