GORHAM – The pace of Josh Armandi’s baseball life was traditionally gauged by a radar gun.

By the end of his sophomore season at the University of Southern Maine, Armandi could spin those telltale red digits into the kind of story that makes a professional scout stop and take a second look: 85. 88. 90.

Now, time and space are measured with a calendar.

It was a year ago this week that the stiffness in his right throwing shoulder stopped Armandi dead in his cleats. Tuesday marked six months to the day that the Jay High School graduate settled on surgery to fix the problem. And it could be weeks of simulated games and whirlpool sessions before the 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior gets the chance to prove he is still the Huskies’ ace-in-waiting.

“Every season from age 9 to 21, you count on being able to pitch, and then it’s not there,” Armandi said. “You’re sitting on the sidelines, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s a disappointing feeling.”

USM launches its 40-game schedule Thursday with a doubleheader against Albright College in Chandler, Ariz. Armandi is unlikely to pitch. In fact, Huskies coach Ed Flaherty will be delighted if Armandi is able to make a contribution by the second week of May, in time for the Little East Conference tournament.

Two starts into his junior season, Armandi fell out of the USM rotation with what was eventually diagnosed as a torn labrum, the thin layer of tissue located between the shoulder and upper arm bone.

The injury is difficult to diagnose and tricky to repair. It has ended many major league pitching careers. Those who return to the hill rarely throw as hard or as effectively. Milwaukee Brewers prospect Mark Rogers of Orrs Island may miss the entire 2007 season after corrective labrum surgery.

Armandi hopes he has recovered enough to lend his experience and grit to a Southern Maine that is considered a contender for the NCAA Division III national title.

“I’m not really close to 100 percent,” he admitted. “I wouldn’t say I’m much more than three-quarters.”

While trainers and pitching coaches monitor Armandi’s rehabilitation sessions, longtime skipper Flaherty tries to steer clear of the discussion.

“It’s a long process. I kind of ask every day what he can do. They have him throwing off a mound two or three times a week,” Flaherty said. “Hopefully by the end of the season he will be able to pitch for us.”

Before his detour to the disabled list, Armandi weaved a career record of 9-3 in 20 career starts. His ERA shrank from 5.92 as a freshman to 4.96 in his sophomore campaign of 2005.

Armandi even picked up a victory in the Huskies’ 2006 season opener against Johnson & Wales, feeling the friction in his shoulder all the while. Opposing hitters were hitting only .239 and Armandi was eight strikeouts away from 100 at Southern Maine when the injury struck.

“His first couple years were promising,” Flaherty said. “He was really looking to settle in as our No. 1 guy.”

Unlike a ligament tear in the elbow that would require immediate replacement (Tommy John surgery) and at least a year of recovery, a torn labrum can sneak up on its victim. Armandi pitched seven strong innings on his way to a no-decision in USM’s 2006 spring trip to Arizona.

When the pain persisted, Southern Maine’s medical staff initially prescribed rest and held out hope that Armandi might be able to return in a late-season relief role.

“I was at the point where I actually had command of three pitches: My fastball, change-up and curve,” Armandi said. “Even though I was hurt in that second game, I pitched pretty well. I just used my change and my curve a lot more.”

Although he is optimistic that the injury won’t wreak havoc with his velocity, Armandi knows he will be forced to rely on his deuce and his out pitch for a while.

He expects to start with a stringent pitch count of 25 to 30 per appearance.

“I don’t think I hurt it with any one pitch,” Armandi said. “I think it was the stress of a lot of years.”

Flaherty agrees, and pitching coaches are in the process of retooling Armandi’s delivery.

“He needs time to work on his mechanics. I think his mechanics might have played a little bit of a role in the injury,” Flaherty said.

Thanks to a medical hardship season, Armandi will be eligible to play next spring, too.

With the starting lineup returning intact and the Huskies ranked in two polls among the top five nationally, it’s easy to understand why Armandi isn’t considering this a throwaway year.

“I’m sure my role will change from the beginning to the end,” he said.

Whether he’s an ace, middle reliever or closer, a flamethrower or a junk dealer, Armandi is thankful to hear the pop of the catcher’s mitt once more.

“Pitching,” he said, “has always been my focal point.”


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