Baseball: MSU's Bracewell fights past injury, earns first start

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – Although he was not on the roster last season, Ben Bracewell found his way to Atlanta and then to Gainesville, Fla., to follow his Mississippi State teammates on their surprising postseason run.
Bracewell was still recovering from the Tommy John surgery he’d undergone a year earlier. Not being on the roster, he could not be in the dugout or on the bus with the other Bulldogs. That hurt.
But he made those trips and attended team functions, doing whatever he could to keep the camaraderie strong.
“This is my 11th year in the SEC, and there’s been guys hurt from year to year,” MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson said. “I haven’t had a guy to make those journeys to be with his team to do whatever when they’re not allowed to go travel, and would sit there and be with his team the way he was, and after the game and back in the hotel to be with his team.
“There’s something special about him.”
In his time away from the field, Bracewell charted pitches and did rehab. He watched pitchers and hitters in practice, taking mental notes.
“When you’re back there watching the game, you don’t feel the tension you would on the mound,” Bracewell said. “So you don’t sit out there, and you don’t get sped up from situations. You kind of can sit there and observe everything.
“And I feel like it’s benefited me a lot now, because when stuff happens, I’ve seen it from a different view. I know exactly what to do with it.”
Now a sophomore, Bracewell is back on the roster and healthy, vying for a weekend starter’s job.
He remains the power pitcher he was in high school, but he’s focusing on better control and going after hitters’ weaknesses. Besides his fastball, Bracewell has a hard slider and a changeup that’s still developing.
“He’s unbelievably competitive, and he controls the running game,” head coach John Cohen said. “He might have the best command of any starter we have.”
Bracewell was a starter in high school, but that was the last time he did so. He worked in relief as a freshman, going 0-2 with a team-leading four saves in 17 appearances, but then his arm problem began surfacing. Now coaches want him to start, and he’ll do just that in Friday’s season opener against Washington State at Dudy Noble Field.
While Bracewell might return to the bullpen next season, for now this is the best plan, according to Thompson.
“What we’re doing here is with his recovery, we think we’ve got him once a week,” said Thompson, “and if we build him in pitch count, he’s so valuable we think that by using him once a week and giving him all that time to recover is his best chance to get through a season.”
Finding a routine
Part of Bracewell’s preparation for being a starter has involved tagging along with junior Chris Stratton. He said it’s helped him understand and become accustomed to the routine of a starter.
This time last year, Bracewell was preparing to play. His arm wasn’t fully recovered, but coaches didn’t decide until right before the season to hold him back. He didn’t like it, but Bracewell admitted that at the time he could only toss a couple of innings at 100 percent before experiencing problems.
“Last year I felt like was more like a race against my body,” he said. “I was trying to mentally get ahead of where I was and trying to rush things and trying to get in the roster. This year it’s been much more of a controlled, making sure I listen to my arm. If it doesn’t feel right a certain day, take it easy. If it’s feeling good, then let it eat.”
Bracewell is one of several pitchers competing for a weekend starter’s role. Stratton, Evan Mitchell and Nick Routt are among those he’s going against.
He says not winning a weekend job would be OK, but Bracewell does admit that he really wants it. It’s that competitive nature taking over; plus, it’s been a while since he’s taken the mound in a game.
“Deep down, I want to be that guy. I want to have the pressure on me. I want to be able to do what I can for this team.
“But at the same time, it’s still a team. If I’ve got to sit on the bench and watch us win games, if that’s going to help us win games, let’s do it.”
brad.locke@journalinc.com