Back in Action
Rusty Shellhorn enters the weekend leading the team with three wins
March 16, 2012
by: Jason Barlow
On a cold February morning at Rip Griffin Park, Texas Tech's junior pitcher Rusty Shellhorn slowly walked to the mound for his first time as a Red Raider.
The Spokane, Wash., native seemed unaffected by the late February air. As the majority of the team wore long undershirts and the crowd was bundled in blankets, Shellhorn calmly perfected his mound in nothing more than a short-sleeve undershirt.
Shellhorn was forced to sit out last season due to NCAA rules after transferring from Washington State where he helped the Cougars make two straight appearances at the NCAA Tournament. The 2011 season was not wasted for the pitcher, who spent the majority of last year holding a laptop, keeping stats and video for the Red Raiders.
"I think I learned a lot about the game," Shellhorn said. "I think I learned a lot about pitch sequences and how to pitch around guys and how to face different hitters in different line-ups. I think I learned a lot about pitching. "
Now, after not having pitched in an NCAA game in two years, Shellhorn pitched seven shutout innings in his first outing as a Red Raider as he led Texas Tech to an 8-0 win over Tennessee Tech in the Red Raider Classic on Feb. 19. Shellhorn allowed just four hits, and struck out six, matching the performance of teammate Shane Broyles from the previous day.
"It was nice," he said after the game. "I haven't gone out and pitched in an NCAA game in two years now so it was really nice to finally get out there."
Texas Tech's head coach Dan Spencer said he is looking forward to adding another veteran left-hander to his already deep pitching staff.
"We are thankful Rusty is here," said Spencer during Shellhorn's first year on campus. "He is a left-handed kid who has some arm strength and has some college experience. We like everything about him. He works at it and does everything well. He is a very mature student-athlete."
Shellhorn is not the only Red Raider to join the pitching staff after being forced to sit the majority of the 2011 campaign. Junior left-hander Daniel Coulombe has made his return to the mound after undergoing Tommy John surgery after just four starts last season.
"It was nice to go out there and get the first one out of the way," Coulombe said. "It is always the hardest, I felt pretty good."
In Coulombe's first appearance of the 2012 season he went 5.1 innings, allowing three hits and one run in Texas Tech's 4-2 loss to No. 31 Missouri State.
After undergoing a season-ending surgery in mid-March of last season, Coulombe worked hard to get back to the mound. The left-hander from Scottsdale, Ariz. said it was a long process and a lot of long, hard summer days with trainer Shawn Lindsey, but he now feels strong and fortunate to be back throwing.
Adding Coulombe's talents to the rotation adds more depth to Tech's pitching staff. Coulombe said that after not feeling like himself at any point last year, he is now healthy and ready to help the team win.
"This is the first time I actually feel like myself again," Coulombe said. "It is like I am back in high school three years ago. It is really exciting. I have seen the results on the field this spring, I am just excited to help the team win."
Prior to the surgery, Coulombe carried a 3.98 ERA and averaged 12.54 strikeouts per nine innings. Now, 11 months since undergoing Tommy John the Tech pitcher feels as if he is a better pitcher than he was even before the surgery.
"I may have a couple more miles per hour, everything is just a little sharper, and I can actually throw my pitches where I want," Coulombe said. "I think I am just going to be better than I was last year."
While both southpaws, Shellhorn and Coulombe, were forced to sit at least the majority of last year, Spencer believes that both may have benefited from the time off and the extra practice.
"Daniel is noticeably better than before he got hurt and Shellhorn's breaking ball is better than it was a year ago," Spencer said. "I think they are both closer to being finished products now than they were a year ago."
Both pitchers said that depth in the pitching staff will be the key to handling the tough schedule ahead of the team. Coulombe said that every pitcher in the rotation has command, can throw strikes, and is worthy of playing Big 12 baseball.
With games against top opponents nearly every week, Shellhorn is confident that the pitching staff will be able to get the job done and give the team a chance to win every time they take the field.
"I think we are very deep," Shellhorn said. "I think we have a lot of talent and these guys pitch very well from fall into the spring, I think these guys are ready to go. We are very deep, and if one guy cannot get the job done the next guy is going to."
Now it is Spencer and the Red Raiders who will benefit the most from adding both Coulombe and Shellhorn in the rotation. Two players who were brought to Lubbock in the fall of 2010 will make significant contributions to the Texas Tech baseball team during the 2012 season.
After three starts, Shellhorn is among team leaders with two wins and 17.1 innings pitched with 18 strikeouts and only four walks. He has a 4.15 ERA while having already combined on one shutout.
Coulombe has made two starts entering the week with a 3.48 ERA and a 1-0 record in 10.1 innings pitched with 13 strikeouts and four walks allowed. Coulombe has allowed only nine base hits while opponents are batting just .220 against him this season.