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Ducks left-handed pitcher Cole Stringer returned from a season-ending arm injury with a strong performance. (Ben Green/Emerald)

Cole Stringer had never suffered an injury — let alone a season-ending injury — in his entire life. But following an outing against FAU on March 3, 2017, his life changed as he began his journey back to the mound after suffering an unidentified elbow injury.

Stringer spent the past year in rehab for not only his arm, but his entire body. After a long layoff, he’s back in the weekend rotation. With ace Kenyon Yovan out due to hand discomfort, Stringer will fill the void. However, when the All-American Yovan returns, the Ducks will need to figure out what to do with Stringer. After a strong first showing, it will be hard to deny him a weekend spot moving forward.

“It might be a nice luxury,” head coach George Horton said. “I know Cole wants to stay in the weekend rotation. His stuff is probably more conducive to starting rather than being a relief guy.”

The junior lefty had to wait an extra four days to get his first start of the season because the last game of the Texas Tech series was cancelled due to cold weather.

The Portland native returned to Eugene, poised and “itching” after not getting his shot against Texas Tech to pitch in the first home game of the 2019 season at PK Park, and with his family and travel ball coach in the stands, he delivered.

Stringer turned in a strong six innings, striking out six batters, giving up one run on three hits in his return to the mound in Oregon’s 3-2 victory against Saint Mary’s on Feb. 22.

“About time,” Stringer said. “I had already waited a year to get back and to wait another week — I was ready for it. I was just ready for my time to get out there and do what I do best.”

His season-ending arm injury not only came as a shock to Stringer but also to his former travel ball coach.

“He had the livest, most rubber arm I had ever coached, really,” said Joe Duran, the head coach of Stringers travel ball team, the Portland Barbers. “He’d throw five or six innings and 80 or 90 pitches, and he’d be ready the next day. A lot of the times, I have guys who don’t even throw the next day, so that was kind of shocking to me when he was hurt.”

Stringer’s “rubber arm” helped him finish as the all-time leader in strikeouts and wins, and he had the best career ERA during his time with the Barbers travel team.

The rehab process of stem cells, spending hours with athletic trainer Tom Embree and tightening the weaker spots of Stringer’s body seem to be paying dividends for him this season.

“I feel good,” Stringer said. “My arm feels as strong as it’s ever been.”

The lefty showed just how good his arm felt in his second game against Loyola Marymount on March 2. He registered a 6.1 inning performance, his longest performance since February 2017, punching out three batters, giving up only two hits and bringing his season ERA down to 0.73.

Now, with two strong outings, Coach Horton will have a decision to make. Horton will need to find a place for Stringer, whether that's in the weekend rotation, as a midweek guy or even a bullpen weapon moving forward.

“I just want to do what I can to help the team, if that's mid-week starts, if thats coming in for long relief, if that's starting on weekends,” Stringer said, “whatever I can do to help the team.”

 

Gabriel is a sports reporter covering women's volleyball, women's soccer, men's basketball, baseball, women's lacrosse and football.


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