IOWA CITY — Trenton Wallace feels at home again.
After spending more than enough time last summer sitting in a recliner as his surgically-repaired elbow healed, the Iowa sophomore from Davenport Assumption is ready for action as the Hawkeyes prepare to open the season Friday in Kissimmee, Florida.
“Last summer was tough. I’m not used to sitting around,’’ Wallace said. “It’s good to be back out here with these guys, getting ready for the season.’’
Wallace’s return to action for Iowa has come a little quicker than initially anticipated, but the progress he has made has positioned him to take the field this week.
Coach Rick Heller expects Wallace to help the Hawkeyes in multiple ways.
On the mound, he will be on a strict pitch count early this season and will likely be limited initially to a bullpen role.
Wallace is also competing for playing time in right and center field for Iowa and before he was cleared to pitch again, he spent time working on development of his offensive game.
“He has really bounced back well,’’ Heller said. “His hitting at this point is way ahead of where it was last season. Pitching-wise, he’s been throwing live sets, 20, 30 pitches and his velocity, he’s throwing 90, 91, right where he was a year ago, but things look sharper, crisper, than they did at any point last season.’’
Wallace enjoyed an abbreviated freshman season for Iowa, working as the Hawkeyes’ starting pitcher for its midweek games.
In 13 appearances, including eight starts, he posted a 1-0 record and a 3.75 ERA, striking out 27 batters over 24 innings.
His season ended three innings into a May 1 start against Missouri because of tightness in his arm.
Ultimately, a partial tear of a ligament was diagnosed and Wallace underwent reconstructive repair in St. Louis last June.
“It was a 50-, 55-percent tear and they were able to fix things without taking anything out,’’ Wallace said.
That did lead to some down time last summer, the most uncomfortable part of the entire situation that started after Wallace felt on-and-off tightness in his forearm for about a month prior to his last start.
“I spent more than enough time in the recliner at home,’’ Wallace said. “I was ready to get back to work.’’
He was able to do that after sitting most of the summer and the progress he has made in the months since has been steady and productive.
Wallace was cleared last week to extend the shortened live sets he had been throwing, now able to throw the 40-45 pitches that will likely be a starting point for his work out of the bullpen for the Hawkeyes.
“It’s come together faster than everybody anticipated, probably a month or two ahead of schedule, but everything feels great,’’ Wallace said. “The procedure went well. The rehab process went well. I’m back to throwing the ball the way I know I’m capable of throwing it.’’
Wallace had six plate appearances last season for the Hawkeyes, collecting one hit and walking once.
Before being able to resume his work on the mound, he spent time with hitting coach Joe Migliaccio in the fall.
Before taking a position in the Yankees organization last month, Migliaccio helped Wallace adjust his swing and the result has been more consistent contact and more powerful connections.
“It was something I could work on sooner than my pitching and it was time well spent,’’ Wallace said. “I’m feeling good and confident in that part of my game, too, and I’m anxious to get started.’’
Wallace believes he has a lot to prove this season.
“I got a taste of things last year, but I didn’t have the freshman year that I wanted,’’ Wallace said. “Even before having to sit out, I expected more of myself. I felt like I could have pitched better and I know I could have done more offensively. When I get a chance, I want to make the most out of it.’’
Wallace’s role on this Iowa baseball team will be determined in upcoming weeks.
Heller said Wallace’s work on the mound will begin in a relief role, with extended and starting opportunities potentially down the road based on his health and production.
In the field and at the plate, Heller sees Wallace helping a team that includes 15 newcomers on its roster and begins the season with a fluid offensive lineup.
“We liked what Trenton brought to the table a year ago and that hasn’t changed,’’ Heller said. “We’ll be smart about it, but he’s looking better now than he did last season and the future, it looks even better.’’
Wallace is anxious to prove that point.
“I feel like this is a year where I need to take a big step forward,’’ Wallace said. “And, I feel like I’m ready to do that. I feel strong. I feel good, and it’s time to get back at it and prove what I am capable of doing.’’