The last time Tim Cate took the mound for UConn was March 29. The junior pitched his best outing of 2018, delivering 6 2/3 innings of two-hit, shutout ball against Hartford in a game that was close until the eighth, when the Huskies broke out for seven runs in a 9-1 final.
The start brought his ERA down to 3.70 and though it was against a team that is not one of the headliners on the Huskies’ schedule, the junior had been scuffling all year with decreased velocity and effectiveness of his vaunted curveball. After a solid start against USF the weekend before, it seemed as though this could be the beginning of a turnaround for UConn’s ace.
Before he could make his start against UCF the following weekend, he complained of forearm tightness and did not travel to Wichita State, Cincinnati or Memphis.
Cate threw to live batters for the first time since he faced Hartford before UConn’s doubleheader against Houston on May 11 and there was a possibility he would pitch in the Sunday game of that series, but it was not to be.
“He’s not going to be available on Sunday,” UConn head coach Jim Penders said after the twin bill. “He wasn’t quite sharp enough. His stuff looks good, he looks healthy, but we just have to get him to let it go.
“We’re not going to let him out there until he’s begging to be out there.”
After exactly 50 days between appearances, he trotted out from the left field bullpen in the second game of a doubleheader against No. 10 ECU to face Bryant Packard, the American Athletic Conference’s leader in batting average. The sophomore, hitting .409 headed into the doubleheader, waited on a two-strike curveball and lined it back up the middle to begin the sixth inning.
Cate rebounded as he did not allow a run and earned the right to begin the seventh. He surrendered a pair of singles in each frame but with two on in the seventh, Conor Moriarty made a tough play at third base and Michael Woodworth made a quick turn at second to get out of the inning with a 5-4-3 double play.
“It felt good, it was a long time coming,” Cate said. “It felt good to be out there helping the team.
“My arm felt good today.”
All told, the junior left-hander delivered to home plate 34 times, 27 of them for strikes. He sat 90-91 mph on his fastball, but hit 95 mph on the first fastball he threw. Chuckling, Cate cited having a decent amount of adrenaline as the reason he threw one of his fastest pitches ever.
He was similar to pre-injury Cate velocity-wise, but he said he still had progress to make.
“I’d give myself a B,” he said of his performance. “The fastball was working good but the curveball was staying up a little bit. There’s still some work to do.”
Two innings was his limit, as he and the staff had simulated one inning break between 20 pitch stints, but not two.
He started his recovery with rest and had been throwing every other day until he was cleared to throw off a mound. Cate was also doing rehab with athletic trainer Dylan Mello every day.
His catcher and roommate Zac Susi had a unique perspective of his road back to game action.
“He was grinding. He was trying to get better,” Susi said. “There were good days where he felt good and you had to talk him up and there were days where he didn’t feel good where you had to pick him up and tell him to keep working.
“He’s going to do it for us.”
Cate will not get back into a starting role, but will serve as more of a long reliever, pitching two or three innings in order to build a bridge from the Huskies’ starter to PJ Poulin or Jake Wallace in the back end of the bullpen.
That role is just fine with him.
“What [Penders] talked to me about was being kind of a long relief type of guy to bridge the gap between Poulin and Wallace in a closing role,” Cate said.