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TRACKING THE GRADS: Washington's Jeff Brigham bounces back after surgery
By Joe Veyera
For the Mirror
For nearly a whole season, University of Washington pitcher Jeff Brigham didn’t know what was wrong with his arm. Numerous MRIs, cat-scans and X-rays showed no structural damage or reason for the Thomas Jefferson High School graduate’s pain when he took the mound.
So when it was revealed after Brigham’s sophomore campaign at the UW that he had a 95-percent tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow, it was as much a relief as it was a disappointment.
“I think at the same time it’s kind of devastating to find out about the surgery, it’s almost relieving to be able to find out that my arm wasn’t just hurting for no reason,” Brigham said.
Now, after nearly a year-and-a-half recovery process, Brigham has returned to the field, helping to anchor a Washington rotation that has the team ranked among the top-10 in the nation.
For a team that finished well under .500 with a 24-32 record last season, the turnaround has been nothing short of a surprise. The same goes for Brigham, who at times wasn’t sure what his baseball future was during his recovery.
“You get that feeling every other day where you’re just, ‘I just really don’t know if I’m going to make it back,’” Brigham said.
Growing up a die-hard UW fan, with his mom, dad, and older brother attending the university, Brigham said he was already leaning toward being a Husky when he was offered a scholarship as part of head coach Lindsay Meggs’ second recruiting class in 2010.
Meggs said Brigham was an interesting prospect because of his athleticism, after being named a South Puget Sound League North All-League honorable mention in basketball after his senior year, along with his talent on the mound.
“He certainly wasn’t the finished product, but we knew he would get better quickly,” Meggs said.
Brigham showed flashes of his potential in his freshman season, posting a 4.73 earned-run average in 23 appearances, and earned All-West Coast League second-team honors that summer with the Bend Elks. However, it was that summer where he began to feel pain in his arm.
After pitching through the pain in his sophomore season, Brigham received a medical redshirt last season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. Brigham said having nearly 18 months between his surgery and the start of this season meant he didn’t have to rush his recovery.
“I wasn’t having to rush my process, so if something felt off I was able to take some time off and be able to get things right,” Brigham said.
Meggs called the recovery process, “a lonely gig,” for a player, being off to the side as the team continues to prepare for games, but that Brigham’s strong work ethic made the comeback easier. That work ethic has paid off with a fastball that has been clocked this season at 98 mph, catching the attention of Major League scouts.
“A lot of times when people have this done, it’s not until the second year that they’re back that their velocity spikes the way his has, so that part’s been kind of a pleasant surprise,” Meggs said.
This season, as the Huskies’ Sunday starter, Brigham has dominated despite being limited to a pitch count of 85 in each outing, posting a 4-2 record with a 2.77 ERA in 10 starts.
Moving forward, Meggs said if Brigham can develop his secondary pitches, he has a shot to play at a higher level.
“If he can develop that slider the way I think he can, [and] if he can throw a changeup with some type of consistency, then has a very good chance to pitch in the big leagues,” Meggs said.
Brigham said while he knows the odds of making the major leagues aren’t in his favor, he’s going to work his hardest to get there.
“I think I’m going to give that a shot,” Brigham said. “If that doesn’t work out, I’m fortunate enough to have a degree from the University of Washington, and I think that’s something that makes me feel very good, very comfortable with my backup plan.”
Other district graduates playing four-year college baseball:
Nick Tanielu — The Federal Way High School graduate Nick Tanielu has started the season strong at Washington State.
Tanielu, a third baseman, is hitting .321 for the Cougars and has started 36 games. He has scored a team-best 22 runs, has 10 doubles, a home run and 22 RBIs. Washington State is 17-20 on the season and 7-8 in the Pac-12 Conference.
Last season, Tanielu led the Cougars with a .409 batting average and had 29 runs and 23 RBIs.
Matt Bower — The Beamer graduate is playing his sophomore season at Washington State. The left-handed pitcher has made a team-best 19 appearances and thrown 12 innings. He has a 4.50 earned-run average and has struck out 12. He is a perfect 2-0 on the year.
Bower finished with a 6-3 record and an earned-run average under 1.00 his senior season at Beamer. Bower also threw four complete-game shutouts during the season, including a no-hitter against Curtis when he struck out 15.
Kenny Johnson — The Todd Beamer grad is playing infield at Linfield College in Oregon during his senior season.
The switch hitter has played in 26 games this season and is hitting .246 with nine runs and 11 RBIs. Linfield is 29-4 on the year and won the Northwest Conference championship. The Wildcats earned an automatic berth into the NCAA Division III playoffs.
Brian Corliss — The Beamer grad is playing his senior season at Lewis-Clark State in Idaho after transferring from Pierce College. Corliss, an infielder, is hitting .327 with 29 runs, eight doubles and 19 RBIs. The Warriors are 35-6 on the season and ranked third in the NAIA Coaches’ Top-25 poll.
Drew Cratsenberg — The Federal Way grad is playing his sophomore season at Kansas Wesleyan University. The outfielder has played in 37 games this season and is hitting .271 with 24 runs, eight doubles and 10 RBIs. Kansas Wesleyan is 20-28 on the season. Cratsenberg played at Pierce College last year.