Auburn, Ala.--Auburn’s opening baseball practice of 2017 was a big day for the Tigers and redshirt junior pitcher Keegan Thompson.
Continuing his comeback after having Tommy John Surgery following the 2015 season, Thompson looked good in his first outing of the spring and said it was another step in the right direction for him.
“It was fun,” Thompson said. “It was a good first day. I started out a little rusty, but the second inning I came back and threw more strikes and got a couple of guys out. It’s nice to be back on the mound three weeks away (from opening day). We’re looking forward to it.”
The performance, five strikeouts and one hit allowed in two innings, was big for the pitcher, but also for his coach. Seeing a positive step out of one of the guys he’s counting on to be in the starting rotation this season, Butch Thompson said watching Keegan throw and throw well was big not only for him but for the team.
“I'm just tickled to death,” the coach said. “I think he's growing and getting stronger. I just know he worked over the break. You can kind of tell when a college player has worked over the break or maybe they let some things slide. I just think he's so hungry in anticipation for the opportunity after being out for so long.
“He's only thrown two innings and really that's only the second time he's thrown to hitters, but I feel like he's ready. I feel like he's right where he's supposed to be and I know here over the break that he's worked hard. All these guys got to keep getting better every outing. I think he was more than prepared for this first outing, which is good to see.”
Throwing in the upper 80’s consistently and reaching 90 on occasion, Keegan Thompson said for him the performance was just part of the process of getting back to his old form that made him one of the best pitchers in the league.
“I’m still not where I want it to be,” said Thompson, he is scheduled to pitch in Friday's scrimmage at Plainsman Park. “We’re still working towards it, but it’s getting there.”
Saying that his command has been the biggest issue in getting all the way back, Thompson said that has meant being patient with his comeback. That’s something he admits hasn’t been easy for him.
“I’m not patient, actually,” he said. “I’m not a hunter or fisher because I’m not patient enough to do that. With the surgery and everything it has kind of helped a little bit, but I just want to get out there and throw. I’m not very patient with this stuff.”
Patience isn’t the only thing that the talented pitcher has been working on. His return has meant that he’s now one of the veterans on the staff, forcing him to step up in a leadership role for the Tigers.
Not a very vocal player on or off the field, he said he just has to play his game and show leadership in that area.
“I just kind of go out there and do what I’m supposed to do every day, try to work hard,” Thompson said. “I’m not a vocal leader. I’m not a real talker. I just try to go out there and do what I’m supposed to do and hopefully people do the same.”
In the end how well Keegan Thompson pitches will be important for the success of the team this season, but depth on the pitching staff is a big part of what Butch Thompson believes in. That’s something that his star pitcher sees out of this team and he’s ready to see just how good they can be.
“There’s a lot of new faces,” he said. “We had 33-34 guys on the roster and 20 of them are new. We’re still trying to get used to everybody. Everybody is trying to learn their role on the team. For the most part we’re a lot deeper than we have been in the past. We’re looking forward to it.”