The scar on Bobby Lucas, Jr.’s left arm runs from his bicep to his elbow. His damaged nerve, repaired last year, nagged the left-handed pitcher since high school.
Lucas is healthy now, and the redshirt senior has emerged as a strikeout menace for the Colonials, ranking fourth in Division-I baseball by striking out 12 batters every nine innings.
“After the surgery and rehab, I noticed big changes,” Lucas said.
Lucas’ unusual injury – not the kind of structural elbow damage that would necessitate the notorious Tommy John surgery – lingered throughout his career as he tried to reach the potential his coaches saw when they aggressively recruited him from his Baltimore high school five years ago.
“He’s pitched a lot, but he hasn’t put up the kind of numbers we anticipated, and part of that was mental mistakes and the ability to locate,” head coach Steve Mrowka said. “But each year, he’s gotten better but he’s just been hurt. Now, he’s showing experience and maturity.”
Softer arm pain and sharper pitch movements have laid the groundwork for his success. Opposing hitters whiff Lucas’ slider, and two-seam fastballs disappear before they cross the plate.
“I’m not overpowering. I really have to try to pitch. I can’t rely on pure ‘stuff.’ I’ve embraced that more and more as I’ve gotten older so it’s made me a better pitcher all around,” Lucas said.
The Colonials have struggled this season, earming a 10-26 record, but Lucas’ success has been a bright spot.
Lucas said he does not owe his transformation to any kind of change in superstition or ritual.
“How did I pitch when I was younger? I’d get out of my parents car and go pitch. If you make it more complicated than that, you create excuses to yourself that aren’t related to how you pitch,” Lucas said. “It’s not about how you ate last night or what you wore.”
Lucas has developed his two-seam fastball, which darts and dives toward hitters, and complimented his repertoire with a slider that breaks in on right-handed batters.
He has served Atlantic-10 hitters a steady diet of off-speed pitches, his four-seam fastball rarely breaking 90 miles per hour.
“Coming in from high school, where my fastball would get a lot of swings and misses, it was really demoralizing to come to college and see that your fastball isn’t what it was, because everyone throws as hard,” Lucas said.
Now that Lucas has pinpointed his location and kept batters off the plate, his strikeout statistics have skyrocketed to the top of the Atlantic-10 and the entire NCAA Division 1.
Lucas’ 60 strikeouts ranks second in the conference, but the A-10 leader, Dayton’s Cameron Hobson, has tossed 25 more innings this season.
“The strikeouts this year have given me more confidence that I’m pitching more to my potential,” Lucas said. “I see the stats, and it’s great, but I hope it translates into more wins.”