Auburn Pitcher Leading Turks And VBL In K’s
By John Galle
Daily News Record
Picture by Michael Reilly DNR
Harrisonburg – After just one start on the Austin High School junior varsity baseball team, Justin Camp moved up to varsity and was ready to make headlines in the small city of Decatur in northern Alabama.
“My Coach was kinda hestant,” Camp recalled Tuesday, sitting on his couch in his Pheasant Run apartment with a camouflaged Superman hat on his head. “He didn’t know how I was going to do, just because he had never had a freshman start on varsity that young.”
He promptly threw a no-hitter.
“It was a big deal in my hometown,” Camp said. “…That was kind of my claim to fame.”
In the Valley League, the rising redshirt sophomore at Auburn University is becoming famous for fanning batters as a key member of the Harrisonburg Turks (7-5). Camp, a 6 foot-1, 224 pound right-hander, leaders the league with 25 strikeouts in 23 innings pitched.
“We had him since last September,” Turks manager Bob Wease said of Camp’s commitment. “That’s what you have to do with those good pitchers. You have to get ’em in September…or else the Cape (Cod League) will scoop them up.”
It was nice to be coveted again. This spring was Camp’s first game action since 2011. It all went back to high high school career, which began flawlessly but didn’t end in perfect fashion.
After adding, a no-hitter in each of his sophomore and junior seasons, Camp ran into trouble with his pitchiing arm that ultimately required Tommy John surgery on Oct. 7, 2011, costing him his true freshman year at Auburn and any summer baseball opportunities.
“The closest thing I got to a game was throwing bullpens,” he said. “I had to throw like 80 some bullpens before I was even allowed to throw in a game. It was tough. It was tough to sit there for a whole year.
But the ailment did lead to some positives, including his second brush with fame.
Now, Camp has something in common with Michael Jordan, Jack Nicklaus, Adrian Peterson and Robert Griffin III – past and present star athletes who were al patients of Dr. James Andrews, who has performed Tommy John surgeries on pro pitchers such as John Smoltz, David Wells, and Kerry Wood.
“Honestly, I had the best guy in the country doing my surgery,” Camp said, “I mean, I had Dr. Andrews.”
Camp didn’t have to get on a waiting list to receive Andrews’ services. The orthopedic surgeon is the team doctor for Auburn, as well as for Alabama and the Washington Redskins.
“So when I found that out, when I was getting recruited and everything, that kind of a little bit helped sell me on Auburn,” Camp said. “Knowing he’s going to be there if anything goes wrong, I’ve got one of the best guys in the country taking care of me.”
Camp’s reconstructed arm has been treating him well.
With a fastball that he said tops off at 93 or 94 mph, Camp is 2-0 with a 1.56 ERA so far this summer in four games and three starts for the Turks, including a one-hit complete-game shutout in a 4-0 win over Staunton on June 11 in Harrisonburg. His longest outing since his elbow surgery, it would have been his fourth career no-hitter dating back to his freshman year at Austin High.
“That one bunt,” Camp said shaking his head at the lone third-inning hit.” “Kinda killed me.”
At Auburn this spring, Campp went 5-1 with a 2.44 ERA (second-best among the Southeastern Conference team’s starters). He had 28 strikeouts in 44 1/3 innings pitched.
“I actually started switching out with our other closer at the beginning of the season,” Camp said of his return from Tommy John surgery.” “Then I did a lot of long relief stuff, and then the last two series against Florida and Arkansas, I got the Sunday start in both of those.”
While elbow surgery was a significant setback, it also helped mold Camp into more of a strikeout machine. That’s because the “tedious” and “monotonous” rehab required Camp – a ground-ball-type pitcher at Auburn – to throw change-ups. A ton of them.
Now, it’s one of his best pitches.
“That seems to be where I’m getting a majority of my strikeouts, on a change-up,” said Camp, who credited the bump in strikeouts to getting “more and more comfortable” ripping fastballs without that natural hesitation after a major surgery.
Valley Leaguers are hitting .118 against Camp, who mixes in a slider and splitter while relying on a fastball, curveball and a 70-75 mph change-up. He touts a .143 balls-in-play average while throwing a first-pitch strike 62.1 percent of the time. The strong-armed deer and turkey hunter with a deep southern twang is also averaging 9.783 strikeouts per nine innings, an encouraging sign for Camp as he aims to become a top-five round draft pick next spring.
Camp has already sold Wease, who dubbed him one of the top three pitchers in the league and praised him for his poise against Staunton last week.
“It looked like he had been there before. He was probably throwing 91, 92 miles per hour and had great command,” Wease said. “…He knows how to pitch is what I’m saying.”
The camouflage connisseur also has an eye for rare caps, apparently. When Camp saw the green-camo hat with the iconic blue and red Superman emblem, he said he had to buy it.
As a proud southerner, maybe the “S” stands for the South – or strikeouts.