Bart Pettus returns to mound
When he arrived on campus at Troy, Bart Pettus was dubbed by the Trojan coaching staff as the shortstop of the future. As the future turned to present, Pettus embraced the role. When he returned to campus this year, his challenge was different.
The fifth-year senior injured his knee last season on a wet field in Tuscaloosa. While he was swinging a bat, Pettus’ spikes hung in the damp clay, causing a knee injury that would limit him the remainder of the campaign and have further reaching effects than he could understand at the time.
“He kind of finished the season around 70 percent,” head coach Bobby Pierce said of Pettus’ physical condition in the wake of the injury. The initial diagnosis on the knee told of a tear in the knee cap. Upon fixing the tear, doctors learned that the injury was worse than originally thought.
When he returned to Troy for his final season, Pettus continued to battle with the injury.
“To play shortstop was becoming a challenge,” Pierce said. “I’ll be darned if he just couldn’t get above 75 percent. The knee injury hasn’t allowed him to get enough mobility to even be a candidate as a middle infielder.”
“It didn’t hurt, but it just wasn’t all there,” Pettus said of knee. “I sat down with the coaches and we realized that it wasn’t 100 percent and may never be.”
With that notion in mind, Pettus began to seek other ways in which he could contribute to the team during his final season.
“I said I’d play first or pitch or anything I can do I can do as long as we can win,” Pettus said. “That’s what I want to do my last year is win.”
“That’s a compliment to Bart,” Pierce said. “He’s all in, all the time and wants to do whatever he can to help the team.”
After that conversation, pitching coach Jesse Crane suggested that Pettus throw a bullpen session in view of perhaps making a few appearances in relief for the Trojans later this season.
“It really wasn’t something that just came out of left field,” Crane said. “We had some depth problems with injuries and some other things. It made sense to look at a guy who had a really, really good arm from the left side of the infield and is a good athlete. I figured he could pick a few things up.”
“It didn’t catch me off guard because we lost a couple pitchers last year and we lost a couple in the draft and we didn’t sign many,” Pettus said. “I’ve been joking for five years that I would throw.”
After five years of joking and one prohibitive knee injury, Pettus finally got his opportunity to throw. For the first time since high school, the shortstop took to a mound for a bullpen session.
“Immediately, what jumped out at me was the quality of his changeup,” Crane said. “It is a really competitive pitch even at the Division I level. It may be the best changeup on our ball club.”
“That’s what I used to throw in high school,” Pettus said. “The changeup was my out pitch. So that’s the one that came back the quickest.”
Crane said Pettus’ accuracy returned instantly. The velocity on his fastball hung in the mid 80s, giving him enough jump to stay honor his changeup. Crane worked with Pettus briefly, changing the grip on his change and teaching him a slider.
“We spent about five minutes in the bullpen showing him slider,” Crane said. “In about two weeks time, the guy is throwing a competitive slider that struck out a very good right handed hitter. The fact that he has added a pitch that he has never thrown in his life in two weeks time is a testament to who he is as an athlete. He is so versatile and so talented.”
“I threw one pen, about 30 pitches or so. The accuracy wasn’t a problem. I tried to learn a little slider because you need more than two pitches at this level,” Pettus said. “So I learned a slider in a week or two and it ended up being pretty effective. It surprised me that it never really left. It’s kind of like riding a bike.”
Pettus’ first action out of the bullpen came during an intrasquad contest. Pettus held his own against his teammates in a pair of intrasquad outings, providing the confidence that the bullpen success was more than a fluke.
“It’s like riding a bike,” Pettus remarked to Pierce following one of those outings, explaining the apparent ease with which his pitching form returned.
“I threw a pen and a couple weeks later found myself in the game,” Pettus said. “It was pretty fun. I missed the one-on-one competition with the hitter.”
His first chance to revisit that one-on-one competition with the hitter came on March 6 when he was inserted into a game against Bethune-Cookman. With one out in the sixth, Pettus checked in to replace starter Shane McCain.
“It was kind of nerve-wracking when I first got in because we had runners on first and second with one out. We only had a four or five run lead, so it was kind of nerve-wracking for sure,” Pettus said. “I settled down after I got that first guy out.”
Pettus worked an inning and two-thirds in his first appearance, allowing one hit and striking out three. Overall on the season, he has made three appearances, working a total of two and two-thirds innings. He has allowed two hits, one earned run and struck out four. Opponents are hitting a paltry .182 against him and his ERA of 3.38 is second best on the team.
“The guy is a consummate professional. He has done everything he’s been asked as a role player,” Crane said. “He’s a guy that is going to be a factor for us out of the bullpen all year. The guy goes about his work as hard as anybody we’ve got. And it’s a credit to him, his family and the way he was raised.”
“I’m in my 28th season and I haven’t seen it to this tune,” Pierce said of Pettus’ success in returning to the mound for the first time since high school. “He was very confident, didn’t have trouble throwing strikes. His secondary stuff was right on the money. We’re having fun with it. He’s having fun with it. He’s a special kid to coach because he is a ballplayer. The more he pitches for us, the more we may kick ourselves for not doing it earlier. That speaks to who he is. He’s a ballplayer and ballplayers find a way. And that’s Bart Pettus.”