Tim Corbin can’t downplay the significance of T.J. Pecoraro's return.
“It is a shot in the arm,” Vanderbilt's baseball coach said.
Funny choice of words because that’s what Pecoraro endured 10 months ago.
Now all that remains from that season-ending Tommy John surgery is a bluish scar on the inside of his right elbow.
“It is big but it will get smaller,” Pecoraro said before practice on Thursday. “I obviously didn’t want to have the surgery but you got to do what you got to do. I’m just glad to be back.”
The sophomore is brushing off the unfortunate injury and looking ahead to a more promising future, one that began last weekend.
The 6-foot, 165-pound Pecoraro took the mound on Saturday for the first time since suffering the season-ending elbow injury on May 25 in the opening game of the SEC Tournament against Georgia. He stepped back on the rubber — also opposite Georgia — and threw 23 pitches in 1 2/3 innings of relief, allowing just one hit and no runs while striking out two.
“The command was still on and off but what do you expect after 10 months of not throwing?” Pecoraro said. “It is still going to take a while to get the command back completely but I definitely feel confident facing hitters now.”
Returning to that pre-injury form is of the utmost importance for him and for the Commodores (10-15, 2-4 SEC), who welcome in two-time defending national champ and ninth-ranked South Carolina (18-7, 1-5) this weekend at Hawkins Field.
Pecoraro’s return is a month sooner than expected and is most welcome as a young pitching staff battles through inexperience and inconsistency.
“Who comes back from that type of surgery as quickly as he did?” Corbin said. “I think the fact that he is out there ... the kids have a great deal of confidence in him. The kids who haven’t been around him don’t know but certainly the older kids know what he is capable of doing.”
Pecoraro impressed in his first year at Vanderbilt, earning Freshman All-American honors. Mainly starting in midweek games, he was 7-0 with a 1.59 ERA and opponents were hitting just .183 off him.
Able to reach 94 miles per hour with his pitches, Pecoraro wouldn’t disclose his top speed on the radar gun this year. With four pitches at his disposal — two-seam and four-seam fastball, curveball and changeup — velocity is less important than control.
“Hopefully it goes up,” he said. “If not, that is fine with me as long I can put it where I want it.”
Before the injury, the Dix Hills, N.Y., native figured to battle fellow Freshman All-American Kevin Ziomek for the role of Friday night starter. Ziomek and freshman Tyler Beede are holding down the first two weekend spots while Corbin says “TBA” is the Sunday starter until further notice.
Pecoraro could slip into that spot but presently the plan is to rebuild his arm strength to where he can throw 35 to 40 pitches before contemplating the next step. Corbin didn’t count out “any circumstance,” whether that be entering in the ninth inning or in middle relief.
The ultimate goal, however, is no secret.
“I think the goal for him is to try to start before the season’s out and it would help us a great deal if he could do that,” Corbin said. “He is a starting pitcher. He performs like a starting pitcher. He prepares like a starting pitcher. He is a starting pitcher with the exception with where he is now. Our goal is to try to get him in.”