Routt Ready For Return To Mound Wednesday

Give Nick Routt major points for maintaining a sense of humor over the longest year of his young life. "I was talking to Coach (Butch) Thompson the other day," Routt said. "I said my arm feels good on 360 days of rest!"

The Diamond Dog pitcher can afford such quips now that his near-complete-year exile from the mound is about to end. Come Wednesday evening and the bottom of the first inning Routt has been booked to take the mound for Mississippi State against Lipscomb. Weather permitting, that is.

"The reports look good?" Routt asked anxiously this morning talking to a couple of reporters, who assured that all forecasts for the central Tennessee area that day are positive. Weather is one not-funny topic for Routt right now. Not after his intended opportunity to make the return on the home field was washed out last Tuesday.

"It was a killer! I was so ready to go, so pumped-up, then I looked outside and said, this is awful."

Not nearly as awful as missing essentially a complete calendar of his college pitching career. In fact it was exactly a year ago this Sunday that Routt's sophomore season was shut down. Elbow issues ultimately required surgery to move some parts into the right places, and the ensuing recovery has taken a little longer than everyone hoped.

Now…the wait is almost over. Routt will watch Tuesday's home game with Eastern Illinois (6:30) as Kendall Graveman takes first turn, while working himself up for the road game in Nashville.

"I just found out the decision today," said Routt. He had thought there was some chance of getting the ball tomorrow after he did a bullpen stint Sunday. "But this morning Coach said Wednesday. I'm sure it's going to be something similar to what it was supposed to be last Tuesday, which was 40-to-50 pitches. It could be four innings or two-three innings just depending on how everything goes."

Routt had no time to sit back and think about the long-awaited return, either. Upon informing, he and the rest of State's staff did a Monday morning practice and reported to the weightroom. Some way to celebrate, huh? Not that Routt complains.

"I'm just glad everything is feeling good and I'm ready to get back on the mound, to try to contribute to my team and get back in the rotation."

That would be welcomed by every Diamond Dog that saw Routt in action as a 2009 Freshman All-SEC pitcher. Southpaw Routt earned an immediate rotation role and would start all 13 weekends, posting a 5-3 record and 4.15 ERA. His shortest stint was 4.2 innings in a weather-forced doubleheader with South Carolina, and he tallied four complete games.

Naturally Routt was booked as the core of State's 2010 rotation too, but problems cropped up from day-one. He would make six starts, the last going just 2.0 innings in the game-three against Florida. It's been a frustrating wait since, but at the same time nobody wanted to rush this gifted lefty into action and risk further delays, even damage.

"I'm fully rehabbed," Routt said, but added this is not the same as 100% physically. No amount of lifting and bullpenning can get a pitcher's body ready to return as if nothing ever interrupted. So nobody is asking Routt to throw a, so to speak, route against Lipscomb or anyone just yet.

"I just don't have the stamina to go 120 pitches right now. So it's building up on my pitch count. What they usually do is go about 15 more pitches each outing, and it even be jumped depending on how I feel. There's so many factors but definitely want to get back in the weekend rotation and be a factor in this team, and hopefully do something special in the post-season."

If Mississippi State is to make a real run at the post-season having a healthy Routt would be a huge help. He will be a different moundsman than two years ago, though. "I should have three pitches now instead of two because I'm throwing a slider in bullpens." That's something opposing batters haven't seen, much less scouted, since in 2009 Routt was a straight fastball/changeup lefty. In fact even his change won't look the same now. What he had been throwing involved a big motion and corresponding strains. State coaches talked with friends in the field and came back with one that puts less stress on the arm. Fall 2009 attempts to develop a curve or cutter didn't work out as well but the current repertoire ought to suffice.

"But I feel comfortable with it and should be able to locate it," Routt said. "It's not as much sidearm, more over the top. That kind of helps get the slider a little more movement instead of sweeping across."

Just don't look for Routt to try to show everything off on the first-start chance, even if he knows a lot of folk will be watching. Such as scouts, since after all he is a draft-eligible junior now. And fans have worn out message boards for weeks wondering when Routt would get on the hill again.

"It's been almost a year so it's obviously what everyone wants to see. Including me!" Routt grins, again. Seriously, though, "My gameplan is just to pitch the best I can! And hopefully get a win. That's what I'm working towards.

"I've been ready for two weeks now so I'm just ready to get on the mound. Now, I'm just praying it doesn't rain Wednesday!"

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