February 11, 2014 6:41:38 PM
Matthew Stevens - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- In front of at least 100 fathers and sons at a fall baseball camp, Ben Bracewell found himself making a promise to Mississippi State pitching coach Butch Thompson.
In a joking way, Bracewell committed himself to pitch 100 innings in the 2014 season, a feat he hasn't come close to in his five-year MSU career on the mound.
"It's become a running joke around the locker room that here I am standing in front of hundreds of father and sons saying I'm going to do this," Bracewell said. "That's a lot of innings for anybody but we'll have a really good season if I can just make every start I'm supposed to."
Bracewell's largest inning accumulation of innings was last season when he totaled 30 2/3 innings in 21 games last season in a relief role. The 6-foot right-hander is hoping to be a Saturday innings eater in the starting rotation for the 2014 Bulldogs club heading into his final year of eligibility.
"I feel bad sometimes that I made Ben Bracewell do that as a funny thing to do but then again, I don't ever think we've seen him at complete health," MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson said.
Bracewell is expected to make his first start in the 2014 season in one of the Saturday doubleheader games against Hofstra at Dudy Noble Field.
Bracewell was considered one of the best high school power arms in state of Alabama just three years ago. The power pitcher came to MSU after posting a 15-0 record with a 0.47 earned run average while holding opposing hitters to a .108 batting average in his final season of high school. The right-handed power pitcher piled up 156 strikeouts in 90 innings while, helping lead the Briarwood Christian Lions to a runner-up finish in the Class 5A state playoffs.
During that postseason run, Bracewell got the win in six of Briarwood's nine playoff games, posting a remarkable 0.19 ERA mark in postseason play.
However, he also came to Starkville with a pitching arm that team doctors and Thompson feared would have medical issues before he graduated from MSU. That fear turned into a reality in March 2009. While stepping into MSU's closer role as a freshman in 2010, Bracewell suffered a rare injury to the front part of the labrum on his right arm near the biceps tendon but what made this particular injury unique, along with being excellent news for Bracewell's pitching future, was the right shoulder as a whole has remained strong and hadn't had structural damage due to overcompensating in the throwing motion.
"We know that Ben hasn't done anything to cause these injury issues and in terms of the weight room and everything on and off the field, he works as hard as anybody in this locker room," MSU coach John Cohen said.
The 2014 season is likely the first opportunity the MSU coaches have had where they don't have to monitor Bracewell's health more than any other pitcher on the staff. Normally Thompson has had to try and coddle Bracewell's workload through the first two months of the season in order to have him productive for the stretch run of the postseason.
"I know I say this every spring but I really feel great and I'm sure I'll have some more soreness in terms of the workload increasing but I feel my fundamental mechanics are good," Bracewell said.
Bracewell, the 2009 Birmingham News Player of the Year and Metro Player of the Year, was told by not only the MSU team doctors but also from world renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews that pitching in 2010 on limited capacity throughout the final month wasn't going to damage the injury any further or create a longer rehabilitation process after the surgery is performed.
Dr. Andrews performed the surgery in the summer before the 2011 season but needed nearly the whole year to properly rehabilitate the arm. Bracewell stayed around the team throughout his rehab and began throwing off flat surfaces and then off a mound before MSU began its postseason run that included a Southeastern Conference Tournament victory.
The past offseason Bracewell was named a co-captain for the 2014 season and for the underclassmen arms of the MSU pitching staff has provided the role of counselor.
"I take that role seriously and anything I can do to pass along what I've been through in my career is something I feel is also my role on this team," Bracewell said. "We all get along on this team so coaches, players and whoever can come to me with anything."
Cohen said he loves when players like Bracewell accept the older brother role on the team just like when he was a player at MSU from 1987-90.
"I've always said that we can't have just three coaches in this program," Cohen said. "We need about 25 coaches on this team and most of them are out on the playing surface showing others how to do this and our young players should relish the opportunity to watch the Chris Stratton, Hunter Renfroe and Adam Frazier's do their job."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.