Woodruff Easing Into Preseason Pitching

Woodruff Easing Into Preseason Pitching

Brandon Woodruff looked like he was shivering there in the dugout. He wasn't, though the temperatures were dropping at dusk. "I was shaking a little bit," Woodruff explained. "Man, I wanted to finish this inning so bad!"

The nervous energy was understandable. It had been a long, long time between scrimmage trips to the Dudy Noble Field pitching mound for Woodruff. "I guess since the first of fall," he said. The months of recovery and rehab and rebuilding his right elbow were rough enough on the sophomore moundsman. To top it off, or rather to extend the stress, Woodruff had his first preseason stint re-scheduled three times.

So when he did finally get on the hill today, well, it's a wonder Coach Butch Thompson didn't need a posse to remove Woodruff. "I was so anxious to get back out there," Woodruff said. "It was really fun to get back out and finally be able to go against some live hitters."

Too lively in a couple of cases. Woodruff did get a couple of outs into the opening inning, before Wes Rea took him to right-of-centerfield with a line-drive single. "I know, Wes had to spoil it!" joked Woodruff. The real spoiler was Mitch Slauter as he worked slapped a hot bouncer past the third base bag and into the corner. Rea was able to come all the way around as Jacob Robson bobbled the carom just enough.

Then again nobody expected Woodruff to dominate in his first real pitching in months. And by real, he meant working off a real mound. "It's the first time I've thrown-down in a while."

"I threw two bullpens, other than that I've been throwing flat-grounds from 50 feet, and long toss trying to strengthen my arm up. Today I felt like I could back it up and actually get a start from the mound, get a feel for it and get ready for the season."

Thompson had hoped to get Woodruff into the scrimmage rotation two weekends ago; then last Tuesday, then Sunday. It didn't happen because the pitching coach wasn't absolutely confident Woodruff's repaired elbow was ready; or because the pitcher himself did not feel 100% ready. Given how badly he wanted the work that says much for a young pitcher's maturity in not rushing a return.

But once he started today, stopping him was tough after 35 pitches in 1.2 innings. Unofficial readings had him consistently in the high-80s range. He had to exit with a runner on bases having reached the max-mark.

"I think I did well for my first time being out there in a while. But I didn't want to come off the mound, at all. I wanted to finish the inning. I understand they had me on a pitch count. But I was happy to be back out there."

Observed from behind the plate, Woodruff seemed to be locating well enough that a more generous umpire might have made for faster innings. "The umpire was a little inconsistent, it was pretty tight but you don't get all the calls you have to battle through it. But I felt I should have been out of the inning with a lot less pitches than it was." That said, Woodruff did not show a lot of different pitches either, nor has he focused much on changeups or sliders in his bullpens to-date.

"Actually the first slider I threw down off the mound was in the bullpen warming up. Tyler Fullerton was the first slider (in the scrimmage), I was alright I'm going to throw a slider right here and see how it goes. Luckily he missed it so it looked good on my part!

"And if I missed I did not want to miss high. I think I might have missed high two or three times but I'll take a ball in the dirt rather than chest-high and they hit it out of the ballpark any day."

The real test will be Wednesday when Woodruff reports for the next-day check on his elbow. He did say immediately after it felt fine during both warmups and his stint. This doesn't imply 100% strength yet, much less sharpness, so he expects more long-tossing on the side the next few days before Thompson gives him another scrimmage test.

"But everything went well and I was really pleased. I've still got a lot to do, a lot to work on getting my arm strength back up. But it's steadily getting there so I'm ready for the season to start."

Were it not for unforeseen elbow issues cropping up last September, this impressive soph could well be contending for one of those starting jobs on opening weekend. And he still should into the season. Still nobody wants to take any chances rushing him back from an unusual situation.

"It was kind of a weird thing, they've never really had anything (like this) on the outside of the elbow. But it's gotten a lot better. The trainers have taken really good care of me so I'm just now getting back to where I can throw. And I'm feeling 100% better from where I was at the beginning of the fall."

Rolling through rehab is tough enough for a pitcher, but in the past if not working bullpens or such Woodruff had his other duties to stay busy. He is very much in the outfielder picture for the season, as well as a promising righthanded batter. Unfortunately he had to set the stick aside as well during rehab, and unlike pitching he has yet to get in the cage for preseason practicing.

"But I think we might be getting to take some BP. So you better know I'm gonna take some hacks! I talked to Coach Cohen a little bit, I said hey I'm going to get a couple of cuts in. But I don't know if that's going to happen, I was just messing with him. But I'm really looking forward to pitchers BP to see what I can do!"

Mississippi State has three remaining scheduled scrimmages, all this weekend, before shifting into season-opening mode. So time is very short if Woodruff is to be a factor on February 15. Maybe too short now, though he isn't worrying.

"I don't know so much about opening weekend. But in the near future I want to be ready for SEC play. So I just want to take it slow, I don't want to rush into things. But I feel if I take it slow everything will come into place and I'll be ready by the time conference starts."

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