CONWAY — Back in July, Coastal Carolina right-hander Tyler Herb was preparing himself for the reality that he was going to need shoulder surgery.
He had gutted his way through the end of last season just trying to eat some innings and take pressure off the rest of the pitching staff as best he could, but his arm never felt right. Everybody around the team knew that. It had been a lost year in many regards for the junior and 2014 was in doubt too not to mention his pitching career completely, perhaps.
Which is why Saturday afternoon will be much anticipated for not only Herb, but also for the rest of the Chanticleers.
The Coastal baseball team opens its season Friday afternoon if the weather cooperates and Herb begins his on Saturday at TicketReturn.Com Field at Pelicans Ballpark, expected to get the start for the Chanticleers against Pittsburgh while feeling like his old self again finally.
Its significant, he said. Any year playing here is a great opportunity to make a regional, win the Big South, just have a successful season. Thats the reason I came down here. I came down here for a winning program and hopefully we can win some games.
Hes expected to be a big part of that now.
Prior to last season, Herb was a burgeoning ace, having gone 9-2 with a 2.61 earned-run average as a sophomore in 2012. He opened last season as the Chants No. 1 starter, and if all had gone as planned, well, he might have been drafted by a Major League organization last summer having closed the book on his collegiate career.
Instead, he gets to write the final chapter again.
I know the pain, how it was last year. And this year its 100-percent better, Herb said. There was a time in December and January I would throw and some pitches would be a little bit too long or too short I wouldnt let it go just because I had that feeling in the back of my mind. But I think its gone now, and I think Ive proved to myself that I can throw effectively in intrasquads.
There are a lot of people within the program hoping that carries over into the season and rooting for Herb to have a resurgent senior season and not just for the teams fortunes.
That kid is the epitome of Coastal baseball, Chants head coach Gary Gilmore said. Hes been a grinder for four years. He was a guy overlooked by virtually every one of the major conference schools and arguably may be the best overall athlete on our whole team. Beyond that, his makeup is second to none since Ive been here. The kid does everything you ask him and then some. All of us are just rooting for him to have a great year and end his career here on an extreme high note.
Said Coastal pitching coach Drew Thomas: I think what he did for us last year at the end of the year was just out of pure toughness. Thats all you can say. The guy is the ultimate teammate when it comes down to that.
Herb finished last season with a respectable 6-1 record but an inflated 4.15 ERA that had spiked considerably during the middle of the spring. His strikeout-to-walk ratio dropped from 70-to-40 in 2012 to 48-to-31, and he missed a large chunk of games trying to rest the shoulder.
In July, he met with famed sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews and expected the worst. Instead, he was put on a six-week therapy program and ended up rescheduling his next appointment because he was seeing improvement. He continued to throw and saw his velocity increasing without pain. So in November, he returned to Andrews to get the OK to keep going.
Over Thanksgiving break, he visited Eric Cresseys sports performance center near Boston, Mass., for a customized rehab plan and continued to work toward finding his old form and, as much as anything, his confidence.
There are minor tears. Basically [Andrews] told me if you would take an MRI of anyone in the World Series, it would look the same as my shoulder. Nothing too significant, Herb said. Theres always that little something, but as long as I can continue to work through it and have no pain, he said I should be good to go.
Its definitely a mental game. Its something Ive never really gone through. I havent gone through too much shoulder pain or arm pain in general, so Ive been lucky throughout my career. To come away with it and have no surgery, its awesome.
Like he said, though, there was still that hesitation in the back of his mind for a while. Thomas had started him off throwing tennis balls early in the fall just to get used to the motion again and built him back up from there until the breakthrough eventually came.
We were yelling out velocities in the outing 79, 82, 83, 86. You could see his face change and that was the moment, Thomas said.
Thomas says he knocks on wood every day, staying cautiously optimistic, and he joked that Herb is probably tired of being asked how hes feeling. But the coaches are going to take every precaution, limiting pitch counts and monitoring him after big innings.
Its a long season, and the more the 6-foot-3 senior right-hander is a part of, the better off it will be for everyone in the Coastal dugout. Even with all the setbacks last spring, Herb still ranks 13th on the programs career ERA chart with a 3.33 mark through three seasons and has a chance to be a difference-maker for a team that figures to be offensively-challenged and will need as much help on the mound as it can get.
As for the future, the draft and all that, Herb said it isnt on his mind.
I wasnt really concerned with that. You cant control it, he said. If the draft happens, it happens. If it doesnt, it doesnt. Im here to go to school, get a great education and help this team win. Anything that happens beyond that is just a bonus.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.