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Baseball: Harrison handy for Cajuns – Outfielder could end up helping UL on mound too

Tim Buckley, The Daily Advertiser, April 4, 2014

UL outfielder Seth Harrison (27) advances to third base off of a double by outfielder Caleb Adams (27) during the fourth inning of an NCAA baseball game against Northwestern State at M.L. 'Tigue' Moore Field in Lafayette, LA, Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Paul Kieu, The Advertiser
UL outfielder Seth Harrison (27) advances to third base off of a double by outfielder Caleb Adams (27) during the fourth inning of an NCAA baseball game against Northwestern State at M.L. ‘Tigue’ Moore Field in Lafayette, LA, Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Paul Kieu, The Advertiser

No. 2 UL at Troy

WHAT: Three-game Sun Belt Conference weekend series.
WHERE: Riddle-Pace Field; Troy, Ala.
WHEN: 6 Friday, 3 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday.
RECORDS: Troy 16-13, 4-4; UL 27-3, 8-1.
RADIO: KPEL 96.5 FM with Jay Walker.
TV: Sun Belt Network/CST, Saturday only, with Lyn Rollins and Ronnie Rantz.

No. 2 UL at Troy


Tonight: UL junior RHP Austin Robichaux (4-2, 2.92 ERA) vs. senior RHP Tanner Hicks (2-4, 3.35 ERA)
Saturday: UL junior RHP Carson Baranik (6-0, 2.28 ERA) vs. senior LHP Shane McCain (3-2, 1.93 ERA)
Sunday: UL senor LHP Cody Boutte vs. (3-0, 4.61 ERA) vs. junior LHP Ben Tidwell (0-0, 3.42 ERA)
ABOUT THE CAJUNS: UL has won 17 of its last 18, including Tuesday’s 16-0 non-conference home win over Conference USA-member Tulane. … The Ragin’ Cajuns are 10-0 on the road this season. … The Cajuns are ranked No. 2 by Collegiate Baseball and No. 4 in four other national polls. … UL leads the all-time series 22-12 and won the last series 2-1 at home in 2013.
ABOUT THE OPPONENT: Troy has won two straight, including Tuesday’s 7-2 victory over Alabama-Birmingham, but the Trojans dropped 2-of-3 in a Sun Belt road series at Georgia State last weekend. … DH David Hall is hitting a team-high .357 with nine doubles and a team high-tying five homers. … CF Clay Holcomb has led off with a base hit in five of Troy’s last six games.

Firing away from centerfield last Sunday, UL’s Seth Harrison threw a strike to Michael Strentz at the plate. Western Kentucky’s Ryan Messex, trying to score from second on a shot up the middle, didn’t stand a chance.

For Harrison, it was a sign of certain progress.

Before the season’s done, if all goes as planned, the senior from Cy-Fair High in Cypress, Texas, may be tossing darts from a much-closer distance.

On the mound, to be more precise.

But it all depends on how Harrison’s right arm continues to respond from offseason Tommy John surgery that, at least 30 games through No. 2-ranked UL’s 2014 season, has served him quite well.

“We knew the surgery would allow him to come back and be a hitter and a position player,” said coach Tony Robichaux, whose 27-3 Ragin Cajuns visit Troy this weekend for a three-game Sun Belt Conference series that gets under way tonight.

“We thought he’d definitely have to hit the cutoff man (throwing from the outfield) early in the year,” Robichaux added. “And then, all of a sudden, he bounced back from his surgery really quick and started to throw really well. Actually surprised all of us, how far ahead he was.”

Not bad for a guy who jokes that ever since he had surgery, “I don’t really know where the ball’s going.”

Now, perhaps late this month or early next, Harrison won’t just be helping the Cajuns in the field and at the plate.

And he’s been a big boost in both places.

Harrison has just one error in center this season for UL, a team coming off a 2013 NCAA Regional appearance and that has College World Series aspirations this year that could have the Cajuns playing into June.

He’s turned one double play from the outfield, and had that key out Sunday to help the Cajuns win last weekend’s Sun Belt series with the Hilltoppers.

He’s also hitting .354 with eight doubles, three triples, seven home runs, 29 RBIs and 29 runs scored. His seven homers are a team-high. And he’s reached base at least once in 18 straight games.

“Seth’s a hard-worker,” said UL left fielder Caleb Adams, who is hitting .356 himself. “He’s gonna keep working. It’s definitely good to see him throwing guys out from the outfield, and his arm coming back. He’s working hard on it.”

The recovery period from Tommy John – elbow surgery – is shorter for position players than it is for pitchers.

Harrison is both.

The transfer from Hill (Texas) College played regularly last season, mostly in center, and hit .338 with nine homers. But he was limited to only three pitching appearances for the Cajuns (0-0, 3.18 ERA), largely because of the arm.

Before getting hurt, however, he routinely threw in the low-to-mid 90s. And he had another extra-special weapon with which to work.

“You’re talking about a guy who, before he got injured, was 92-to-94 (miles per hour) with a big-time breaking ball,” Robichaux said of Harrison, who before this season was ranked by Baseball America as the Sun Belt’s No. 6 Major League Draft prospect for 2014 with four teammates – No. 1 Austin Robichaux, No. 3 Greg Milhorn, No. 4 Carson Baranik and No. 5 Strentz – ahead of him.

“A swing-and-miss breaking ball. A put-you-away breaking ball,” Robichaux added. “So, if we get this guy back (to pitch) along the way, that’s gonna do nothing but help us down the stretch.”

Harrison is 14 steps into a 15-step process that should get him back on the mound.

A few weeks ago, his fastball was in the 84-to-87 mph range. Last week, it 86-to-89 with a couple pitches hitting 91. He’s now throwing to live batters, and toiling to get his breaking ball to come around as well.

“It’s definitely good to see him progressing like he has,” teammate Adams said. “He’s looked really good these last couple times up (throwing bullpen), so that’s really exciting.”

“He’s really moving,” Robichaux added. “It’s hard to put a timetable on it, but we’ll definitely, I think, have him back, maybe by the end of April.”

Harrison is where he expected to be – perhaps even farther along – in terms of an outfield arm.

But he wants to make sure he’s really ready before moving aforementioned arm from the pen to the mound.

Harrison knows it typically takes 10-to-12 months post-Tommy John to be able to pitch effectively, but sometimes 14-to-16 months before full velocity returns.

“It’s coming along,” he said. “Still got a lot of work to do. But it’s feeling good. I’m able to throw relatively easy, and firm. I’m hoping that within the next month, month-and-a-half, I can come in and be able to help our bullpen out.

“They just want me to gradually increase the breaking balls. I just don’t want to rush things,” he added. “I’ve seen these things go real bad, and guys having to go get Tommy John over again. So I’m just going to take it slow, and whatever my arms gives me I’ll take.”

Which, so far, has been plenty.

Even if he isn’t always quite sure where his throws may be headed.