MARSHALL — Wayne State’s pitcher, Nick Schumacher, threw free and easy despite the howling wind at Alumni Field Wednesday afternoon.
The right-hander is proof that pitchers can come back from Tommy John surgery.
Schumacher has bad memories of facing SMSU in baseball, but his complete-game performance erased some of them.
He went the distance, scattering eight hits and allowing two runs (one earned) in the Wildcats’ 4-2 win in Game 1. He threw 121 pitches, including 70 for strikes.
He came into the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) game with a 6-1 won-loss mark and 2.91 earned-run-average (ERA).
His thoughts flashed back to May 2006 when he was injured throwing a pitch.
The Wildcats and Mustangs played at the Northwest Missouri State field after the game was snowed out in Wayne, Neb., and Marshall.
Schumacher has been one of the top pitchers in the NSIC.
He was named Pitcher of the Year as a sophomore, when he went 8-2 with a 2.88 ERA in 84.1 innings.
He compiled a 6-3 record and 5.18 ERA in 64.1 innings as a freshman.
Those two years seem like a long time ago for the 6-foot-4 senior from Nebraska City, Neb.
It was May 2006 when he tore a ligament in his right elbow. Prior to that, he had a 1-2 record and 5.48 ERA in 23 innings.
“The last pitch I threw, Nate Koppi (of SMSU) hit a home run,” Schumacher said in between games of a doubleheader Wednesday.
Wayne State went on to win. He doesn’t remember the score.
He didn’t have an inkling of any previous pain in his right elbow.
“It’s (happened) over time — it’s the wear and tear,” Schumacher said.
He’s followed in the tradition of outstanding starting pitchers at Wayne State. It all started with Brady Borner, a left-hander from Chaska who has advanced to the Class AA level within the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
If everything works out, Schumacher might get his chance to live out a dream of pitching in the major leagues some day.
That’s thanks to successful Tommy John surgery in the summer of 2006.
“I had the best doctor so it wasn’t too hard coming back,” Schumacher said.
He went through a nine-month rehabilitation program before pitching against Upper Iowa last spring.
“I got in a (rehab) program that made you work,” Schumacher said.
He’s worked himself back into top form, which was evident in the way he was a master in using all of his pitches — a slider, cut fastball and change-up — despite windy conditions Wednesday.
Several times, SMSU had the potential tying run at the plate, only to be thwarted by the Wildcats’ outstanding senior pitcher.
He yielded a wind-blown solo home run to Greg Laughlin in the third inning and an unearned run (on the shortstop’s error) in the fifth inning.
Whenever Schumacher needed to make a big pitch, he was equal to the task.
He finished with three walks and six strikeouts.
He came into the game with a 2-to-1 ratio for strikeouts-to-walks, having walked 22 batters and struck out 46.
“My slider is pretty good. This year, everything is clicking,” he said.
It was a testimonial to how much he’s come back from the dreaded elbow surgery, which the Twins’ Francisco Liriano is now recovering.
“I came out of the (bull)pen last year,” Schumacher said. “Toward the end, I started a couple of games. I also threw in the conference tournament.”
A year ago, the tall right-hander showed promise after a dominating sophomore year at Wayne State.
Last year, he ended with a 2-0 record and 6.00 ERA in 21 innings. He had one save in relief.
“I’m a 100 percent back,” Schumacher said Wednesday.
Laughlin’s homer was only the second the Wildcats’ hurler has allowed in 10 mound appearances (eight starts) and in 50.1 innings this year.
Schumacher has been dominating at the NCAA-Division II level. Wednesday, he turned in his third complete game this season.
There’s less than a month of the season remaining, but it’s adding up to a success story for Nick Schumacher.
“It’s ending on a good note,” he said. “Baseball has definitely been worth it. Coming in, I had good thoughts about this year.”
He’s regained everything — the pitches, the self confidence, the mound moxie — that makes this season comparable to his sophomore year when he was honored as the NSIC’s Pitcher of the Year.
In fact, he’s added more velocity to his fastball, which was timed at 91 miles per hour as a sophomore.
“I’ve added a couple miles per hour,” Schumacher said. “This year, I’ve topped out at 94.”
It’s more evidence that a comeback is possible after the elbow surgery, which is named after New York Yankees’ pitcher, Tommy John.
Schumacher is anxious to see how the end of 2008 plays out for the Wildcats, who came into Wednesday’s twinbill ranked No. 22 nationally.
“We’ll see what happens the rest of this year,” he said.
He has his eyes set on the major-league draft of amateur players in June.
“I have had some teams contact me,” Schumacher said.
He listed off the Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres and Philadelphia Phillies.
He’s hoping to get drafted, which signals a complete recovery from a serious arm injury he suffered in May 2006.
“I like my chances,” Schumacher said.
Twins Fun Night is scheduled June 16 at Fairfax’s Memorial Park.
The event is sponsored by Curt Sampson, who is celebrating his 75th birthday this year.
Several celebrities are expected to be on hand for the benefit game, including KARE 11 news anchor, Mike Pomeranz, who formerly pitched in the Twins’ organization.