COLUMBIA — It was easy to see, from anybody in the ballpark, that Sawyer Bridges was fighting. How he kept dropping arm slots, kept changing his delivery was evidence that something was very wrong with the South Carolina pitcher.
With the Gamecocks' season over, Bridges’ fight is over. After pitching through pain this year and nearly his entire college career, he has decided how to repair his chronically battered right shoulder.
By walking away from the game. Bridges will serve as USC’s student assistant coach in 2020, but he will take a medical redshirt that ends his playing career. He is the son of Alan Bridges, a longtime Summerville football and baseball coach.
“It was really during the Mississippi State series. I tried to throw that Saturday to see if I could go, and I couldn’t really throw the ball,” Bridges said. “I said to myself, ‘I think this is it.’ I came to peace with it and waited to officially tell the coaches after the final game in Hoover.”
Bridges didn’t pitch in the Gamecocks’ season-ending 8-6 SEC tournament loss to LSU on Tuesday, and told the coaching staff of his plans upon return to Columbia. There was a minute’s consideration to have another surgery, sit out the 2020 season and return in 2021, but Bridges just couldn’t see how that would help him.
“If I did that, I’d be 24 playing with a bunch of 18-year-olds,” he said. “It would be just a case of playing one more year because I won’t have a professional career.”
Better to get the shoulder scanned again, have it repaired and try to regain as close to a normal arm as possible so he can live without pain the rest of his life. A hard decision, but the right one as Bridges mulled his future during that long trip home from Hoover, Ala.
He’s fought the shoulder ever since his days as pitcher/quarterback at Summerville High, football not giving him much trouble but Bridges taking a week or two off here and there throughout nearly every baseball season. He arrived at USC after a healthy senior year, but the pain returned.
That’s when the experimenting with different styles of throwing began. An over-the-top heat hurler in high school, Bridges tinkered with a three-quarters angle and then dropped to nearly a submarine side-armer. All of them came with pain, but if he could find one that hurt less than the others, that’s what he did.
“Once I found out about it, I was like, ‘It doesn’t hurt as bad. Let’s try that,’ he said. “And it kind of worked last year and I think my body just has a way of compensating for the pain even if I tell it not to.”
Bridges sparkled in 2018 as the Gamecocks’ closer, recording five saves and a 1.35 earned run naverage in 33 innings. The shoulder gave out on him this year, Bridges held to one save and a 6.75 ERA while sitting out chunks of the season.
His last appearance was a perfect inning against USC Upstate before the Mississippi State series. He wanted to throw against the Bulldogs but couldn’t do it.
Bridges estimated his rotator cuff is about 70 percent torn. He’ll get an MRI to see what has to be done.
But his pitching days are over. Although he still may sport his uniform No. 23 next year.
“If there’s a really good recruit who wants it, he can have it,” Bridges said.
Perez, English leaving
Infielders Quinntin Perez and Jacob English have entered their names in the NCAA transfer portal. They are the first two of what’s expected to be several transfers this offseason.
The Gamecocks are already down four players who could have returned after Logan Chapman transferred mid-season and Bridges made his decision.