'He wants to pitch': Texas outlines timeline for Tanner Witt's return from elbow surgery
When the Big 12 released its all-preseason baseball team last month, four starting pitchers made the cut.
Texas' Tanner Witt was one of them. On paper, the decision by the Big 12's head coaches to include Witt makes sense. The 6-foot-5 sophomore right-hander is undefeated in his college career and he's already won a game at the College World Series.
However, it's unlikely that Witt also ends up on the actual all-conference team that will be released in May.
Witt missed much of the 2022 season with an elbow injury. Texas coach David Pierce said last week that while the pitcher is "way ahead of schedule" in his rehab, he probably won't appear in a game for another two months. And Pierce added that when Witt does begin pitching competitively, his appearances will be short. Texas is hoping that he'll work his way into a full-time role again by either May or June.
"He wants to pitch," Pierce said. "I think earliest would probably be mid-April. That would be the earliest timeline and we'll be smart with it."
Witt secured a spot in UT's weekend rotation ahead of the 2022 season. In his first two starts, he beat Rice and Alabama while allowing two runs over 11 innings.
But he was scratched before his scheduled start against UCLA at Houston's Minute Maid Park on March 6. A few days later, UT announced that Witt needed Tommy John surgery.
After his surgery, Witt remained involved with the team. He became the distributor of the team's celebratory home run helmet as UT clubbed a program-record 128 homers. He coached one of the teams during the Fall World Series. As Texas held its first practice of the season on Jan. 27, Witt was seen hitting grounders to teammates.
Texas RHP Tanner Witt is the heart and soul of the Texas Longhorns. As he works his way back from Tommy John Surgery, we discuss what it means to wear the Burnt Orange, we go over his pitch arsenal, and tackle the mysteries of the deep ocean.https://t.co/JfsGHuStjS
— Joe Doyle (@JoeDoyleMiLB) January 9, 2023
As far as Witt's rehab goes, Pierce said he has handled that "like a pro." Fellow pitcher Lucas Gordon reflected that "he's the same old dude that he was even when he wasn't hurt. He's always worked hard."
On its social media platforms, Texas announced that Witt was playing catch back in September. A few weeks ago, he told Prospects Live's 2023 MLB Draft Show that he was about to start throwing bullpen sessions.
"I feel good. The elbow feels really good, which is a relief," Witt said. "I haven't had any problems, any setbacks, feel really strong."
Over 30 outings, Witt has posted a 7-0 record and a 2.91 ERA. He worked exclusively out of the bullpen during the 2021 season, and his 5 2/3-inning masterpiece against Tennessee kept Texas alive at the College World Series.
Witt told the MLB Draft Show that he learned a lot while he has been sidelined. However, he's also itching to get back on the mound.
"This is the first time I've actually missed baseball time and I feel like you can go two ways with that," Witt said. "You can either realize you don't love the game as much and you don't want to go through all of the pain and rehab or you realize you do love the game that much and you want to go through it all to get back. I'm at that (latter) point."
While Witt works his way back, Texas will lean heavily on Gordon. A third-year left-hander, Gordon replaced Witt in the rotation last season and went 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA. He joined Witt on the Big 12's preseason honor roll.
Returnees Andre Duplantier II, Zane Morehouse and Travis Sthele all started at least three times in 2022. Transfers Charlie Hurley and David Shaw earned starts last season at USC and Rice. Texas, which was No. 32 nationally last season with its 4.28 team ERA, has a new pitching coach this year in former MLB hurler Woody Williams.
Texas opens its season in less than three weeks with games against No. 8 Arkansas, Missouri and No. 10 Vanderbilt at the College Baseball Showdown in Arlington. The program's annual alumni game will take place Saturday.
Saturday's alumni game
Noon Saturday, UFCU Disch-Falk Field, LHN
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Texas outlines timeline, comeback plans for pitcher Tanner Witt