Friday, Jan. 26, was a big day for redshirt junior pitcher Josh Sawyer.
Though it was overcast, it was the first time in years he found himself on UFCU Disch-Falk Field with nothing but blue skies ahead.
Standing in front of a small crowd just off of first base, the lanky left-hander couldn’t help but smile. For him, it meant that all the pain he had endured physically, mentally and emotionally was behind him.
“This is probably the most exciting day since my first day on the 40 Acres — to be back out here on the field with the team again,” Sawyer said. “It’s been a lot of hard work. (It took) two-and-a-half years of rehab to get back to this moment.”
For the past two seasons, Sawyer was in the training room more often than on the mound. In what Sawyer described as “freak accidents,” a torn bicep tendon and torn labrum derailed his 2016 and 2017 seasons.
The results of these injuries were three surgeries and two medical redshirts. But now, Sawyer believes his body is finally where it needs to be.
“Physically, I feel great. I feel unbelievable,” Sawyer said. “Emotionally, it’s been a lot. I’m pretty emotional. For three surgeries, to come back and play, I feel great and I’m ready to go.”
A West Texas native, Sawyer had a decorated high school career at San Angelo Central. After signing with the University of Texas in 2013, he immediately became an integral part of the pitching staff. In just over two years of work prior to his injuries, Sawyer made 26 appearances, compiling a 4–3 record and 4.48 ERA.
The numbers hinted that Sawyer was well on his way to being a key cog for the Longhorns. But after two seasons from the sidelines and a whole bundle of ups and downs, those close to Sawyer said he still resembles the talented southpaw that Texas recruited.
“(The team) knows just how dominating he can be,” head coach David Pierce said. “They understand he can be a difference maker. I just have to see how we benefit from him the best.”
Pierce said he believes Sawyer can make a difference multiple times a week, but he doesn’t want to overwork him. Pierce’s primary goal is to keep Sawyer at peak physical health, which may even require pulling back the reins sometimes.
“He’s a worker,” Pierce said. “I think his work and his work habits have a little bit to do with hurting him, because the overuse syndrome has probably caught up to him. He’s learned to take care of his body and understand himself. But he’s a huge, huge part of this bullpen.”
So far in 2018, it’s been smooth sailing for Sawyer: He demonstrated his ability this past fall. Sawyer’s teammates echoed Pierce’s sentiment and gave their own endorsement of the left-hander.
“The pitcher that has given me the most struggle (this offseason) has probably been Josh Sawyer,” sophomore outfielder Austin Todd said. “He’s looking really sharp for us right now. He came back like nothing even happened.”
Though it wasn’t what he envisioned, Sawyer believes there was a reason for enduring his two-and-a-half year struggle.
“I think (God) chose me because I have that resiliency to go through three surgeries and come back,” Sawyer said. “It’s been a long ride, but I’m ready to be back.”