By JOEL POILEY
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—For a pitcher recovering from Tommy John surgery, certain dates become engrained forever.
Louisville sophomore Mike Nastold will never forget May 5, 2009, the last time he toed the rubber before his surgery. Sunday became another important milestone for Nastold, as he started for the Cardinals against Minnesota in the Big East Big Ten Challenge at Progress Energy Park at Al Lang Field.
Working with a pitch count of about 50, Nastold toiled three scoreless innings, hitting as high as 94 on the radar and throwing all of his pitches in the Cardinals’ 3-0 victory. He gave up one hit, walked three and fanned three, two swinging.
He received a first-inning assist from center fielder Adam Engel, who threw out a Gopher runner at home trying to score from second base on a single.
Nastold, who threw 28 strikes in 49 pitches, looked like he had never been away in the second inning, blowing away three consecutive hitters with heat and well-placed off-speed stuff. He tired a bit in the third, walking two hitters. But after a visit from pitching coach Roger Williams he got Minnesota’s Justin Gominsky to pop out to shallow center field to end his day.
“I had butterflies since yesterday because I hadn’t been out there for so long,” Nastold said, smiling. “I talked to myself; said a prayer to God. I was anxious because it’s a very long process. I just loved being out there again.
“I worked on everything; just trying to get a feel for all my pitches. I’m pretty confident how I feel right now.”
A key recruit for the Cardinals out of Elder High in Cincinnati, Nastold was a Cardinals' weekend pitcher as a freshman in 2009, starting strong at 2-0 with a 3.52 ERA in eight appearances before getting hurt. He said the elbow injury didn’t result from a particular pitch, just wear and tear over time.
Having never been hurt, Nastold said he knew it would be a mental battle as much as the physical work to recover.
“You have to be dedicated to the rehab,” he said. “You have to be straight with everything. You can’t skip a rep any day. You can’t get down on yourself because it’s a long process. It’s hard to sit there and watch your team. We have a great team, a great coach, and you want to be out there helping.”
Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said the team will take its time building up Nastold’s stamina because he is expected to be a key component in the Cardinals’ success this season.
“We had other guys step up when he was out all year, but we knew in the back of our mind we need him on the weekend,” said McDonnell, whose team finished 50-14 in winning the Big East Conference last year. “He has all the tools. He’s a big, strong kid (6-foot-3, 230 pounds), a hard worker, very mature, a good student. He had a little bicep tendonitis in our spring training, and we’re just bringing him along slowly. We knew he was going to go about three innings, but we want him in that starter role and to have that starter mentality.
“He’s done nothing but get better since we got him. He throws a hard slider. His ball is real heavy and it’s down. I haven’t seen many guys square up his ball. He’s been through that adversity part that it seems like so many college athletes, especially pitchers, have to face. So we’re confident that he can have a big year for us.”
Nastold also pitched for the Midland Redskins in high school, one of the dominant travel ball teams in the country. But a leg injury contributed to keeping him from being drafted out of high school. He is draft-eligible this year, and McDonnell said scouts are watching.
“If I’m professional baseball I’m going to watch him closely,” McDonnell said. “You pitch on the weekend in our rotation, in our program, you’re a front-line guy.”
• Nastold wasn’t the only pitcher to excel for the Cardinals (3-0) during the tournament, as they finished with a streak of 23 consecutive scoreless innings. Louisville defeated Michigan 6-3 Friday and shut out Ohio State 2-0 Saturday. Justin Amlung tossed 7 2/3 innings for the win against the Buckeyes, with senior Gabe Shaw and junior Tony Zych finishing the game.
• Freshman righthander Chad Green followed Nastold with three scoreless innings for the win against Minnesota. Hulking freshman righthander Jeff Thompson, 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, worked a scoreless seventh and eighth before Shaw closed on Sunday.
• Louisville freshman Ty Young provided a key two-run single in the fifth inning for a 3-0 lead.
• Nick O’Shea had two of Minnesota’s (1-2) three hits, with a single and double. AJ Pettersen had the other hit, an infield single in the eighth. The Gophers brought the tie run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, but Shaw fanned Troy Larson for the final out.
• Ohio State rallied from a 7-1 deficit Sunday to beat No. 23 St. John's 8-7 in 11 innings and earn the first victory for coach Greg Beale.
• St. John's loss left Louisville as the Big East's lone unbeaten team in the Challenge. Michigan State was the only Big Ten school to go undefeated in the event, beating Notre Dame, Seton Hall and Cincinnati.
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