Hitting reinforcements were recently called in by Sedalia Bombers head coach Craig McAndrews out of necessity, but in the search to replace disabled batters, it’s been a welcoming sight for one player already on the roster to go from wounded to the top of the order.
Absent the entire summer until making his debut June 27, outfielder Brice Pannier is back and has quickly become a fixture as a contributor at Liberty Park Stadium.
Quin Reasoner has been about the only Bomber used with any sort of frequency as a leadoff man who’s managed to stay out of the infirmary. With season-ending injuries to Tyson Cushman, Tre Turner and Harrison Schnurbusch, the last of whom hadn’t batted there but had the tools to fill the role, a void was left, but Pannier has stepped in to do so on what could be more than just a part-time basis.
“Yeah, he’s hitting it well, and he’s been really good in the leadoff spot for us,” McAndrews said of the former three-sport Smith-Cotton standout. “He had been playing left field, but he played center for us Tuesday night, too, which is great to have another guy who can do that. I hadn’t planned on leading him off this year, but with losing the others, instead of him being an 8-9 hitter, he’s now a leadoff guy. He’s accepted the role.”
Since the Fourth of July, Pannier is 10-for-25 (.400) with six walks batting first in the order. It’s limited evidence, but so far, so good for someone potentially on the verge of missing more than the summer. Discomfort during State Fair Community College’s postseason play this past spring transformed what had been just a lingering injury that was slightly nagging into something worse.
“I felt a few pops, shoulder pain in the sub-Regional, and then in the Region [16 Tournament] I could hardly play catch,” Pannier said. “I kind of toughed it out, then found out there was a partial tear in my labrum. At the time, I could barely get my hand over my head. Some days I couldn’t throw the ball 50 feet.”
Initially, Pannier believed that he could be going under the knife, a surgery that would put him out of commission for as long as eight months. Instead, though, he underwent stem cell therapy from Dr. Brian K. Ellefsen, team physician for the Roadrunners, and ended up on the shelf for roughly eight weeks.
Rejuvenated, Pannier is relishing not only returning, but filling an important role for the Bombers.
“It’s just great to get back in the saddle and into the routine of coming out to the yard, having fun with the guys and playing every day,” Pannier said.
Pannier believes that seeing better pitching, and more of it, has helped him grow from the player he was last summer.
“I think having some college experience is the biggest [difference],” Pannier said. “Going from high school where I saw maybe one guy above 85 [mph], to seeing multiple guys [in college] above 90, that helped me prepare a lot.”
McAndrews pointed at an off-the-field maturation as well.
“Brice is another year into the program and a lot better player [since last summer],” McAndrews said. “I think from the age 18 to 19, it’s a huge jump for kids. It’s, ‘Oh man, this is different. It’s a lot of baseball, a lot of road trips, my body’s sore.’ You’re learning what you can and can’t do. But he’s starting to hit it, he can bunt, and he takes long at-bats. He’s done a great job of emerging [in that role].”
Along with working counts and driving the fastball, it’s work on getting his arm back to peak performance and beyond that Pannier said is the focus for the rest of the summer.
“I want to get my strength up,” Pannier said. “Coming back from this thing, my arm’s been pretty week, but I’m just taking it day by day.”
Bryan Everson can be reached at 660-530-0147 or on Twitter @BryanEversonSD.