By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — When he stepped on the pitcher’s mound Feb. 16 at East Carolina’s Clark-LeClair Stadium, Whit Mayberry had to remind himself to slow down.
If he was unusually pumped that afternoon, who could blame him? On April 3, 2012, renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews had performed Tommy John surgery on Mayberry’s right elbow. Little more than 10 months later, Mayberry was pitching for the UVa baseball team again.
“I was really excited,” Mayberry recalled. “There were a lot of emotions.”
A 6-1, 185-pound right-hander, Mayberry retired the first batter he faced that afternoon and went on to earn the victory in Virginia’s 13-9 win over ECU. A weekend starter last season until he hurt his elbow, Mayberry is now one of the Cavaliers’ relievers, and he’s 2-0, with a 0.79 earned-run average, in four appearances.
“I feel good,” Mayberry said. “It helps a lot to have a really good team behind me.”
He’s struck out nine and walked only three in 11.1 innings for Virginia (14-1), which hosts Liberty (11-5) at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Davenport Field.
“It’s really been a big shot in our arm for him to be ready to go from the start [of the season],” UVa coach Brian O’Connor said.
“Whit is as detailed with his work and his rehab as anybody you’ll ever have. It doesn’t surprise me that he’s back pitching for us. He’s been just great for us out of our bullpen. Maybe at some point he’ll be ready to start for us, but at this point he’s not. He’s making some serious contributions for us. Every time he’s come in, it’s been in a crucial situation and he’s done the job for us.”
For now, O’Connor said, the Wahoos are limiting Mayberry to one appearance a week “and trying to keep it no more than 45, 50 pitches. Bringing somebody out of the bullpen that has the experience that he does in our uniform has been a big thing for us.”
As a freshman in 2010 and again in ’11, Mayberry was used primarily in relief. His role changed last season. He started all five games in which he appeared and was 2-0 with a 3.67 ERA.
“I thought before he got hurt last year,” O’Connor said, “he was making our most consistent starts and really doing a tremendous job. It’s unfortunate what happened, but he’s now making the most of it.”
After his operation, Mayberry began the slow process of rehabilitation, working closely with Brian McGuire, the baseball team’s athletic trainer, and Karl Kuhn, the Cavaliers’ pitching coach. Mayberry’s goal was to be cleared to pitch by the start of this season.
“I wanted to be a part of this team and help this team,” he said, “but I just tried to listen to my body and tried to do the best I could to help the team, no matter what, if I was playing or on the bench.”
Rehab “definitely has its ups and downs,” Mayberry said, “but I’m so lucky here to have the best pitching coach and the best trainer. We’ve got all sorts of people looking out for me, so I haven’t had to worry about going too fast or too slow. I just have to trust what they tell me, and that’s what I’ve done through this process: just listen to them and trust them.”
When he returned to Charlottesville for the spring semester, Mayberry said, “I really started ramping it up. That’s when I started to get ready to go, and it’s been kind of rolling ever since then, I guess.”
Another of Virginia’s starting pitchers from 2012, right-hander Artie Lewicki, hurt his right elbow last summer and also required Tommy John surgery. Lewicki, a junior, is expected to return for the `Hoos at some point during the second half of this season.
“I’ve tried to be there for him,” Mayberry said. “Definitely the process has its ups and downs, and a lot of times you’ll take a couple steps forward and you might take a half-step back. But he’s done a tremendous job just managing himself through this process. He’s working really hard, and you gotta respect that.
“I just feel blessed to be a part of this team and be able to contribute when I have that opportunity. When Artie went down, I was praying for him, I felt for him, and I knew what he was going through. But I knew also that he’d come back stronger than he’d ever been.”
Mayberry, who was born in Winston-Salem, N.C., moved to Alexandria with his family when he was in the fourth grade. O’Connor’s powers of persuasion are considerable, but Mayberry, a graduate of St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School, didn’t need much convincing during the recruiting process.
“This was pretty much my No. 1 option, by far my favorite school, and I was ecstatic to be able to have the opportunity to come here and play for Coach O’Connor,” Mayberry said.
O’Connor said: “He really wanted to be here, and once we had an opportunity to see him a couple of times, we really knew that he was the right fit for us as a student and certainly as a player, and he’s done some really good things for us.”
Mayberry will graduate in May from UVa’s prestigious McIntire School of Commerce, where he’s focusing on finance and management.
“Whit is very mature, very bright,” O’Connor said. “He’s very committed to school and his baseball and his teammates, and to be able to be as successful as he’s been in the Comm School and on the baseball field shows that this guy’s really got his stuff together.”
Because he received a hardship waiver for the 2012 season, Mayberry is classified as a redshirt junior. He’ll be eligible to play for the Cavaliers again next year and plans to do so. He has applied to a graduate program is UVa’s Curry School of Education.
“I love it here,” Mayberry said. “It’s an amazing place.”
His parents, John and Julie Mayberry, are University of North Carolina alumni, but they too have come to appreciate UVa — most aspects of it, at least.
“There’s no question they root for the Cavaliers in baseball,” Mayberry said, smiling. “I’m still working on them to turn over for basketball. I don’t know if that’ll ever happen.”