Woodruff Working On The Recovery Track

It ended with a 9-8 scoreboard, two runners headed home and a deep drive seemingly headed out. But hits, runs, even the rob-job leftfielder Cody Brown did on Wes Rea's deep drive ending the five-inning affair weren't what folk wanted to talk about. Top topic was a Diamond Dog who didn't even scrimmage. "I don't know why they wanted the attention on me!" said Brandon Woodruff.

Woodruff was serious in saying so. But having him back on the Dudy Noble Field mound is serious news. The junior righthander is one obvious key in Mississippi State's pitching plans for 2014, as Woodruff returns from spring elbow surgery.

So when the coaches put him on the hill today prior to the regular scrimmage, with real batters at the plate…well yeah, that merited attention. As did Woodruff's scripted performance. "Just 25 pitches, plus warmups," he said. "It was pretty light."

But pretty encouraging as well as Woodruff was a steady 91-92 with the fastballs and twice pumped-up to 94 and 96; then came back with 83-84 changeups. "It was just fastball, change," he said. "I didn't want to throw any sliders, I've been working on them but I didn't want to do it right off the bat. I mean it's a ‘feel' pitch, so I'll always have it, I just didn't want to work it in today."

Otherwise, "It felt pretty good, I kind-of got a gun the other day during my bullpen. Today I wanted it on there. But it felt loose, like it was coming out pretty good." Even better was how the pitches looked once leaving his hand as Woodruff kept in and around the strike zone. Not quite up to regular-season game standards maybe, but sufficient to satisfy at this point of his recovery road.

"The early going I felt I had it (command) pretty good, then it was a little spotty towards the middle. But to finish up I felt like it was pretty good." As for the velocity? That too was good but just another step in the process. The point here was Woodruff rolled through the stint, looked live and loose enough, and didn't push the limits too soon.

"I felt like there's more in the tank for sure. I just have to get my arm conditioned more. It's still early, that's only 25 pitches. So I need to be able to do that for a hundred pitches so there's still a lot to work on, I've still got a lot to get better."

Woodruff indeed has a lot left to show Diamond Dog fans as a full-time pitcher. He was somewhat of a dual-duty freshman in 2012, playing 13 games in the outfield with four starts. But pitching was his first role, with 12 appearances, a 1-2 record and 2.65 ERA. He struck out 37 against 17 walks.

Last season Woodruff was booked as a midweek starter and won his first turn, against Grambling State with 6.0 innings. Something wasn't entirely right though as he struggled in some ensuing starts…before putting in an exceptional effort at South Alabama over 6.0 innings with 68 pitches. A week later, four outs into the Governors Cup game, the arm was dead. An elbow issue ended the year far too early to suit him.

But, in the big picture, soon enough to get the serious work done and give every opportunity to recover in time for 2014. Or for that matter this fall's scrimmaging. Where when the semester began it wasn't sure Woodruff would even do much bullpenning in fall ball, now he's hoping to get in a real scrimmage.

"Ideally I'd for sure like to be able to throw a couple of outings before the fall ends. I don't know when that will be but for sure get in a couple of live games and then be ready to go for spring." Woodruff was helped when installation of the artificial sidelines surface delayed fall camp a little longer.

"That was good, that they pushed it back a week, it gave me an extra week to get ready." Now the key to his camp is recovery from each bullpen or on-field throwing session. Woodruff walked off DNF feeling fine Tuesday to be sure…just check back in 48 more hours he suggested.

"Usually it gets a little stiff on the second day. Like last year, I couldn't do much, but now I can bounce back pretty quick." His next stint on field will be determined by Coach Butch Thompson after the two meet tomorrow to review this initial serious stint. "Probably soon, though," said Woodruff hopefully.

The Diamond Dogs have moved up their scrimmaging schedule this week by a day, with 2:00 intrasquad games Thursday and Friday and Saturday at noon.

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