Sunday, November 18, 2018
Sports

Arms don't get much fresher than USF right-hander Tommy Eveld's

TAMPA — His tone elicits a sliver of exasperation on this brick-oven afternoon. USF pitching coach Billy Mohl, whose staff includes four arms (two of them freshmen) rehabbing from elbow surgery, knows the epidemic of which he speaks.

"There's tons of kids here in the state of Florida that have way too many miles on their arm," Mohl says.

At least his closer isn't one of them. While certainly no stranger to surgical gowns, Tommy Eveld never has crossed paths with Tommy John.

For much of the past half-decade, Eveld was more preoccupied with spirals than sliders. Fact is, Jesuit High's former 2,300-yard passer might still be taking snaps for Willie Taggart had his original career plans remained on trajectory. But fate tossed a curve.

Only in this case, Eveld tossed it right back — in the mid to high 80s. In a couple of weeks, he's almost certain to get drafted.

"The only word I can think to describe it would be a fairy tale," said Eveld, a 6-foot-5 redshirt junior. "Everything's lining up, all the hard work's starting to pay off."

In an injury-besieged season for the Bulls (23-31), Eveld has emerged as one of the premier closers in the American Athletic Conference. Entering this week's AAC tournament in Clearwater, his nine saves are tied for second in the league. In 49 innings, he has struck out 64, walked 19 and posted a 1.84 ERA.

His fastball can hit the upper 90s. His slider has evolved into his bread-and-butter pitch. He can even dust off a decent changeup.

"His improvement curve over the course of a year has been unbelievable," Mohl said. "He's got a fresh arm, so he does not have a lot of miles on it right now."

From 2010 to 2015, that arm essentially was up on blocks, at least from a baseball perspective.

Before throwing an exploratory bullpen for Mohl and coach Mark Kingston — then entering their inaugural season at USF — in January 2015, Eveld hadn't pitched in an organized baseball game since 10th grade. Even then, it was in the Citrus Park Little League.

"I was told that I would get the opportunity to play more my junior year at quarterback (at Jesuit) if I stopped playing baseball," said Eveld, who led the Tigers to an 11-2 record as a senior. "And I wasn't really playing on JV, so I figured once I got to varsity I would disappear even more than I had already started to."

For all his physical upside and senior-year success, Eveld's most substantial Division I-A football opportunity was a gray shirt offer from Western Kentucky, where Taggart was coach at the time. He opted to walk on at USF, where older brother Bobby was a backup quarterback.

He ultimately converted to receiver and tore his right ACL the first time in the spring of 2014, when he was running downfield as a gunner on the Bulls' punt team. Pushing the envelope of his post-surgical rehab, he was back on the field in fewer than four months, running routes on the Bulls' synthetic turf practice field.

Routes in an actual game didn't materialize; Eveld never had a pass or catch for the Bulls. The baseball itch resurfaced during his rehab, when he began throwing with Bobby — a onetime Mets draftee whose football career had ended — in the yard of their Lutz home.

"I always thought he had a pretty natural throwing motion, whether it be a football or baseball," said Bobby, who recently signed with the Blue Jays as a pitching prospect.

"And then I also saw him pitch growing up and played with him, too, so I didn't think anything of it. But I guess he was a little bit more special than I expected at the time."

Both went to Kingston's office near the end of the 2014 football season to inquire about joining the baseball team. Bobby ultimately opted to focus on school, but Tommy was granted a tryout.

"We didn't even know who he was until he stepped into our office," Mohl said.

"You look at his size, his frame, it was interesting. Then when I saw him start throwing, it was a little odd, but everything worked well. He was 85, 86 (mph), nothing better than that. Had a changeup, had no breaking ball, so we said we'll give you a couple of weeks to keep going with the team and see how it progresses."

Pitching in an organized setting for the first time in five years, Eveld made 13 appearances (11 in relief) for the Bulls in 2015, posting a 6.11 ERA in 28 innings. His numbers might have been better had it not been for the occasional buckling he felt in his right knee, or the twinges that occurred when he twisted it.

While swimming in the hotel pool during the conference tournament, the instability became more profound, as if the entire knee mechanism were dangling by a thread. An MRI exam performed by Charles Nofsinger — a USF orthopedic surgeon — revealed the ghastliest.

"He looks at the MRI and kind of just says, 'Your ACL's not there. … It's already torn, disintegrated, gone. It's been gone for about a year,' " Eveld recalled. "And that was when I knew that I had torn it on that cut that I made on the turf field before (2014) summer camp."

Another surgery, this one using the Achilles' tendon from a cadaver, was performed. Today, Eveld, who graduated this month with a degree in business management, still wears a brace for comfort but said his twice-mended knee doesn't inhibit him in any way.

It's like a fresh lease on life. Fresh arm included.

"He's been dominant for us," Mohl said.

"He's had his hiccups, which … you're gonna expect that with the lack of experience that he has over the last six or seven years. But in terms of if you compare his numbers from last year to what they are right now, I couldn't ask for much more."

Contact Joey Knight at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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