Salukis replenishing roster

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Salukis replenishing roster

By Thomas Donley, @TDonleyDE

SIU baseball is getting additional reinforcements almost halfway through the season.

The Salukis (17-10-1) have had two pitchers and two position players return to action in the weeks leading up to the start of Missouri Valley Conference play.

Redshirt freshman left-hander Austin Covers and senior righty Alex Lesiak add depth to the bullpen, while sophomore infielder Drew Curtis and junior catcher Kenny King bolster the lineup.

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Curtis, who sat out the 2015 season after transferring from Saint Louis, went 1-2 with two walks in his Saluki debut Friday against Jacksonville State. On Saturday he made his presence felt with his first home run, contributing to a 13-3 trouncing of the Gamecocks.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen live pitching,” he said after the 9-5 Saluki loss. “The first at-bat, I was a little nervous, but I settled in and started seeing the ball better.”

Curtis missed the Salukis’ first 25 games with a torn labrum, an injury he suffered when he dived for a ball in a preseason practice.

King returned March 26 — his first action in nearly a month. King played four games as a designated hitter and pinch hitter in the first two weeks of the season while recovering from a torn meniscus.

He is 0-11 in his Saluki career after transferring from John A. Logan College. 

“I’m pretty much 100 percent now,” King said. “At the beginning of the season, I probably wasn’t — probably more like 80 percent — but I’m at 95 to 100 percent right now. Obviously, it’s been tough, but I’m trying to stay positive.”

King took infield with fellow catchers Nick Hutchins and Taylor Martin before a game for the first time all year March 24. He has yet to appear behind the plate in a game this season.

“There’s nothing that can get you ready for live pitching like seeing live pitching,” said Ryan Strain, the hitting coach. “So when somebody’s been out for a long time, they’ve got to do a good job of getting down to the bullpen and watching pitches when our guys are throwing, and when they get in [a game], the more reps they get, the better they’ll be. It’s a tough thing, and anybody who comes back from injury has to deal with that.”

King is 0-2 as a pinch hitter since returning to action.

Covers had a setback at the start of the season in his recovery from elbow surgery that ended his season after one scoreless inning last year.

He made his season debut March 29 against Austin Peay State, holding the Governors scoreless in 2/3 of an inning.

“[Covers] is a guy who has great command, and it takes a while to get that command back,” said coach Ken Henderson. “His command wasn’t there yet. It’s a feel thing, and you just have to get on the mound and get used to that again.”

Lesiak also made his season debut March 29, 10 months after elbow surgery.

“It was good to get back out there,” he said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done to get back to where I want to be, but I felt good.”

Lesiak allowed five runs on six hits in 2 1/3 innings of relief in a 16-10 loss.

“The biggest thing [in the recovery process] was mentally trying to get over that hump and get myself ready to pitch again,” said Lesiak, who had Tommy John surgery after his junior season. “Not being out there for so long mentally takes a toll on you.”

Covers and Lesiak join a pitching staff that leads the MVC with a 3.45 ERA. The Salukis have four pitchers with at least 11 appearances. Three of them – junior Jacob Williams, freshman Seth Hackett and sophomore closer Ryan Netemeyer – have posted ERAs of 2.35 or lower.

Henderson said there has not been much chance of the bullpen being overworked. 

“I don’t think we’ve overworked anybody. We don’t run the same guy out there every day,” Henderson said. “That’s one thing we’re extremely cautious of. Our starters have been awfully good, and probably thrown more innings than we normally [have them], because they’ve been so good. They’ve also been pretty efficient with their pitch counts.”

The returns of Covers, Curtis, King and Lesiak leave only one Saluki unavailable this year.

Junior outfielder J.C. DeMuri is taking a medical redshirt and will not play this season. DeMuri made the decision before the season started to sit out and rest a persistent shoulder injury

“Normally this time of year, the injury report I get is growing,” Henderson said. “But it’s shrinking. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that this far into the season.” 

Thomas Donley can be reached at td[email protected] or at 618-536-3307

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