Catchers are a different breed when it comes to pain tolerance.
Nick Coomes played all of last season with a Cam Lesion, which is essentially a bone spur on the ball-and-socket joint of the hip. The injury was such that the lesion would pierce his labrum every time he bent his knee.
Monthly therapeutic shots would help Coomes deal with the injury, but he was never totally pain free. It kept him from catching for the most part — the pain was worst in a crouch — and he said it affected him as a hitter and even at first base, but he put off surgery until the offseason to keep playing.
“Pretty much every time I was in a catcher’s squat the bone growth would split my labrum,” Coomes said. “It wasn’t something that was going to hold me back. They say there’s a difference between hurt and injured. I wasn’t injured.”
These days Coomes is pain free and by all accounts looks like the backstop that LSU signed from LSU-Eunice two years ago. Symptoms of the injury date back to his JUCO days, he said, but it wasn’t until his return to Baton Rouge that any doctors caught it.
Offseason hip surgery kept him from playing for almost the entire fall, which he said was “miserable” in its own right, but the difference in his game has been night and day this spring.
“It’s nice being able to get back out there and compete a little bit without being in pain later that night,” Coomes said. “It definitely restricted me a lot last year, but I played through it. So this year, being healthy, it’s nice. Now that it’s healthy, my entire game should be better.”
LSU coach Paul Mainieri is awfully glad to have him back. Coomes has stepped into a more significant role in practice of late as starting catcher Hunter Feduccia has missed time with a broken bone in his left hand.
The injury occurred when Jake Slaughter’s bat hit the top of his hand on the backswing. It stung, but Feduccia didn’t think anything of it at the time and finished the scrimmage. It wasn’t until the pain got worse in the following days that he underwent a CT scan that revealed the fracture.
“I’m doing a lot better than when I got hurt,” Feduccia said. “I’m going to start trying to swing the bat probably tomorrow. Try to get a scrimmage in on Sunday. But I’m feeling a lot better.
“I think I’ll be ready (for opening weekend). I think I’ll be.”
That’s far from a certainty at this point, though.
As of Thursday, the hand remained too sore for Feduccia to catch baseballs or grip a bat. He was confined to running the bases, throwing to maintain arm strength and a drill emphasizing blocking balls in the dirt.
Mainieri remains hopeful to have Feduccia available for opening night against Notre Dame next Friday, but said he’d need to see him play in a live intra-squad scrimmage by Tuesday for that to happen.
“I was hoping by now he’d feel a little bit better, but who knows, maybe in the next few days it will,” Mainieri said.
If it doesn’t, the coach expressed confidence in Coomes’ ability to do the job now that he’s fully healthy. Apparently it can be beneficial for a catcher to regain hip flexibility and to be able to take batting practice without having to limp out of the cage.
“Coomes has looked great,” Mainieri said. “Honestly, and I told Hunter and Nick Coomes this, if Nick had been out there all fall looking the way he looks now, he would have competed for the job. It would have looked like a much closer competition for the starting job, so I have a lot of confidence in Nick Coomes. I just don’t like that we’re so thin.”
Having only two healthy, available catchers is never ideal, even if it’s only for a week or two. It’s not like missing an infielder or outfielder where a coach can simply slide another able-bodied player over as a stopgap. That’d leave LSU one poorly-placed foul tip from a serious problem.
But for Coomes it’s an opportunity to make up some of the ground he knew he’d lose by being sidelined for the fall. He could only watch as Feduccia locked up the catching job to the point that freshman backstop Mason Doolittle left the program during winter break.
“I’ve just got to pick up the slack, fill in for Feduccia and make the most of my opportunity here,” Coomes said. “Maybe if I play well and continue playing well, I can earn more playing time.”
If he does, LSU could suddenly have two legitimate catchers at its disposal heading into the season. Now that’s the kind of problem Mainieri would love to have.