KNOXVILLE – Putting his back into his offseason work didn’t work out as Camden Sewell had intended.
The Tennessee pitcher, a former standout at Cleveland High, suffered a setback during the course of weight-room training. As he described it: “I had a few disc problems.”
Vols coach Tony Vitello indicated on Monday, during a press conference to preview the season’s first games, that Sewell’s issues extend back to high school and require regular maintenance.
The Vols open their season on Friday against Western Illinois in the first of a three-game weekend series at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
“I’m starting to feel a lot better,” Sewell said late last month at the outset of preseason practice. “Everything is getting better.”
In the fall, Vitello spoke of Sewell as being in the mix for one of the weekend starting spots. But then the 6-foot-4 sophomore right-hander spent more time rehabbing than pitching. And an evolving roster yielded several more candidates for those spots.
“It was kind of aggravating in the fall,” he said, “just because I wanted to be out (on the field) and not in there doing rehab stuff. It’s one of those things where I just have to maintain it.”
A back problem is significant for any athlete. But it’s especially problematic for a baseball pitcher, who’s dependent upon on a finely-tuned set of mechanics to execute an elaborate throwing motion over and over again.
The situation reached the point where Sewell had changed the arch of his delivery to compensate.
“I dropped down almost sidearm because of back problems,” he said. “I worked really hard on getting my arm back on top and staying behind the ball.”
Along with maintaining his back, Sewell also minds his outlook to insure that one doesn’t affect the other.
“I struggle a little bit when my back starts bothering me,” he said, “letting those negative thoughts get in my head. Been working on that. I think I’m in good shape.”
At the start of preseason practice, Sewell conceded that he wasn’t sure of his role for the upcoming season but added, “Whatever my role is, I’ll fill that the best I can, do whatever I can to help this team.”
As a freshman, Sewell was 4-1 with a 2.18 earned run average. His ERA was the lowest by a true freshman in program history. He made five starts and 20 total appearances. He pitched 4.2 innings to earn an NCAA regional victory over North Carolina-Wilmington.
Vitello said at the beginning of preseason practice that he had many roles in mind for Sewell.
“He’s kind of a swing guy for us,” Vitello said then. “I could see him doing a variety of things, closing a game if we need it, starting a game if we need it and somewhere in between as well.”
On Monday, the coach referenced other afflictions impacting other pitchers and indicated a need to experiment with assignments, at least for the time being.
Sounds like an opportunity for Sewell to bounce back.
“He’s one of our most dynamic arms and I’ve told him that multiple times,” Vitello said. “We want to utilize him as best we can.”
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He may be reached at email@example.com