November 13, 2013 6:56:52 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- The problem seems to have been fixed for Mississippi State's projected ace for the 2014 season.
Brandon Woodruff, a junior right-hander from Wheeler, has showed no signs of the dead arm syndrome he suffered last year in an injury-plagued sophomore campaign. In his first two outings of the fall, Woodruff has done exactly what the coaches wanted. He threw 25 pitches two weeks ago in a simulated inning, all of which were a combination of two- and four-seam fastballs and changeups, to veteran MSU batters, including senior first baseman Wes Rea.
"When I finally got a (radar) gun in my bullpen and saw the numbers, that's when I felt good about where I was," Woodruff said. "It just feels loose and has felt really good coming out of my hand like never before since I got here."
Radar guns recorded Woodruff's fastball at 91-93 mph, with a high speed of 96, and his changeup at 80-84. Woodruff had been working bullpen sessions the past two weeks with MSU associate head coach/pitching coach Butch Thompson.
Last weekend, Woodruff allowed two hits in four scoreless innings in a scrimmage where he was allowed to use his breaking pitches. He struck out one and walked one and has thrown 5 2/3 hitless innings this fall.
"I don't think he's thrown a fastball slower than 90 mph yet," MSU coach John Cohen said. "He's been a 93-95 with his fastball and his changeup is something we think can be a real weapon because it's at a very elite level when he has good stuff on the mound. We think the breaking ball is about where it should be with him, but he's going to be successful pitching off his fastball, so that's our main concern."
After 19 scrimmages, MSU will wrap up its fall season with the annual Bulldog World Series. The best-of-five series starts at 4 p.m. today at Dudy Noble Field. Games 2-4 will be Friday through Sunday. Game 5 will be Tuesday. The final two games will be played regardless of whether one team clinches the series by winning the first three games. Admission is free to all games.
Woodruff hasn't complained about soreness after his fall outings, which is one reason MSU coaches would like to see him pitch this weekend. He could get the starting nod Saturday when temperatures are expected to rise from the colder weather early this week.
"With any pitcher that is coming back off an injury, the day of is usually the best day and then the next day you see how much soreness, but he's in a really good place," Cohen said. "I think there's a lot of peace in knowing this was the issue and we've isolated it and he's rehabbing with weights for two hours during our scrimmage."
Woodruff struggled with shoulder problems last season and had to have season-ending surgery, which was performed by Dr. Rusty Linton, the team surgeon in Columbus. He was 1-1 with a 4.34 ERA in 18 2/3 innings (eight games). In his last start against Ole Miss at Trustmark Park in Pearl, Woodruff lasted just 1 1/3 innings and allowed one run on three hits in 21 pitches. He didn't throw a fastball that registered more than 85 mph on the radar gun.
Now that he is on the way back to 100 percent, Woodruff will be expected to compete for one of three weekend starter roles in 2014.
"I just have to get my arm conditioned more," Woodruff said. "It's still early and my goal is to be ready for 100 pitches every outing in the spring. That's what quality starting pitchers in the league and in the big leagues are prepared to do every time out."
Said Cohen, "We need him to be that guy on the weekend for us this season, and he knows that. He's a real solid piece to what we have coming back, and his maturity on the mound is evident to his development with Butch Thompson this fall."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.