Portland High pitcher Nate Smart has made a strong recovery from Tommy John surgery he had a year ago. The recovery period usually runs from 12 to 18 months, sometimes longer.

Smart, a sophomore righthander, pitched four innings of relief against Marshwood, giving up two runs, and last Saturday tossed a two-hitter against Massabesic. Against Kennebunk on Thursday, he allowed four runs in five innings. Smart is on a pitch count, with no more than 75 allowed.

Tommy John surgery is the popular name for the procedure that reconstructs the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow by replacing the damaged ligament with a tendon from the forearm, hamstring, knee or elsewhere. John, a former major league pitcher, was the first to have it performed in 1974.

After the surgery, Smart had his arm in a sling.

“It was about four months of doing nothing,” said Smart. “Then I started physical therapy by stretching bands. I was real persistent with my physical therapy and continue to be.”

Smart’s diligence with therapy and his youth likely hastened his return. He played basketball for the Bulldogs last winter but wasn’t cleared to throw until two weeks before preseason.

“I came back a lot sooner than everyone thought. I pretty much had to learn to throw again. My arm feels amazing,” he said.

Smart was looking forward to pitching after missing baseball last spring and summer.

“I’ve been playing with these guys all my life,” he said. “We have a good group of sophomores. It feels good to be back out there.”

Smart throws three pitches and hopes to develop one or two more.

“We’re really happy with Nate’s progress,” said Coach Tony DiBiase. “He’s not near 100 percent strengthwise, but that will improve as the season goes along. Nate has pitched well. With Nate and Caleb Fraser, the future looks bright.”

 

RECENT PERFORMANCES confirmed what was believed heading into the season. The Telegram League is deep in pitching. There are talented arms like Luke Fernandes of Marshwood, Ben Wessel of Scarborough, Scott Heath of Westbrook, Andrew Richards of South Portland and others.

The season is relatively new, but three no-hitters have been thrown. Fernandes pitched one against Portland on April 26 in South Berwick. On Tuesday, Wessel pitched a no-hitter at Sanford in a game that ended after six innings because of the 10-run rule. And Thursday, freshman Ben Greenberg of Scarborough had one against Massabesic.

DiBiase was impressed with Fernandes, comparing him to Ryan Reid, the Deering pitching ace of seven years ago.

“Reid was about as good as you could get and Fernandes is right there,” said DiBiase.

DiBiase said Fernandes matches Reid’s velocity, or is close to it, but also is impressed by Fernandes’ curve.

“He has an excellent curve on the knees. That’s why he reminds me of Reid,” he said.

Richards doesn’t have the velocity of Fernandes or Heath, but DiBiase, who coached Richards the last two seasons at South Portland before joining Portland, said Richards “is right up there with them.”

“Andrew can be competitive with anyone. He’s won for three years. He’s bigger and stronger and a little bit quicker than last season. When he pitches, South Portland can be competitive with anyone,” said DiBiase.

Two of the best pitchers in the state, Fernandes and Heath, likely will square off May 12 when Marshwood plays at Westbrook.

 

ANOTHER PITCHER making a comeback is Sean Murphy of Westbrook, who pitched only eight innings last season because of tendinitis that started in the rotator cuff and moved to the elbow.

Murphy, a 6-foot-5 senior right-hander, has won both of his starts and says he’s pain free. Structurally there’s nothing wrong with his shoulder or arm, according to an MRI.

In his first outing, Murphy pitched five innings against Noble, allowing one hit and throwing about 40 pitches.

On Monday, Murphy went seven innings, pitching a three-hit shutout in a 4-0 victory against Gorham.

“Everything started to come back in my first start,” said Murphy.

“My first start in preseason I struggled and figured out what I needed to do. The velocity is starting to come back.”

In 13 innings, Murphy hasn’t walked a batter. He has allowed four hits with nine strikeouts.

Not being able to pitch much last season, a bright spot for Murphy was his hitting. At the end of the season he was selected as the All-Telegram League second-team designated hitter. His pitching highlight was retiring the last three batters for a save in the semifinal playoff victory against Deering.

“Sean has looked very good,” said Coach Mike Rutherford. “His velocity was up there and he has had a good slider going. He just needs to pitch.

“He’s getting stronger each time out.”

Murphy’s next scheduled start is Tuesday at Thornton Academy.

 

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at:

[email protected]