'New man' Stultz thriving again after long absence
TAMPA -- There is pitching on four days' rest, on five days' rest, and for USF's Derrick Stultz, there is pitching on one thousand days' rest.
The Bulls' success this season has gotten a major boost from pitchers making impressive comebacks, and none has been more impressive than Stultz, a senior right-hander who was away from college baseball for nearly three years after tearing the labrum in his shoulder in May 2009.
"For me to be back on the mound, it's just huge for me," said Stultz, a Wharton graduate who earned his degree from USF in interdisciplinary social sciences last week. "I had setbacks. It just wasn't healing the way we wanted to, obviously. Somewhere it just clicked, the rehab changed, and I was back. When you're out that long, you're appreciative of what you have."
Stultz missed the entire 2010 and 2011 seasons, but started making progress last summer and has put up the best numbers of his career. After going 9-7 with a 3.84 ERA his first two seasons with the Bulls, the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder has gone 7-1 this spring with a 3.39 ERA, helping USF to a 30-18 record after two seasons with losing records.
"I think this is by far the best all-around team, the best pitching staff we've had here, best hitting," said Stultz, 23, who will start Saturday against Connecticut in the Bulls' final home series of the season. "We've really connected well as a team. We're more of a family than we've ever been."
Stultz wasn't alone in his rehab, as the Bulls' top pitcher, senior Andrew Barbosa, missed nearly all of last season with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. Barbosa has also bounced back, with a 6-4 record and 2.29 ERA that ranks third in the Big East. Having two reliable veteran arms in the weekend rotation has been a major difference for the Bulls.
"Derrick's been huge for us. He's been solid for us on Sundays," coach Lelo Prado said. "He put a lot of effort into his rehab this summer and fall. He knows this is his year to get a chance and he's throwing the ball good. We're fortunate that he came back, that he's healthy."
Stultz's first game back came in February, in the first weekend of the season as USF won its first three games in the Big East-Big Ten Challenge. It was only 2.2 innings in relief, a conservative first test of his rebuilt shoulder, but he earned the win, admitting he felt the same nervousness on the mound he'd felt as a freshman making his first college pitches four years earlier.
Stultz credits his resurgence to second-year Bulls pitching coach Chuck Hernandez, who came to USF after 31 years of pro experience, including being the Rays' pitching coach in 2004-05. Stultz said Hernandez was "fantastic" in building back his arm and confidence, and Prado said the key was being patient in his recovery.
"The thing Chuck did was really took his time with him," Prado said. "Another guy might have come in and said 'You're going to pitch now.' He took his time with him, rehabbed the right way."
Stultz's physical recovery has run parallel with an overall maturation over the long absence from baseball. He calls himself "a new man," someone who has weathered the "mental beatdown" of a multi-year rehab process and emerged as a better person. For Prado, he's seeing a realization of the potential he saw five years ago when he signed with the Bulls.
"When everybody counted him out, I always knew there was a chance that Derrick could still become the pitcher I thought he could become," Prado said. "He's grown up in the classroom, and out on the field. He's a great kid. He's a laidback kind of guy, but I thought if that light ever hit, look out, because you'll get what we're seeing right now."