It’s no surprise that Johnny Piedmonte is relieved to be playing again for N.C. State’s baseball team.
After all, the 2012 Hough High graduate has spent most of the past three years dealing with various injuries – two of them serious enough to require surgery.
But Piedmonte – a redshirt sophomore – is healthy again, working his way back into the pitching rotation and contributing to the Wolfpack’s success.
“It took me a long time to get to where I am now,” Piedmonte said. “I’ve got my body healthy, and I’m back on the field. I’m just glad to be back out here, helping my team win ballgames.”
Piedmonte has made seven appearances for N.C. State this season through games of April 7, six of those starts – the third-most by a Wolfpack pitcher. He’s currently 1-1 with a 1.96 ERA, the best among N.C. State’s starters.
“My first appearance (against Coastal Carolina on Feb. 22), I had so much adrenaline going that I pitched really well,” said Piedmonte, who has added 30 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot 8-inch frame since high school.
“With my size, they’ve had me do limited innings and be a Sunday starter. I’ve had a lot of starts, but they’ve been short ones. They don’t want me to be away from seeing hitters too much.”
The road Piedmonte took to get to this point had plenty of potholes, beginning with his senior year on Hough’s varsity baseball team.
The Davidson native threw 46 innings his junior year, with 54 strikeouts and a 1.80 ERA. But Piedmonte underwent ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction – commonly called Tommy John surgery – during the summer.
While Piedmonte was still able to play for the Huskies his senior year – primarily as designated hitter, hitting .420 with four home runs and 12 other extra-base hits – he couldn’t pitch.
Piedmonte wasn’t able to begin working his right arm until that summer, and he joined with N.C. State for its fall workouts. He pitched in the ninth inning of the team’s annual Red-White Fall Preview game in October 2012.
However, Piedmonte developed tendonitis in his surgically-repaired right elbow, prompting N.C. State’s coaches to redshirt him his freshman year to give the elbow time to heal.
That allowed Piedmonte to continue working out with the team, but he had to watch from afar as the Wolfpack made their run to the 2013 College World Series.
“That wasn’t too much fun,” said Piedmonte, who was pitching for the Ballantyne Smokies of the Southern Collegiate Baseball League during N.C. State’s postseason. “It was tough to watch, but I was also cheering for them the whole time.”
With the Smokies, Piedmonte once again showed his form. In six appearances (all starts), he threw 29 innings with 23 strikeouts and a 2.79 ERA.
But the injury bug bit again. A car wreck in August 2013 left Piedmonte with an injured back.
He attempted to play through the pain during the Wolfpack’s fall workouts, but eventually had surgery and spent the 2014 season on the sidelines again.
“I had several herniated discs that were pinching a nerve in my left leg,” Piedmonte said. “I couldn’t feel my left calf. The night of the surgery, I was so relieved that I was walking that night.”
All the time spent away from the game not only allowed Piedmonte to add muscle, but he was able to work on his mental approach.
“I got to watch some of the older guys like Carlos Rodon and Logan Jernigan for two straight years,” Piedmonte said. “I saw what they did well, and what they needed to work on. I also saw how the coaches handled situations.
“I took the time to appreciate the game, and cheer my team on. But I was wishing I was back out there.”
Piedmonte also added to his pitching arsenal. He developed a slider that eventually turned into a “slurve” (slider-curve), as well as a “cutter,” a fastball that cuts to the left much like a slider.
“They’re trying to develop me and some other guys so that we’re more consistent,” Piedmonte said. “To have every pitch in our arsenal every game when we come back next year.
“(The injures) kind of played on my mind a little bit at first, especially after the Tommy John surgery. But when I had back surgery, I felt 100 times better. I was confident that it’d stay strong. I just want to go out there and pitch as hard as I can, as long as I can.”
Bill Kiser is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Bill? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.