LaRoy slowly working his way back with Cougars

2012-03-23T20:00:00Z 2012-07-18T13:50:02Z LaRoy slowly working his way back with CougarsBy Zach Buchanan / The Daily News Longview Daily News
March 23, 2012 8:00 pm  • 

Nick LaRoy is almost certain he would have been drafted if he never suffered an elbow injury requiring Tommy John ligament replacement surgery his senior year.

The former Kalama and current Washington State left-handed pitcher likely would have said signed a professional contract, foregoing college. Heck, the Chinooks might have won a state title behind a healthy LaRoy on the mound.

But none of that happened, and LaRoy wouldn't change a thing. Not the surgery that ended his high school career on the mound in 2010, and not the 21 months he spent getting back into shape since the operation.

"I'm almost positive I would have said yes so I could start working my way through the ranks to get up there," LaRoy said. "Coming here was the best thing for me. I'm much more of a complete pitcher now."

LaRoy was about as dominating on the high school level as a pitcher can be. He went undefeated on the mound and threw five no-hitters. In one of those no-hitters, LaRoy recorded all 21 outs by strikeout. In his last high school appearance, LaRoy tossed a perfect game.

In mid-April of 2010, after throwing the perfect game, LaRoy experienced pain in his elbow that had plagued him at the end of the previous season. He continued to serve as designated hitter.

But at the suggestion of his future coaches at WSU almost a month later, LaRoy got his elbow examined. He was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow that would require surgery.

The Chinooks, state finalists the previous two seasons, collapsed under the weight of the news.

"It was literally to the day," Hiatt said. "We were 19-0, and the day we found out we lost our first game that season and after that lost two of the next three and didn't get out of districts."

LaRoy knew the injury would prevent an MLB team from drafting him, but never felt that his scholarship offer was in doubt.

Hiatt, however, found himself in the audience at a coaching clinic where WSU coach Donnie Marbut spoke. Marbut explained his recruiting philosophy to the crowd — unaware that Hiatt was in the audience — and said that he'd never yank a scholarship for a recruit who got hurt before enrolling.

"I remember hearing that and thinking, 'Well, we're going to find out,'" Hiatt said.

Marbut proved to be a man of his word.

"It's rare for this level, but it's not rare for our program," Marbut said. "We make a commitment to a kid in the good, and we're going to make it in the bad as well."

LaRoy enrolled as a redshirt freshman, spending his first year doing rehab exercises and going to class.

"Being away from pitching, that was hard," LaRoy said. "That was the first year I've sat out since I was, like, three."

"I'm sure he was going stir-crazy," Hiatt added. "He's not the type of kid that's good at sitting around."

LaRoy called the rehab process "one of the most frustrating things I've ever done." He couldn't play catch for four or five months, after which he could only throw the ball 35 feet.

In June of 2011, he began pitching in games again after 14 months away from the mound. Since October, LaRoy's been on a strict pitch limit and hardly ever tops 50 pitches in an outing. He still deals with soreness, but says he's in no danger of reinjury.

He's rusty.

"I have all the arm strength in the world right now," LaRoy said. "My arm and my body is as strong as (they've) ever been. Now it's all about the muscle memory. I kind of lost that all during surgery."

What made LaRoy so dominating in high school was his wicked curveball. It gave him his edge.

"It was honestly laughable at times to watch guys almost spin themselves into the dirt trying to take a hack at his curveball," Hiatt said.

But when LaRoy returned to the mound, the curve didn't work quite like it used to. He might as well have been pitching with someone else's arm.

To compensate, LaRoy relied more on his fastball, which had gained a little velocity since high school. He focused more on location and is experimenting with a changeup.

Recently, the curveball has returned — but the comeback isn't complete. Through Thursday, LaRoy was 1-0 with a 8.59 ERA in eight relief appearances. He's thrown just 7 1/3 innings.

He's not a no-hit threat every time he takes the mound at this point, but he feels like he gets the job done.

"I feel alright," LaRoy said. "I feel like for the most part I come in when they bring me in to get a guy out or to get out of the inning, I feel like I do that every time."

"He's still learning," Marbut said. "He's in a bullpen situation for us. We'd like to use him in longer relief, but it all depends on how long he can stay out there. He's learning how to pitch at this level, and it's not an easy thing to do."

LaRoy has only spoken with coaches about his role in 2012, but hopes to claim a spot in WSU's starting rotation next year. It will take a lot of work, but he's used to that.

"Anything's possible," Marbut said. "He'll have to pitch better than he's pitching at this point. We see lots of growth for guys between their freshman and sophomore year, and early in the season he's had lots of opportunities. I think the more he gets out there, the more comfortable he'll be and the better he'll become."

Copyright 2015 Longview Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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