The blistering, 95-mile an hour fastball is still there. The breaking ball still breaks, the changeup is just as deadly.
Gonzaga’s freshman pitcher, Brandon Bailey, has not appeared to have any physical setbacks after missing his senior season of high school thanks to Tommy John surgery.
Still, there have been adjustments following the increase in competition. Early in the season Bailey’s coaches made it clear that the minutiae that went unnoticed in high school for the 2012 Colorado 4A Player of the Year were going to be magnified in Spokane.
For example, the phenom may have had great pitches, but his grip was giving them away.
They said, “Hey, we can see what your grip is from the first base side,” according to Bailey. “Things I hadn’t even thought of because it just never came up.”
Bailey has also had to learn the capricious nature of a game that was predictably easy in high school. As a junior, Bailey went undefeated and carried a 1.02 ERA with nine complete games and six shutouts.
His longevity is still there – he has thrown both of GU’s complete games this season. But he’s had to learn how to accept the occasional run.
“It’s definitely a learning experience for me,” Bailey said. “I’m growing as a pitcher and understanding that I might not shut out this team today, I might have to try and limit the damage when I do get in those tough innings and stop the bleeding.”
He is also having to learn to lose. After an 11-0 junior season, a torn muscle in his forearm kept Bailey off the mound as a senior, meaning he never felt the sting of a loss in his final two prep seasons.
While his earned-run average is a solid 3.57, a struggling Bulldogs offense has led to a 2-5 record in Bailey’s inaugural season.
“The win-loss doesn’t reflect what he has done,” coach Mark Machtolf said, adding, “He’s very even-keeled, I don’t think that bothers him at all. He’s pitched very, very well. In his outings we haven’t had a whole lot of run support for him.”
Bailey is merely the youngest of a juvenile three-man rotation that also includes sophomores Andrew Sopko and Taylor Jones.
And while wins have been scarce for GU (12-23, 8-7 WCC) there is plenty of reason to think the Bulldogs, and Bailey will be better in years to come.
“Coming off Tommy John, the weird thing is sometimes their velocity improves and I see him getting stronger,” Machtolf said. “I think he’s going to be really, really good.”