HOOVER, Ala — It may not have been Cole Henry's prettiest outing, but at least the freshman pitcher was able to take the mound.
Henry has spent the last month dealing with elbow soreness and hadn't pitched in a live game since April 19 against Florida. At the time of his injury, Henry was 4-2 with 3.26 ERA and 60 strikeouts to 12 walks in 49.2 innings pitched as LSU's Saturday starter.
He finally made his return on Tuesday against South Carolina on the hope he could make it through three innings. His first live pitch in a month was a single to the outfield, but Henry quickly settled down. He struck out two in the inning and looked sharp.
In the second inning, Henry suffered a few bad breaks that extended him in the inning. Senior second baseman Brandt Broussard had a ground ball get stuck in the webbing of his glove, and sophomore catcher Saul Garza was called for interference when the batter made contact with his glove on a pitch out. The miscues came back to bite Henry, and he gave up five runs in the inning as LSU fell down 5-1 through two innings.
However, LSU coach Paul Mainieri was pleased with how his young pitcher looked and felt he performed better than his line — which read 1.2 innings pitched, five hits, five runs (four earned) allowed and three strikeouts with no walks on 42 pitches after only throwing around 25 pitches in his bullpen sessions.
"I thought he threw the ball exceptionally well, I really did," Mainieri said. "He was throwing hard, he threw a lot of strikes, I wish we mixed the pitches up a little bit more. Maybe use his curveball a little bit more. Maybe it would've helped him a little bit.
"It was very encouraging for me for next weekend. The most encouraging thing is he's feeling OK and he felt good."
Henry had a feeling he would return to the rotation at some point this season and kept Mainieri up to date with his progress. After MRIs showed there was no structural damage in his elbow, Henry said the toughest part was getting over the mental block and worry of causing further injury.
When that passed Henry began working on fixing his mechanics with his father, Jeff, during LSU’s road trips on the backend of the season. The two worked on taking the load off of Cole’s elbow and keeping his arm in the right place during his delivery.
Now that he feels back to normal, Henry said he doesn’t think he’ll miss another start and thinks he can come back on Sunday to pitch again if LSU makes it that far. Mainieri said in Henry's next appearance, whether that is on Sunday or next weekend in the regional, there will be less worry about his health and more emphasis on playing to win by mixing up his pitches and letting him throw his full set of pitches.
"Contributing to this team again, it's indescribable for me. Sitting on the bench watching for a month sucked because I knew could be out there doing my thing and helping the team," said Henry, who now feels 100 percent. "But they kept it together while I was gone, and I'm glad to be back."