Mark Lamm sat on the bench last spring.
He never entered a game, never pitched an inning for Vanderbilt.
Yet, that year off — in which he recovered from Tommy John surgery — was just as valuable as if he was on the mound.
“It gave me some time to figure things out myself and see a game where you are not competing for a year,” Lamm said. “You end up learning a lot of things, not only about the game but about yourself and how to approach things. Sometimes when you are playing, you forget to do some of the fundamentals and some of the intricacies. You end up forgetting about that. That was something I worked on when I was rehabbing because I knew I didn’t have to go out there an compete so I could focus on the little things and that is what I did.”
His time as spectator has boosted his performance this season.
The fifth-year senior ranks second on the team with a 0.52 ERA with a 4-0 record. He has allowed just one run on two hits in 15 relief appearances. He picked up his first career save on Saturday when he pitched a season-best 2.1 innings in an 11-2 win over Auburn, which top-ranked Vanderbilt (26-3, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) swept.
Entering Tuesday’s 6 p.m. home game against Middle Tennessee State, he has pitched 7.2 straight innings of scoreless ball.
“His stuff is as good as it has been,” Vanderbilt starting pitcher Grayson Garvin said. “He is a big, big part of our pitching stuff.”
Lamm, a 6-4, 215-pound right-hander from Loretto, Tenn., underwent surgery on his elbow during the summer of 2009. While pitching for Danville (Ill.) out of the Prospect League, he felt some soreness in his arm. A week later, he warmed up before going into a game and heard a pop in his elbow. He took off another week and tried to pitch but the pain resurfaced and he was shut down.
“It was a little frustrating,” Lamm said. “It was a little bad timing. ... Thank goodness I had a redshirt [year]. At the time I didn’t see the good in it, but it could be a blessing in disguise hopefully.”
To this point, it has been.
Lamm saw his first action since the surgery last summer when he pitched for Waynesboro (Va.) in the Valley League. In 11 games, he went 1-0 with a 0.53 ERA and three saves.
His success carried over to the Commodores. He hasn’t allowed a walk in his last eight appearances. His ERA is behind that of only Keenan Kolinsky (0.00 ERA in three appearances) and just ahead of that of closer Navery Moore (0.54 ERA in 15 appearances).
His fastball has actually sped up since the surgery, reaching 91 to 94 miles per hour now. That velocity has helped him strike out 16 batters in 17.1 innings pitched.
“I have some good stuff coming out of my arm,” Lamm said. “But more than anything, I have been able to keep a lot of things simple. I don’t get too caught up in anything. I used to go out there and try to do too much. I go out there and give up a hit, I’m fine. I can get the next guy out and that is really what helped me a lot.”
That mentality has aided Lamm through the transition back from an injury and it has boosted his teammates.
Garvin, who nearly had to have Tommy John surgery last year as well, says he has never seen Lamm shaken throughout the whole ordeal.
“The thing is, whether or not he was, he wouldn’t allow us to see that,” Garvin, a junior left-hander, said. “We all see him as a leader and he knew that we saw him as a leader. That helps knowing that not only that he is strong through the thick and thin, that with whatever we are going through as well we can turn to him if need be. He is kind of a rock that we have to turn to.”
• Kemp named SEC Co-Freshman of the Week: Vanderbilt left fielder and lead-off hitter Tony Kemp was named the SEC’s Co-Freshman of the Week, the league announced on Monday.
Kemp, a 5-6, 160-pounder out of nearby Centennial High School, recorded nine hits, scored seven runs, and knocked in two runs in four games last week. He had a career-high four hits on Friday, including his team-best fourth triple. He scored a career-best three runs on Saturday. He is batting .356 with 37 hits, which is third most on the team.