By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Harrison Musgrave is studying history at West Virginia University.
He’s also making history.
Musgrave has come out of Bridgeport and bounced back from Tommy John surgery that put an end to a promising freshman season to come to symbolize all that Randy Mazey is trying to accomplish as re-energizes the West Virginia baseball program.
The left-handed ace of the pitching staff on a team that wants pitching to be the cornerstone of its strength, Musgrave goes into a crucial series against TCU this weekend in Charleston with a 7-1 record while featuring a 2.38 ERA built upon a dominating stretch of 27.1 consecutive scoreless innings.
But let us get back to the way Musgrave symbolizes the resurrection of WVU baseball under Mazey, for he is the perfect example.
Like the program two years ago, the future did not look bright.
Possessing a 4-2 record that included a complete-game shutout against Georgetown his freshman year, he was on the mound facing the Hoyas when he felt a twinge in his elbow on a pitch. It was a hint that something was wrong.
Staying in the game, Musgrave’s next pitch was disastrous.
“I heard a pop, and pain went down my arm,” he said.
His season was over, but his career was saved by the greatest thing to happen to pitching since the invention of the changeup. Tommy John surgery, first performed on major league pitcher Tommy John by Dr. Frank Jobe, involves tendon replacement in the elbow and anywhere from eight months to a year rehabilitation, but has saved almost too many careers to count.
By the time he came back to pitch, the coaching staff had changed at West Virginia, Mazey in charge, and the new coach did a rebuilding job on Musgrave, just as he had to do on the program.
The first thing he went to work on was Musgrave’s changeup, which was one of his best weapons, but he also had to change his attitude, much as he changed that of the team itself.
“We made some changes with his pitches — his changeup, his breaking ball — and his mentality,” Mazey said. “We had to make some changes in his work ethic and his energy level and his body.”
That is a major makeover, matching the major makeover the team underwent as it finds itself tied for first place with just two weekends left in the Big 12 season.
“Every coach tries to do that with players, but not every player is capable (of making the changes). He’s the player who deserves the credit for buying into everything we told him and tried to teach him. I guess his best quality was that he’s a good listener,” Mazey said.
Not that he was willing to accept all the changes right away.
“He always threw a two-seam changeup and tried to rely on it to drop out of the strike zone and have people swing and miss at it,” Mazey said. “We changed him to a four-seam changeup. He was a little stubborn at first buying into it. We just wanted him to throw it for strikes and resemble his fastball a little bit more.
“It took a little time to develop a feel for it, but now that he’s got a feel for it, it’s a lot better pitch than it used to be.”
The results were spectacular, but that might not have meant anything had he not accepted the changes in his approach to the game.
He, like the program, was seemingly just going through the motions.
“It was just an energy thing,” Mazey said. “We tell the guys all the time, if you are going to do anything that’s important to you, do it with passion and energy. He’d come down to practice in the fall, not say much, just walk around. The pitching coach would have to yell at him after he got his throwing in.”
Certainly, this pitching thing is important to Musgrave, who now is thinking beyond pitching at WVU. Major league baseball never met a crafty left-hander it didn’t like, and he now has a chance to accomplish that goal.
“Now he knows the importance of energy and passion and work ethic. You don’t have to jump start him to do that stuff anymore. He realizes he has to do it on his own,” Mazey said.
“The coaches have been really positive and energetic,” Musgrave said. “I love what they’re doing. The whole team has bought in.”
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.