Baylor baseball’s pitching staff has not missed a beat this season. The kind of consistency and success they have had can be credited to a few starting pitchers in other instances, but the Bears have got the job done in their own way.
Senior pitcher Austin Stone suffered a minor biceps injury a couple of weeks ago.
Because of Stone’s unexpected dismissal from the lineup, Baylor head coach Steve Smith had to reconfigure his pitching rotation to cope with the inevitable — he will have to use young pitchers.
Sophomore pitcher Drew Tolson began the season as a backup mid-week starter.
With freshman pitcher Daniel Castano holding his own against non-conference opposition in the midweek games, Tolson did not see much playing time.
When Stone bowed out from his weekend duties, Castano moved up to take that slot and Tolson took Castano’s mid-week shift. Castano has hit the ground running in his first year with the team.
For Tolson though, it has been drawn-out saga that began in summer 2012, immediately after graduating from high school to break into Baylor’s starting lineup.
“It’s been a pretty long journey,” Tolson said. “I had the surgery after my senior year and spent all freshman year in the training room, so being back out on the field is a lot of fun.”
It wasn’t until spring 2013 that Tolson got back on the mound for the Bears, but it was most of those pitches were in practice squads and scrimmages.
This season, Tolson finally got in-game pitches at relief. Smith is cautious with how far he plans to push Tolson in his post-Tommy-John career.
The road to recovery after Tommy-John surgery can be risky business. There aren’t many other types of injuries or sports-related surgeries that have the repercussions of a Tommy-John.
The closest relatable injury in sports would be a torn ACL, but even that can be much quicker recovery than a Tommy-John.
Needless to say, the amount of activity after the surgery can be a slippery slope that, if done improperly, can have detrimental, career-ending consequences. Knowing just how much you can exert on your arm can take months, even years to solidify.
The best way to find out how far you can go as a pitcher is to battle-test yourself on the mound.
“I liked what I’ve seen out of him the last couple times out,” Smith said. “He seems to get a little better the longer you leave him out. I think he’s got great command, can sink the ball, change speeds. I just think that as he gets stronger we’ll see more and more of him.”
Tuesday night, Tolson gave up some runs to Texas State after some defensive errors and sloppy play from the infield, but went on to pitch a full seven innings, and threw no hits in his last four innings.
“We got a really good outing from him,” junior outfielder Logan Brown said. “I think he pitched just about as well as he could have. It’s really good to play defense behind that presence on the mound.”
That is the most pitches and innings Tolson has tossed for the Bears thus far. It’s hard to even see him as a player rebuilding from Tommy-John surgery at this point.
With Tolson’s recent rise to the midweek spot, Smith had him throw for five innings his first time out, and in seven innings his next start.
Gradually, Tolson is giving Smith and himself a more accurate gauge on where he stands in getting back to 100 percent.
“It’s a huge confidence booster for me to extend and throw more innings,” Tolson said. “It lets me trust my stuff more and get more confidence in my arm.”
Whether or not Stone reclaims his spot in the starting lineup, Tolson’s discipline and execution when his team needed him to step up has made Baylor’s pitching staff deeper and stronger heading into the home stretch of the season.