CARBONDALE — Mason Hiser finally cut it loose Tuesday.
He finally trusted the surgically repaired right elbow that required him to cut his season short in 2018 after only five starts and 17 2/3 innings. He threw his fastball anywhere he wanted to, mixed in enough breaking balls to keep Austin Peay hitters off-balance and mostly dominated.
Most importantly, with the help of a two-run rally in the bottom of the eighth inning, Hiser won. The SIU starter earned a 3-2 decision and perhaps something much more important: Validation that his once-aching appendage is just fine.
“My first two starts, I was really doubting myself,” he said after upping his record to 2-0. “I can easily build on this and keep rolling. Today, I just let it go. I didn’t even think about the elbow. I talked to myself a lot about low pitches and finishing.”
Aside from the third inning, when the Governors (5-9) reached him for three hits and two runs, Hiser dealt. He permitted no hits after Parker Phillips’ two-out RBI double, retiring 16 of the last 17 men he faced. The one guy who reached base did so via an error.
Hiser (2-0) fanned seven and walked none over eight innings, throwing 63 of his 84 pitches for strikes. It was an outing more worthy of a Friday night starter in conference games instead of a mid-week starter in a non-conference contest.
“Remember, he’s only been out there three times since surgery, and in adverse weather,” Salukis coach Ken Henderson said. “He’s a command guy. He fills up the zone, and that’s the key to success. You don’t walk a guy in eight innings, that’s special, and he needed to be.”
Hiser underwent surgery last April after suffering a partial tear of the distal biceps tendon. As he matter-of-factly pointed out, it could have been worse. The rehab time is 6 to 8 months — not nearly as bad as Tommy John surgery, which normally requires a year to return to full health.
“It’s similar to Tommy John, but I still have my UCL (ulnar collateral ligament),” Hiser said. “I only partially tore it on the distal end.”
Hiser won his first start last month at Belmont, but allowed eight hits and four runs last Wednesday at Southeast Missouri State. Of course, he had an excuse. It was 27 degrees at game time in Cape Girardeau, and an elbow which has never gone under the knife would have trouble getting loose in those conditions.
By that standard, the 51-degree temps of Tuesday must have seemed tropical, although the game didn’t last long enough for anyone to get chilled. With the teams making first pitch outs at an astounding clip, they reached the seventh inning stretch only 76 minutes after the 3:02 p.m. start.
SIU (9-5) finally pieced together one decent inning offensively in the eighth, tying the game on Ian Walters’ sacrifice fly and then collecting three straight two-out singles off reliever Brett Newberg (1-3). Brad Hudson’s two-strike looper just over the head of shortstop Garrett Kueber scored Alex Lyon with the winning run.
“You try to battle and get something to put a good swing on,” Hudson said. “He hung the breaking ball and I got a good swing on it.”
Henderson wasn’t around to see Hudson’s tie-breaker. Two pitches earlier, he was asked to leave by plate umpire Rick Allen for arguing strike one to Hudson. Allen warned Henderson in the third inning for offering him some unsolicited help with the zone.
Trey McDaniel preserved Hiser’s win by whiffing Andrew Flaherty with the tying run at second base to close out a scoreless ninth. It was the fifth save in six chances for McDaniel, who owns the early Valley lead in that department.
Shawnee product Aiden McMahan drew a start at designated hitter for the Salukis and went 2 for 3 before being pulled for a pinch-runner in the seventh.
SIU hosts SEMO at 2 p.m. Wednesday in a game moved up an hour due to the potential of thunderstorms later in the day. The Salukis visit Big 10 foe Illinois this weekend.