CORVALLIS – The nation’s best pitching staff is about to get even better.
Oregon State’s Drew Rasmussen, who missed the second half of last season following Tommy John surgery, was added to the active roster last week and is expected to pitch in this weekend’s series against USC at Goss Stadium.
Top-ranked OSU (32-3, 16-2 Pac-12) leads the nation with a 1.88 earned run average, and adding Rasmussen to the equation bodes well for a team with legitimate national championship aspirations.
Rasmussen, who threw the only perfect game in school history as a freshman in 2015, was the ace of last season’s staff before his injury. He hasn’t played in 13 months.
“It’s awesome,” said Rasmussen, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound redshirt sophomore from Spokane, Washington. “Excited to get back out, see some live hitters, get some innings, help this team any way I’m needed.”
The Beavers already have four quality starters in Luke Heimlich (5-1, 0.75), Jake Thompson (8-0, 1.06), Bryce Fehmel (4-2, 3.96) and South Salem High graduate Sam Tweedt (3-0, 3.03), and it’s unclear what Rasmussen’s role will be at this point.
OSU coach Pat Casey said Rasmussen will be on a pitch count and “we fully expect him to pitch this weekend.”
Rasmussen likely will work out of the bullpen initially.
“I’m not really sure how I’m gonna be used, but whatever my role is I’m just excited to be back out there more than anything,” said Rasmussen, a freshman All-American and first-team all-Pac-12 selection in 2015.
Tweedt had Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2016 campaign. He has been an adviser of sorts for Rasmussen during his rehabilitation.
“I was there when I needed to be and gave him space when he needed space,” Tweedt said.
Despite Rasmussen’s uncertain status entering the 2017 season, he was voted co-captain along with middle infielder Nick Madrigal.
According to Thompson, Rasmussen has been impressive in bullpen sessions.
“Definitely it’s coming in hot,” Thompson said. “He looks great. We’re definitely excited to get him back and excited to see what he’s able to do.”
Rasmussen, who was 7-4 with a 2.80 ERA in 2015, and 4-1 last season (3.41 ERA) in six starts, is a power pitcher who threw in the mid 90’s. He’s not overly concerned with velocity for now. That figures to return in time.
What matters most to Rasmussen is having command of the strike zone.
“My ability to make pitches is there,” he said.
Casey said Rasmussen could have pitched last weekend at UCLA, but the right situation did not materialize.
“We wanted to use him down at UCLA,” Casey said. “I had mixed emotions about when the game’s on the line for your first time out. I don’t know if that was fair or not. He kind of looked at me like, ‘C’mon coach, I’m an All-American, you can put me in (any situation) you want.’”
The Beavers have been playing at a high level throughout the season and set a school record by winning 23 games in a row, one shy of the conference record set by Arizona State in 1988. They lead second-place California by five games in the Pac-12 standings.
Adding a quality player like Rasmussen for the stretch run and postseason enhances OSU’s chances of returning to the College World Series for the first time since 2013.
ghorowitz@StatesmanJournal.com or Twitter.com/ghorowitz
OREGON STATE BASEBALL
Up next: No. 1 OSU (32-3, 16-2 Pac-12) vs. USC (18-20, 5-10) at Goss Stadium
When: 5:35 p.m. Friday, 1:35 p.m. Saturday, 1:05 p.m. Sunday