Junior pitcher Morgan Cooper’s elbow no longer sears with the pain he felt for so long, Now, he just awaits his return to the mound.
“I don’t care what they ask me to do,” Cooper said. “I could be a set-up guy for one hitter a weekend — that’s fine with me. Whatever coaches want me to do, that’s what I’ll do. I just want to pitch again.”
Coming off Tommy John surgery — an operation to repair a damaged ligament in the elbow — last November, Cooper has no qualms about coming back at less than full strength. The pitcher, whom head coach Augie Garrido calls “one of the most important guys on our staff,” simply wants to toe the mound for his team.
“I’m just excited to be back in the swing of things,” Cooper said. “Last year, having to watch was tough. Even just practice, the things other guys don’t like to do. I’m happy just to be able to throw.”
Hopes were high for Cooper’s sophomore campaign, following an outstanding freshman year in which he went 4-2 with a 2.98 ERA. But Cooper’s elbow had other ideas.
Will Carroll, injury expert and author of “Saving the Pitcher,” explained why pitchers must often undergo Tommy John surgery.
“The amount of pitches, over time, wear and fray the tendon until finally, often without warning, the ulnar collateral ligament fails,” Carroll said.
The procedure is routine at this point and has a recovery time of nine to 12 months, according to Carroll.
No matter the time it takes, Longhorn coaches and players alike want to see Cooper healthy. Sophomore Connor Mayes has no worries about his fellow pitcher’s recovery.
“[Cooper] is gonna be huge,” Mayes said. “I had the chance to watch him my senior year, when I came from Lake Travis. Even when he wasn’t able to play last year — he’s a great leader.”
In the spring, Cooper watched Mayes and the rest of the roster fall short of expectations, exiting the NCAA tournaent in the first weekend to cap off a 30-27 season.
“There were times last year where I was really down,” Cooper said. “The team would go on the road, and I’m at home wishing I were with them. It was really hard. I had to watch them struggle and couldn’t do anything about it.”
After sitting out last season, Cooper has reason to smile, Garrido said.
“His recovery is coming very well,” Garrido said. “He’s throwing 35-pitch bullpen sessions. We’re certainly not rushing him. He won’t pitch to batters until January, but he’s a big part of where we’re going as a team.”
At this point in his recovery, the toughest part for Cooper is balancing his competitive nature with the regimen that trainers recommend.
“In my second or third bullpen session, I wanted to see how hard I could gun it,” Cooper said. “Sure enough, I couldn’t throw for another week with how sore my arm was.”
In his locker, Cooper displays the words “DON’T OVERDO IT” front and center. He needs that constant reminder that continued success requires staying within his limits.
As long as he doesn’t overdo it, Cooper should find plenty of success on the mound in 2016.