The University of Alabama bullpen was looking for depth to start the season. Midway through the season, the search has become even tougher.

Freshman left hander Garret Rukes will undergo Tommy John surgery and is out for the season, head coach Greg Goff announced on Monday. Sophomore righty Brock Love, who last pitched on March 15, previously had Tommy John surgery.

“I’ve been coaching for 20-something years,” head coach Greg Goff said. “I’ve had to deal with one Tommy John in 20-something years, and we’ve had two within a two-week period. It’s just crazy. It’s something that I’ve never been there, I’ve never experienced. Something that we have to get through and analyze and see exactly where we are.”

Alabama was also without Friday night starter Jake Walters last weekend at Ole Miss. He missed his start with some soreness in his arm. That loss depleted the pitching staff even further. Walters is expected to return, and Goff said he could have pitched if needed, but was rested as a precaution. His status for this weekend was uncertain as of Monday morning.

Walters worked an inning of relief in a midweek game against Auburn on March 28. He threw 18 pitches in that appearance on a day when he normally would have thrown a bullpen session. Walters came back and pitched the next Friday night against Arkansas before missing this weekend’s series against the Rebels.

“We always communicate with our pitchers. ‘How are you doing today? OK, we’re going to throw you three outs tonight instead of throwing a 30-pitch bullpen,’” Goff said. “It’s been something I’ve been doing my whole career and never had an issue with it, never had a guy miss a start before.”

Rukes last pitched on March 28. Losing Love and Rukes in such close proximity brought Goff and pitching coach Terry Rooney to evaluate how they’ve handled Alabama’s relievers this season. Goff said he doesn’t anticipate doing anything differently moving forward.

“I think you look around, it’s a part of baseball now,” Goff said. “You look at South Carolina, their No. 1 was coming off an injury. Their closer still isn’t playing this weekend. You look in the SEC, I think everybody deals with it. I think our depth is what we really have to get better at and sign some guys.”

Love was second among relievers in innings pitched on the team when he was injured. Rukes was second on the team among relievers in innings pitched when he was injured two weeks later. Rukes threw 253 pitches in four games across two weeks before his injury. He was 2-1 with a 1.65 ERA in 27 1/3 innings.

“I think our track record speaks for itself as far as the health of our arms,” Goff said. “I’ve had guys lead the country in ERA, I’ve had All Americans. If there was a situation where it was bad, I think people wouldn’t want to play for us. All those things, we’ve evaluated in the last two weeks. I think it’s a situation where it just happened. I hate it and we have two great young guys that hopefully will be back next year.”

Junior righty Garrett Suchey has been Alabama’s top reliever this year, throwing  a team-high 43 innings across 14 games this season. The junior college transfer has a 2.72 ERA with 38 strikeouts and 16 walks. Sophomore Sam Finnerty, redshirt freshman Davis Vainer and freshman Deacon Medders have been Alabama’s other top relievers in recent weeks.

“Whenever you don’t have a lot of depth, and then you take four or five guys away from your staff, it’s depleted to a certain extent,” Goff said. “We have to have some guys step up.”

For a full transcript of Greg Goff’s Monday press conference, click here to go to Talk of Champions.

Reach Ben Jones at ben@tidesports.com or 205-722-0196.

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