USD's Matt Couch returned to the mound for the first time in more than a year in tonight's game at UC Riverside, although it was a less than storybook finish in the senior right-hander's return from Tommy John surgery. Couch was in line for a victory before the Highlanders rallied for an 8-7 win.
Couch, who blew out his arm during a start at Hawaii-Hilo on March 15, 2008, had last weekend's West Coast Conference-opening series against Pepperdine circled on his calendar months ago. He worked tirelessly over the summer, all fall and into the spring to be ready to return. He was available over the weekend, even warming up Sunday as the Toreros completed a three-game sweep of Pepperdine, but didn't get into a game.
USD coach Rich Hill handed the ball to Couch for tonight's game. He allowed two doubles among the first three hitters he faced and allowed two runs to the Highlanders in the inning. Couch settled down thereafter, retiring the side in order in both the second and third innings. Couch was on a strict pitch count and Chris Jensen replaced him in the fourth. Couch was designated for a limited outing, so he was in line for the victory after USD took a 6-2 lead in the third. The opportunity to win in his return escaped Couch when UC Riverside rallied for six runs after he departed. For the game, Couch allowed three hits and one earned run over three innings. A control specialist, Couch did not have a strikeout or walk a batter.
Still, it was encouraging seeing Couch back on the mound and had to be comforting to the USD faithful, especially with sophomore left-hander Sammy Solis (herniated disk) sidelined for the season. Couch ranks among the national leaders with 23 career victories. He could pitch his way into a weekend starting spot or serve in a late-inning role if the Toreros keep closer A.J. Griffin in the starting rotation.