Hoover, Ala.--The numbers weren't great for Paul Burnside Wednesday night. One inning pitched, two runs allowed, two hits and two walks. However, considering it has been almost a full year since he got on the mound in a real game, Wednesday night was a full-blown success for the junior from Montgomery.
Auburn's top pitcher last season before an arm injury cut his season short, Burnside was primed to be the ace of the Tigers' staff in 2008 until a freak injury sidelined him for the start of the season. Doing a drill for a group of young campers over Christmas break, Burnside fell and broke his collarbone in three different places.
Watching as his team began the season, Burnside has been relegated to throwing lightly on the side and two weeks ago finally began to throw off the mound. Facing hitters for the first time last week, Burnside says that getting back on the mound in a real game was almost like starting over because of the nerves involved.
"It was fun," Burnside said. "It's nice to have all the guys cheering for me and also the fans. I had a little family get-together out there in the stands. It just felt good to get back on the mound again and have those nerves jumping a little bit.
"I was breathing a little harder than I'm used to when I was warming up," he added. "It felt all right. It felt different. I've still got a little ways to go. Obviously it wasn't quite the old self, but I'm making progress."
With most of his pitches ranging from 77-81 MPH with a top speed of 84, Burnside is well off his normal velocity, but that is to be expected considering the time off. He said that the main goal for him was to just see some hitters and work on getting back in the groove on the mound no matter how good his stuff was.
"We just wanted to get me out there to see some hitters for a little bit," Burnside said. "I have been facing some of our hitters, but it's definitely a little different in practice than it is in a real game. It was nice to be able to do this. Hopefully we can progress and start to build up a little bit more. Hopefully pretty soon I'll be ready for the SEC. It's nice to get back and actually be a part of the team again. I was glad to be out there facing live guys. It was good to get this out of the way."
Now the question is how long does it take for Burnside to work his way into form? That may take a while considering how long it has been since he saw the mound, but for Coach Tommy Slater it's something he said they'll take their time with. He didn't have much of the old gas Wednesday night, but for a few moments the old Burnside showed up and Slater said it was fun to watch.
"We've still got a lot of arm strength to build up," Slater said. "Obviously the ball is not coming out of his hand like it's capable of doing. We've got to build up some pitches and some arm strength. He's a long way from being where he needs to be, but it's good to see Burnie out there competing. He had to compete after a couple of walks and he did. He didn't have a whole lot on the baseball, but he willed some guys out tonight which was fun to watch."