Injury-shortened 2010 set stage for VU left-hander's success this spring

Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 11:19pm

Despite an injury-shortened 2010 season, Grayson Garvin finished last spring confident.

He pitched in 13 games for Vanderbilt with two starts, one of which came in the NCAA Regional championship against Louisville. The left-hander tossed a career-high six innings, allowed one run on three hits in a contest the Commodores eventually won 3-2 in 10 innings.

For the season, he was 1-1 with a 1.25 ERA. But Garvin was just getting started.

Last summer, he spent his second straight season in the famous Cape Cod League in Massachusetts. There he went 5-0 with a 0.74 ERA in six starts, earning a spot in the league’s all-star game at Fenway Park in Boston. On top of that, he was named the BFC Whitehouse Cape Cod Pitcher of the Year.

Talk about a confidence boost.

“It was fantastic,” Garvin said. “These past two summers were kind of the turning points probably for me combined with the little bit that I threw last season just to give me confidence. It kind of has the reputation of being a tough league. I didn’t know my freshman year if I really was going to be able to handle that caliber of hitting. But going up and having some success really helped me get the confidence that I needed to come back here and be successful as well.”

This season Garvin has planted himself as the Commodores’ second-best starter, behind ace Sonny Gray. The junior from Suwanee, Ga., starts every Saturday and is 5-1 with a 2.36 ERA for top-ranked Vanderbilt. The Commodores (27-3, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) open up a three-game series against Alabama (21-10, 7-2), the top team in the SEC West, at 6 p.m. Friday at Hawkins Field.

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Garvin has been a big contributor to a pitching staff that has a 2.28 ERA, holds opponents to a .214 batting average and has 288 strikeouts — leading the SEC in all three categories.

“He has really good command of his fastball. He can throw it on either side of the plate. That is kind of his M.O.,” Vanderbilt pitching coach Derek Johnson said. “I think with his ability to throw his fastball, it makes his other pitches better and I think he is able to move the ball around on a hitter pretty well. ... I think that swing man [in a weekend series] is pretty important on Saturday and he has done a nice job.”

Garvin uses two different fastballs, a changeup, a curveball and a slider to keep opposing hitters off-balance. His fastball tops out at 92 miles per hour but his ability to locate pitches has helped with his productivity. He has struck out 43, walked eight and allowed just 12 earned runs in 45.2 innings of work.

“I do pride myself on location, being able to move the ball in and out,” Garvin said. “I think the breaking balls this year and having ones I can use and have confidence in have just given me an extra pitch to go to, an extra out pitch, an extra something for the hitter to think about.”

Garvin’s first season as a weekend starter might have come sooner if it weren't for an elbow injury he sustained during the summer after his freshman season. The pain flared up in the fall of 2009 and it wasn’t until Christmas that year that the severity of the injury was realized.

He sat out for six weeks of his sophomore season, and if the rest hadn’t done the trick he would needed reconstructive Tommy John surgery.

“It is a pretty low point because that is kind of the one thing as a pitcher you don’t want to hear, to have to have Tommy John surgery,” Garvin said. “Just to know the possibility of that potentially happening to yourself, it is scary. It is a pretty scary deal.”

But the rest paid off, and Garvin didn’t miss a beat, emerging as a valuable relief pitcher and earning himself a starting role this season.

“I know last year happened for a reason,” he said. “I was very blessed to be able to throw the last half of the year anyway because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to throw at all. Just the fact that I got to be able to throw and be able to throw in some pretty big situations was a huge blessing.”