USC Gamecocks Baseball

Gamecocks’ top pitcher lost a year to injury. Now he’s healthy, stronger than ever

The last time South Carolina baseball fans saw Carmen Mlodzinski on the mound, he had just broken a bone in his left foot against Clemson on March 1.

The Gamecocks’ Friday night starter planted his front foot awkwardly on a pitch, and what was supposed to be a breakout season for the sophomore pitcher went up in smoke — coach Mark Kingston initially said he hoped Mlodzinski would only be out for a month to six weeks, but as time dragged on, Mlodzinski stayed in the dugout. Eventually, Kingston confirmed he would take a medical redshirt and miss the rest of the season.

More than three months later, Mlodzinski is back to pitching — he’s playing in the Cape Cod League this summer as a member of the Falmouth Commodores, and although rain has washed away many of his team’s games so far, he does have one start under his belt and feels as healthy as ever.

“Foot’s not bothering me at all and the arm’s in shape, so I’m happy where I’m at physically right now for sure,” Mlodzinski told The State.

It took a while to get there — Mlodzinski’s recovery was delayed several weeks after his doctors decided to put a screw in his foot, he said, and after that, he still wasn’t completely ready to take on all the demands of his position.

“Talking to (pitching coach Skylar Meade) and the trainers, they weren’t going to let me play until I was fully capable of doing everything that is required in pitching. It’s not just, I’m out there throwing pitches. I have to be able to sprint and cover bags, back up bases, be able to make plays on the go,” Mlodzinski said. “And they just decided that I wasn’t ready to do that yet, and I felt like I wasn’t either.”

That time sidelined wasn’t a total wash, however. Mlodzinski was still able to work out, and he took the opportunity to add another 15 pounds to his 216-pound, 6-foot-2 frame, he said. Getting bigger and stronger has been a goal of his ever since he first came to campus.

“You want to have big, strong pitchers, obviously, within your program. But I came in at 200 pounds, and as long as you can still be explosive but heavy, you see all these big leaguers now and even the top level college guys, they’re all big dudes, they’re not scrawny anymore like they used to be in the 70s,” Mlodzinski. “They’re all 225, 230-pound guys.”

Getting used to that weight on the mound is one of Mlodzinski’s main focuses for his summer on the Cape. He’s not as worried about needing to regain any strength — all those workouts while injured kept both his upper- and lower-body strength at a consistent level, he said.

“(Once) I got the boot on and I was able to do some stuff with our trainer Brian and our strength coach Billy, it wasn’t necessarily like I was getting stronger with my legs, but I was able to keep them in shape. And then a lot of upper body stuff that I feel like is definitely helping me out now in the long run,” Mlodzinski said.

Looking ahead to 2020 after a disappointing 2019 for both himself and the Gamecocks, Mlodzinski expects to return to form as the top-of-the-rotation guy that Kingston, Meade and he hoped he would be this past fall and early spring. With Carolina’s rotation and lineup expected to undergo significant changes after a dismal year, Mlodzinski doesn’t see himself getting passed by.

“I definitely still have that mentality. I have the confidence in myself. I feel like I’ve definitely gone forward even since when I was 100 percent healthy pitching before the season, I’ve definitely gotten a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger, and I’m hoping to see that just help me in the long run,” Mlodzinski said.

Greg Hadley is the beat writer for South Carolina women’s basketball and baseball for GoGamecocks and The State. He also covers football and recruiting.