February 8, 2013

Ace eager to return to mound

Almost two years ago, Brad Schreiber felt a tinge of pain in his forearm, but threw two more pitches before calling to the dugout for a trainer.

Not only was his outing at Penn State was done, ending a promising season, but he was sidelined for a lengthy period. Schreiber underwent Tommy John elbow surgery a couple months later, forcing him to watch the next season from the dugout as the Boilermakers won a Big Ten Championship for the first time in more than 100 years and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

But now, after 18 months of rehab, the potentially dominating 6-foot-4, 235-pound right-handed is poised to take the hill again for Purdue. And he'll anchor the top of the rotation too - a spot he very likely would have held last season - when the Boilermakers open their season vs. Connecticut in Florida next Friday.

"I'm not going to lie, I'll probably be a little bit nervous," Schreiber said. "But that's a good kind of nervous, before any game you've got to be a little bit nervous and ready to go. I'll get out there, be comfortable, hopefully settle in fast and throw a good game.

"It's definitely been a long, long time. But it's been moving fast (lately). I know (during practices) in the fall, it was kind of like 'All right, I'll feel my way through this again, live hitters, get back into the swing of things.' Now, in a week I'll be down in Florida pitching my first game in a year-and-a-half, two years now. It's been long, kind of strenuous with the rehab. But I had a decent time doing it and I'm ready to pitch again."

And Purdue is ready to have him. Considering they were without Schreiber a year ago - and redshirt freshman Kyle Wood, too, who was out with Tommy John also and is poised to be Purdue's No. 2 weekend starter this season - the Boilermakers made a remarkable run; Purdue set a program-high in victories, won the Big Ten regular-season title, its first since 1909, and the conference tournament. And it won its first-ever NCAA Tournament game.

But with most of that veteran bunch having departed, due to graduation or the draft, Purdue turns to others to help keep up the momentum. Schreiber is at the top of that list.

The Wisconsin native was showing signs of domination as a sophomore in 2011, before succumbing to injury. As a Sunday (No. 3) starter then, the powerful righty had a 4-0 record with a 3.80 ERA in eight starts, while leading the Big Ten in batting average against (.209) and strikeouts (50) at the time of the injury.

But after leaving the Nittany Lion game early, Schreiber tried to rest for a few weeks before resuming, hoping the time off would help his fatigued elbow. But the pain was still intense in his next bullpen session, and an MRI revealed damage to a tendon.

But Schreiber still tried to give it a go in the final weeks of '11, when the Boilermakers were making a push toward postseason.

"It was painful, but with the adrenalin rush of the game, I actually threw a decent bullpen and I told coach I'd be ready (in the Big Ten Tournament) if he needed an inning or two out of me," he said. "I knew my elbow was messed up and I'd need it fixed anyway, so I just going to try to help with the team if I could. But the timing wasn't right, so I didn't get an opportunity."

Surgery followed, and Schreiber had to watch as his Boilermaker teammates won big in 2012. It was particularly hard, he said, because of the bond formed with classmates like Cameron Perkins and Kevin Plawecki, who were part of a recruiting class three years earlier that Doug Schreiber had called his best at Purdue.

"We all came in together, we all contributed quite a bit as freshmen," said Brad Schreiber, who is not related to the head coach. "We were a real close, a tight-knit group, so obviously it was hard, but I was excited for all the guys having a lot of success. And I was still part of the team, I still helped out with giving feedback into the games. It was hard, but I could still contribute."

Schreiber has used the time rehabbing as effectively as possible. A relatively raw pitcher in his first two seasons at Purdue - he offset a low 90s mph fastball with a curve - he's developed a two-seam fastball and changeup.

That could help him be more effective in his return. In the first few weeks of the season, Schreiber will be on a pitch limit of 80. The hope is to increase that to about 110 by the start of Big Ten play.

"He's been a high pitch-count guy in the past because he's a strikeout guy," Doug Schreiber said. "But he's developed some different pitches and is learning how to pitch a little bit more. And his velocity has been holding steady. He could have a speed bump here or there, but we'll keep an eye on him."

Schreiber has hopes for a big season. Despite being injured last year, he was selected by Minnesota in the 40th round of June's draft, but after talking to the Twins he decided to return to his junior season at Purdue.

The Boilers are glad to have him, figuring that he'll give them a solid chance to get every weekend off to a good start.

"Whenever you can have someone like them come out and throw six or seven innings, giving up three runs or whatever, it gives you an opportunity to win," first baseman Angelo Cianfrocco said. "And when you have someone like that on Friday night, it calms the nerves a little bit, because you can sit back and if you don't score the first couple innings, he's going to keep you in the game and you can ride the wave until you finally break through."

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