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BOGACZYK: King Makes His Pitch, Gets Hits

March 5, 2015

By JACK BOGACZYK

HERDZONE.COM COLUMNIST

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - As it turns out, Josh King wasn't just joshing about being a hitter.

After three seasons and no at-bats as a Marshall pitcher, King had settled into Coach Jeff Waggoner's starting rotation for his senior season. Then, a year ago this weekend at East Carolina, King felt the twinges that would change his career ... for a while anyway.

The Troup, Ga., right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery last April 30, just after he learned he'd get another shot at a senior season thanks to a medical hardship appeal.

So, as the Herd (4-7) is scheduled for a three-game series this weekend at Thomasville, N.C., against George Mason, King finds himself ... at second base? And with a .417 batting average (15-for-36) that tops MU regulars?

"It was the end of July before I could pick up a ball," King said earlier this week. "I'm basically cleared now, but we're taking it slowly so nothing reoccurs. Playing second has allowed me to take it slow, because if I wasn't playing every day, it would be like, `Hey, it's time for me to get back on the mound.'


 

 

"I'd be going crazy. But with me being able to play a position, it's kind of easing my mind as to getting back on the mound."

The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder hasn't given up on returning to the hill ... anything but. In fact, it could come as soon as this weekend, or even next weekend when Marshall opens Conference USA play in Beckley against UTSA.

Being in the lineup is one thing. Hitting .417, getting a single in his first college at-bat three weeks ago and starting 4-for-5 with a homer and five RBI in two games is another.

"Absolutely, I'm surprised with how I've done (at the plate)," King said. "I can't even put into words how it's going right now. It's just ... I'm just out there having fun.

"The first few years here, I didn't miss hitting, because I was having so much fun pitching. And then this year when I actually got to get back out there on the field and also hit, I thought, `Man, this is great.'

"Being in every pitch, every batter, every inning, every day, that's when it really hit me that I missed it as much as I did. Still, I love pitching. Don't get me wrong, I'm loving playing second every day, but pitching is still No. 1."

Waggoner is going to have some interesting situations involving King, his pitchers and use of the designated hitter spot, at least until King regains arm strength. Maybe then, in weekend C-USA series down the road, King plays second two days and pitches the other game.

But a guy with five multihit games in his 10 appearances can contribute in more than one fashion. It just took convincing Waggoner that King would be OK at the other end of first-pitch strikes than he had been.

He came to Marshall as a two-way player, but after taking batting practice in fall drills of his freshman year, King concentrated on pitching. He got two starts as a 2012 sophomore, and in 2013 he had six saves in relief.

Last season, he made six starts - working Friday series openers -- before being shut down.

"The problem initially started after our series with East Carolina (March 8-10, 2014)," King said. "So, we were just trying to maintain it throughout the week and then I made two more starts after the initial injury.

"I didn't really feel anything as I was pitching. It was more the next day. My forearm would be real tight, and even picking up a baseball would just kill me."

King ranks third in Herd history with nine saves, but he wasn't ready to call it a career when he learned he had a torn ulnar collateral ligament. In what was first a move to cope with his inactivity, King began to work Waggoner for a different opportunity.

"Last year (April 23) we went to WVU, and the guys were all taking BP before the game, obviously," King said. "I was like `Coach, let me get a round of BP before the surgery in a few days. It can't hurt it to do anything. Let me swing a little bit for old-times sake.' And I got up there and had a pretty decent round.

"And Waggs says, `You can still swing it a little bit.' The other coaches said next year when I couldn't pitch, to keep it in mind and we'll see what you can do with it. So, I get back here in the fall and go to Waggs about it and he says, `Naw, you're just going to pitch.'

"So every day at practice, I'd be going, `Coach, let me take BP ... Let me take BP.' Finally one day, we're in the middle of an intrasquad game at The Deuce (Route 2 YMCA Kennedy Center Field) and I said, `Coach, let me get in there and bat.'"

That's when King got to second base - so to speak -- with his coach.

"Finally, he just folded," King said. "Coach Waggs says, `All right, get a helmet. You're in now.' I was like, `Are you serious?' He says, `Are you scared?' I told him, `No, sir.' So, I grabbed a bat and went up there and ended up getting a hit to the right side.

"And Waggs just kind of put his head down like, `Oh, no.' I ended up coming around to score. And when I was back sitting in the dugout, he came up and said, `Hey, get your glove and go to second base and be ready to take BP tomorrow.' And that's how it happened that I'm a second baseman."

King didn't learn he'd get a medical hardship year until just before his surgery, in which a tendon was removed from his right wrist to replace the damaged UCL.

"At first it was kind of one of those things we had to wait and see," King said. "When I found out right before surgery, literally right before, it was kind of a blessing because I didn't know if I'd get it and be back or not, and it kind of made the whole situation a lot easier to take.

"I'd really like to get back on the mound for the conference series (next week), but we'll see. I believe at first I'll be bullpen guy toward end of the game until I build my arm back up and then later in season possibly work back into the starter role.

"I feel really good. I think playing a position has helped me out, because if I was pitching right now I'd probably be trying to do entirely too much with my arm too early after surgery. As far as my arm, I'm throwing real well right now."

The bat's not been bad, either.

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