Brett Huber is a key to Ole Miss’ baseball season again this year, just like he has been for several years. Five years in, he wants this to be his best one.
By: Jeff Roberson, OMSpirit.com
To get to that point, Huber had to have another surgery. He had Tommy John his last year of high school, and he redshirted his first season at Ole Miss in 2009.
Last June, as soon as the Rebels were eliminated from the NCAA Regional, Huber had surgery again. Not Tommy John but serious enough for a several months rehab program. He had pitched in pain during the 2012 season and had 20 relief appearances with 10 saves.
“I didn’t play catch the whole week before the Regional, because I just couldn’t feel anything going on in there,” he said. “I threw in the Regional. We got the MRI when we got back to Oxford. We pretty much knew it was bone chips. Had some bone chips, and then I was losing feeling in my hand at the end of the year due to my nerve. So they moved that, too.
“They moved it to a different spot. A lot of times they do that when guys have Tommy John (surgery). But they didn’t do that with me when I had my Tommy John like five years ago (before his senior year of high school). They decided this time they might as well move it. I think one of the bone chips was pressuring it.”
Cleaning up the bone chips would have just been a scope. Moving a nerve meant they used the same incision he had back in high school for Tommy John surgery.
“My surgery went well,” the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder said. “I think during the fall I could have actually pitched the last weekend and the Pizza Bowl too. But Coach (Mike) Bianco didn’t want me throwing seriously since it was so late in the fall. I understand that. Since (the holidays), I feel great. I feel 100 percent.”
Huber said he drew on the experiences of his first surgery five years ago as to how to get through it again this time.
“I’ve been through Tommy John surgery, and I knew there would be some bumps in the road,” he said. “When I got done, I was really excited and started rehabbing. I wanted to get back to throwing in the fall, but they didn’t want to rush me. We took a little longer program throwing to try to keep it under wraps with the bone chips and stuff. Everything feels great now.”
Funny thing, though. Huber said there were some odd moments last season as he worked through and pitched through his pain. Sometimes when it hurt the least, he was not effective.
“Sometimes when it hurt the most, that was the best times I pitched, which was crazy,” he said, not really understanding it but simply explaining what he went through.
Huber likes this year’s Rebel team.
“We have a lot of older guys on the team this year. Me and (veteran senior outfielder) Tanner Mathis were talking the other day. This team is a very good group of kids. On the field, they have that edge. That’s what I love about this team. On the baseball field they’ll try to prove they’re the best, that they’re better than you. Off the field, they’re as humble as can be. We like that about this team.”
There are other things Huber likes about this team. It starts with a staff he is an important part of – the pitchers.
“This year, the whole thing is I believe our pitching’s going to take us a long way,” he said. “It’s nice to have guys like Bobby Wahl and Mike Mayers back.”
The third starter was a question mark heading into the fall. That’s no longer the case. Sophomore right-hander Chris Ellis emerged early and never let up. Wahl and Mayers didn’t pitch in the fall to let their arms rest and recover. That made room for a lot of innings for a lot of other pitchers.
“The whole fall, there’s no doubt Chris Ellis was the best pitcher,” Huber said. “He’s going to come out there and do really well on Sunday. He’s gone out there and had the same stuff every outing in the fall. The whole fall he was 90-93 with a really good breaking ball. The big thing about him, he just throws strikes and goes right after a hitter. When he’d get in trouble, he’d get out of it. He’s showed maturity.”
Offensively, there are question marks for some. Where is the run production going to come from, especially with the departure of solid offensive players like Matt Snyder, Alex Yarbrough, and Zach Kirksey?
Huber watched all fall since he didn’t pitch. Like Wahl and Mayers, he had plenty of time to see what the offense might be like this spring. And if there were questions before, those have been answered, according to Huber.
He gives a few examples but says there are others; just wait and see.
“Watching the guys swing in the fall it was like, we’re not going to have a problem swinging the bat. Guys like (newcomer) Stuart Turner (a JUCO catcher) have come in. Not only can he catch and throw, he’s going to hit the ball,” Huber said. “Will Allen’s worked his tail off this summer and fall, and he’s great. I think Sikes Orvis is going to have a breakout year. He’s one of the hardest workers on the team. And (JUCO middle infielder) Lance Wilson, by the Pizza Bowl (which wrapped up the fall sessions), it was like he had been here for three years.”
After Huber’s redshirt freshman season, he was named a Freshman All-America selection by Collegiate Baseball, Baseball America and the NCBWA. He was named second team All-SEC and was an All-Freshman selection by the league’s coaches. He made 30 relief appearances that season with a 2-0 record and 12 saves, one shy of the single-season record set by Stephen Head in 2003.
His third year, as a sophomore, Huber made 23 relief appearances and posted a 2-1 record with four saves and a 3.60 ERA in 30.0 innings of work. Then came last season and his struggles with the arm. But he still managed to be effective, even though he admits there were some times he just couldn’t pitch. And didn’t.
Pitching coach Carl Lafferty said Huber has pitched better than ever lately.
“In the last month or so we’ve been able to see him in the bullpen. He looks as strong and as sharp as he ever has,” Lafferty said. “Brett’s always had great stuff, but it seems like his command is really refined. Command develops with age. That’s been the most exciting thing.”
Huber’s longevity with the program is a key for him and for the team, according to Lafferty.
“Part of pitching in the back end of the bullpen and coming in when the game is on the line, experience plays such a huge factor in that,” Lafferty said. “To have a guy that’s been in the fires and been tested, that’s so big for our club.”
Huber and the other pitchers have a strong a coaching staff to learn from this year. Head coach Mike Bianco and assistant Lafferty are joined by Stephen Head and T.J. Beam, both former Rebel pitchers of great success.
“I think mentally Stephen helps us out so much. He’s been there,” Huber said. “And T.J.’s been a big help. He comes up every once in a while after a bullpen and tells us what he sees. He was in the big leagues for a few years. Coach Bianco and Coach Lafferty have always been good for us.”
Huber admits, as one would expect, that closing was not what he came to Ole Miss to do. Now he knows that’s what he needs to be doing.
“I did want to start when I got here. I think that’s everybody’s goal,” said the Belleville, Ill., native. “Being a closer in the SEC, it’s fun. I love it. If you’re going to be an SEC closer, you have to do things right. There’s nothing better than going out there and get three outs and it’s the end of the game and you’re about to get the W. Going on the road is the best, too, because (the opposing team and fans) just get to sit there and watch you. That’s one of the best feelings of all.“