Both Brock Love and Garret Rukes remember the dates of their surgeries last spring.
Love had season-ending Tommy John surgery on March 24, 2017. Rukes had his less than two weeks later on April 4.
“Every day since the injury, you look forward to getting back out there and helping your team win,” Love said.
Love and Rukes did that together on Tuesday night. Both pitchers made their return from UCL surgery in Alabama’s (4-0) 4-0 win over Middle Tennessee State (3-1) at Sewell-Thomas Stadium.
That makes February 20, 2018 a date they can share together. Rukes, a redshirt freshman lefty, earned the start and threw two innings. Love, a redshirt sophomore right-hander, came on to relieve Rukes and threw the next two innings.
“Of all the guys I’ve seen have injuries in the course of my career, they’ve been so diligent in their work ethic to follow their rehab plans,” coach Brad Bohannon said. “Whether it’s Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, you name it. They deserve to be successful. So I was excited to see them get out there and get their season off to a great start.”
Rukes allowed one hit in his two innings; Love gave up two hits. Alabama used five more pitchers after Rukes and Love to complete a four-hit shutout of the Blue Raiders. Senior Tyler Adams picked up the win.
It was fitting for both pitchers to make their return in the same game. For the last 10 months, they’d been following nearly identical rehab schedules for the same injuries.
“We were together throughout the entire process,” Rukes said. “It kind of makes it easier on both of us to have somebody going through the same exact thing.”
Alabama grabbed a 3-0 lead with a burst of offense in the second inning. First baseman Hunter Alexander singled to lead off and came home on a double from second baseman Chandler Avant. Third baseman Cobie Vance drove in the next two runs on a single to left.
Middle Tennessee State wouldn’t threaten all night. The Blue Raiders doubled in the second and third innings, but never even got to third base. They wouldn’t have another runner in scoring position all afternoon.
Right fielder Chandler Taylor, making his season debut after being suspended over the weekend, drove in an insurance run in the eighth inning. Alabama loaded the bases in the seventh and eighth innings but didn’t score a runner either time.
“I thought we had some good at bats today,” Bohannon said. “It was a hard day to score. The wind was blowing in hard. They helped us a little bit early. I think they walked us and hit us ten times today. We were just a big hit away from it being a six- or seven-run game.”
The win has Alabama at 4-0 for the first time since the 2013 season, when the Crimson Tide started 6-0.
It took months of work, but Rukes and Love were both able to be a part of that start.
“I guess it was a little bit of a blessing having that guy right next to you, doing the same thing,” Love said.
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.