Even when right-hander Ryan Hare was pronounced healthy enough to retake the mound two years ago, he knew he wasn’t all the way back from Tommy John surgery that cost him the entire 2017 UNLV baseball season.
He pitched only 8⅓ innings in 2018, posting an 8.64 ERA.
But last season Hare was healthy and ready to make up for lost time, which he did, going 8-4 with a 3.52 ERA.
Now he enters his senior season having been named to the preseason All-Mountain West team and selected by national publications D1Baseball and Perfect Game as the conference pitcher of the year.
“It’s a great honor, but at the end of the day it’s just a prediction,” Hare said. “What I do on the mound, if I go out and give my team a chance to win, everything will take care of itself.”
Hare will be the starter for Friday’s 6:05 p.m. opener as UNLV begins a new season with a four-game series against Central Michigan at Wilson Stadium.
UNLV will try to take the extra step this season of winning the Mountain West tournament, having advanced to the championship game the past two seasons. The Rebels were picked by the league coaches to finish fourth.
They bulked up their nonconference schedule, which should benefit their RPI for a potential at-large bid to an NCAA regional. Of UNLV’s 13 nonconference opponents, 12 had winning records last season and three were ranked. Conference member Fresno State also was ranked.
Especially as the Friday night starter, Hare will be challenged not only by the stiff competition but in trying to outduel each opponent’s ace.
“He’s got to be the same guy, but it is different pitching on Fridays and Saturdays,” UNLV coach Stan Stolte said. “There’s a little less margin for error.”
Tough obstacles are nothing new for Hare, who took a little longer than average to come back from surgery on his right elbow. Hare returned to pitching about 15 months after the procedure, and he needed another five to months to truly feel comfortable.
Stolte said there was no particular medical reason for the length of the recovery, that each situation with Tommy John is unique. Some players return as early as a year after the procedure.
That wait made it as much of a mental battle as a physical one, and Hare said those struggles have made him a better pitcher.
“One hundred percent because I learned from failure,” Hare said. “I really attacked the offense and tried to get after it.”
Hare, who throws a fastball that tops out in the low 90s, a curveball and sinker, showed last season that he successfully completed the comeback.
He made 11 starts and appeared in relief in five other games, holding opponents to a .217 batting average to earn first-team all-conference. Hare also struck out 52 batters and walked 24 in 79⅓ innings.
If he repeats those numbers, Hare will have lived up to expectations. Stolte told Hare, though, that the preseason conference pitcher of the year seldom pitches up to that level.
“So that’s a challenge for him, and there are some good pitchers in our league,” Stolte said. “It’s more be the best pitcher that night that he’s throwing. I don’t care about the yearly deal.”