One Wave is working his way back, but another might be waving goodbye. Junior righthander Brett Hunter is back on the mound for Pepperdine, but outfielder Eric Thames is battling an injury of his own.
Hunter first returned to game action Saturday against Santa Clara, surrendering a single and hitting a batter in a close game in the seventh inning before the Waves pulled him for closer Nick Gaudi. Then on Tuesday against UC Riverside, he made his first start since being shelved by forearm and elbow soreness following his Feb. 29 start against Tulane. As might be expected, Hunter showed signs of rust in his short outing Tuesday, allowing four runs (two earned) on three hits and three walks while striking out one over 1 2/3 innings. He threw 68 pitches and sat at 92 mph with his fastball but didn’t really "put the pedal to the medal", according to one scout who was there. He threw all of his pitches, and Pepperdine coach Steve Rodriguez said his curveball looked "great, actually."
"He looked just kind of like I expected him to," Rodriguez said. "When you don’t throw for a couple of months, you just play some catch, throw some simulated games, everything’s different once you get a different colored uniform in the box. He just looked like everybody kind of expected him to in terms of getting feel for his command and being quick to the plate. There’s always a thought in your mind, ‘How does your arm feel?’ He said it felt great, like he’s been telling us for weeks.
"At Santa Clara he was 88-93, and even when he started for us and was healthy, he was always 90-92 the first couple of innings, then as he heated up he’d be 97-98 in the sixth or seventh. I’m not expecting his velocity to be back where it was, but I think it will be good. Right now we’re just happy that he’s just pitching for us again."
Rodriguez said there’s no plan yet how to–or whether to–use Hunter this weekend against San Diego in the West Coast Conference championship series. Hunter could start a game, he could enter in relief, or he might not pitch at all.
"Most of it’s just play it by ear, make sure he feels proper, make sure he’s healthy–that’s the most important thing," Rodriguez said. "With regards to our pitching rotation, right now there really is no plan. If he’s going to be pitching in the middle of it, great. If not, that’s OK too–we’ve done it all year without him. Right now, we have some guys who have gotten us to where we are this year. They’re healthy, they feel good, they’re in good rhythm."
Unfortunately for the Waves, though, they might be without their leading hitter for the rest of the year. Junior outfielder Eric Thames had to leave Friday’s game against Santa Clara after injuring his upper leg while beating out a ground ball. The buzz in the West Coast scouting community was that Thames’ injury was a hip flexor that would sideline him through the postseason; Rodriguez said Thames had an MRI but he did not know the results, and right now he’s day to day.
Thames is a potential top-three-rounds draft pick after capturing WCC player of the year honors by hitting .407/.513/.769 with 13 home runs and 59 RBIs. In conference play, he led the WCC in batting (.529), on-base percentage (.612), slugging (.956), homers (eight), and runs (25).
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