By Sam Draut–
When starting second baseman Nick Solak left in the third inning of Louisville’s 6-3 loss to Virginia March 25 to receive X-rays after being hit on the hand on a bunt attempt, coach Dan McDonnell said the “heart and soul” of the fourth-ranked Cardinals went down. Though X-rays were negative for the player with the team’s highest batting average, Solack was listed day-to-day.
In Solak’s absence, freshman Devin Mann has filled in at second base and the third spot in the order quite nicely. The 6-foot-2 Indiana native has started the past six games, all of which have ended as Louisville victories.
During the six-game winning streak, Mann has batted .346 with 8 RBI, scored six runs and had a string of four consecutive games with extra base hits.
“It has been fun to watch his growth this year,” McDonnell said. “I give him a lot of credit because most freshmen aren’t as focused and mature as he is. He has done a nice job for us.”
Before Solak was injured, Mann only had one start and seven collegiate at-bats under his belt.
While he spent the first month of the season playing intermittently, Mann said he used the time to improve himself as a player, working on hitting and defense.
“I tried to stay focused and help the team win,” Mann said. “I try to get here early and do whatever I can to prepare to help the team win that day.”
On a roster filled with experienced upperclassmen, sometimes Mann is the only freshman in the lineup. Until freshman third baseman Drew Ellis started on Monday against Virginia Tech, Mann was the only first-year player to start in the lineup during Louisville’s six-game winning streak. Mann said playing so early in his freshman year has “been a great growth experience” and he has “learned a lot.”
“He is a good player, he is a good hitter and he has gotten a lot better defensively,” McDonnell said. “He takes a lot of pride and he shows up to the park every day.”
With the uncertainty of when Solak will return, Mann prepares as if he will be in the starting lineup every day.
“I’m come in here like I’m going to be in the lineup and if they tell me that he is back in the lineup then that’s good for him,” Mann said. “I come in prepared and do the best I can do in whatever they need me to do that day.”
Following a trip to Lexington to face non-conference rival Kentucky on Wednesday, Louisville hits the road again to play a series against fifth-ranked Florida State this weekend.
Photo courtesy / Louisville Athletics