After missing a year, Dailey’s comeback season is cut short with VCU baseball

Redshirt-senior right-handed pitcher Michael Dailey returned to the mound this season after missing last year recovering from a torn UCL. Photo courtesy of VCU Athletics.

Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor

He walked out to the mound on a mid-February day in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Michael Dailey had butterflies in his stomach. He hadn’t had them this bad since his freshman year, but the redshirt-senior was making his first appearance in 21 months. 

Dailey tried to make everything as normal as he could before the start. He doesn’t like to sit still before he starts, so he walked around the field and also shagged some balls during batting practice. 

When he toed the rubber in the first inning, the nerves were there, but Dailey could control them once he had faced a couple batters. 

“It was very nerve wracking,” Dailey said. “I had a lot of confidence and so it was just really getting those nerves out of the system and ready to go and it was smooth sailing from there.”

Dailey was making his first appearance since tearing his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow at the end of his junior season. The injury was the second one to the same tendon; he tore it partially in the fall of the same season. 

After experiencing some discomfort against Georgetown in 2018, he knew something was wrong when he couldn’t fully extend his arm. At practice a week later, Dailey tried to give it one more go, but he couldn’t. 

“I picked up a baseball and I wanted to cry,” Dailey said. “It hurt so bad.”

In his first appearance since the tear, Dailey tossed four innings, allowing four hits and one earned run. 

Leading up to that start was hours of mundane lifting and light throwing to strengthen the muscles around his UCL. Dailey said for the first month of rehab he didn’t lift more than five pounds with his right arm. He stayed the course and stuck with the plan set out by the doctors and trainers. 

“It took a lot of patience and a lot of belief on his end that he would get back,” coach Shawn Stiffler said. “Anytime you have an injury, it’s easy to want to speed things up. In Michael’s case, he really did a nice job at slowing that stuff down.”

During the rehab process, the team was slow with Dailey. He didn’t pitch last spring or over the summer. The goal during rehab was not only to return healthy, but durably healthy, Stiffler said. 

The goal was accomplished — Dailey returned this season and started six games for the black and gold. 

“It was really quite special and emotional to have Michael come back and everything that he means to the team and for him to have the opportunity to be able to be out there with his teammates and compete,” Stiffler said. “I think it was a nice spark and you could tell we were very, very confident anytime Michael took the ball.”

Dailey logged 23.2 innings this season, recording 21 strikeouts and only walking seven. In his middle three starts, Dailey allowed a combined four hits over 12.2 innings. 

Stiffler credited Dailey’s success to him becoming more efficient on the mound this season.

“He would get through four innings on about 50 pitches,” Stiffler said. “He was becoming much more efficient, attacking the zone earlier and forcing guys to put the ball in play.” 

Dailey attacked the zone early and often in counts, which led to his low pitch counts. The Troy, Virginia, native said he trusted his defense to help him get outs instead of having to try to strike every batter out. 

This season was supposed to be Dailey’s comeback season after returning to the field from his injuries, but instead he saw his season get cut short too. This time, not to an injury, but an international pandemic. 

Stiffler said he thinks that Dailey’s injury shortened season in 2018 will help him move forward from this season because both of them were out of his control. 

“I think all that mental preparation that it took to get himself back on the field, is going to help him through this, and it’s going to help him in life as he continues to move forward,” Stiffler said. 

Dailey said he was in shock when he found out the remainder of the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, even though he expected it to happen. 

“It’s tough, we don’t have any baseball, so we don’t know what to do,” Dailey said. “We haven’t lived this life in 10 years. We’re not used to being in the spring and not playing baseball, not playing the game we love.”

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