Healthy Sager primed to lead Falcons

Central's Cody Sager, right, and Samuel Cornman celebrate after scoring a pair of runs during a game against Stonewall Jackson last season. Sager is expected to have a major impact on the mound and at the plate for the Falcons this season. Rich Cooley/Daily file

WOODSTOCK – Cody Sager experienced a bit of a scare last summer.

With the American Legion baseball playoffs quickly approaching for Front Royal Post 53 last July, Sager, coming off a phenomenal junior season with Central High School’s baseball two just two months prior, began feeling discomfort in his right, throwing shoulder.

Sager would eventually find out that the pain he was experiencing was a bad case of tendinitis, but there was a brief, “devastating” time where doctors feared the discomfort in his shoulder was perhaps the result of a torn labrum.

“If that was the case I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play this season,” Sager said before Central’s practice on Tuesday afternoon. “It was just touch and go for a while. It was a difficult time, but once I figured out what it was I went through the steps necessary and got back as fast as I could.”

Sager did all of the necessary rehabilitation – physical therapy three times a week, soft tissue therapy, ultrasound stimulation, resistance band exercises, strengthening exercises targeted at his rotator cuff – to get ensure that he would be back on the diamond for his senior season with the Falcons this spring.

He said he’s felt no lingering effects from the injury that kept him sidelined from baseball activities until the start of the new year, and he noted on Tuesday that his shoulder felt fine a day after throwing a 65-pitch bullpen session at full speed for the first time since his injury.

Sager feels his health is back at 100 percent, a number that Central baseball coach Donn Foltz is certainly glad to hear.

Last season as a junior – his third varsity campaign with the Falcons – Sager harassed opposing pitching to the tune of a .481 batting average, a mark that was third in the area and tops among local public high school baseball players.

“He flirted with .600 for a long time,” Foltz said.

Sager, who bats left-handed, also was in the top 10 in the area in doubles (6), triples (2), runs batted in (17) and runs scored (23) and also contributed eight stolen bases in 2014. He was a first team all-Bull Run District and all-Conference 28 outfielder and a second team all-Region 3A East pick.

Sager credited his offensive outburst last season with his increased maturity in the batter’s box, which allowed him to cover more of the plate and consistently get good pitches to hit.

“I learned from the past years that I just can’t pull everything,” Sager said. “I learned to hit pitches where they were pitched. My freshman and sophomore years I tried to hit everything up the middle or pull it, but last year coach Foltz … really helped me work on driving the ball opposite field. I learned that being at the varsity level you just can’t get away with hitting a pop-up oppo.”

Sager will do much more than hit for the Falcons this season, however. Central has a hole to fill on the mound this spring after losing starting pitcher Hayden Bauserman (4-4, 2.84 ERA in 2014) to graduation, and Sager’s experience (he pitched 42 innings last season) makes him a top candidate for the Falcons’ No. 1 slot in 2015.

“Well, he beat William Monroe, so by God I’m going to throw him out there,” Foltz quipped, referring to the Conference 28’s top seed in last year’s tournament.

“He’s pitched some very big games in the past,” Foltz added, “so he’s definitely going to have an opportunity when the big games arise. … He’s been with me since [he was] a ninth grader and he’s been groomed for this slot, so I think he’s going to be fine.”

Sager went 3-4 with a 4.33 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 2014, a year after he spent time as the Falcons’ closer during his sophomore season. Sager said he throws a four-seam fastball that generally sits in the low to mid 80s, which he complements with a curveball and the occasional knuckleball. He said he’s working on adding a circle changeup to his arsenal.

“I’m trying to develop my circle change more because I believe if I want to be a pitcher at the collegiate level, a circle change will benefit me more than a knuckleball,” Sager said. “But [the knuckleball is] definitely something I’ll keep in my arsenal if need be. I don’t foresee myself relying on it as much as I did last year, but it’s definitely still something to keep.”

When he’s not on the mound, Sager will likely man right field for the Falcons again this season, although the senior has shown the versatility to play multiple positions in the past. Sager has played some first base with Central, and last season he played a few games at shortstop and even caught a game for the Falcons.

“I could throw him [anywhere] and wouldn’t have a worry in the world,” Foltz said. “He’s very athletic. He’s worked hard. What he achieves is because he’s one of the best workers, the most polite. He’s just a phenomenal kid.”

Sager plans to continue his education after high school at Eastern Mennonite University, where he will study nursing. He said he became interested in the nursing profession following his interaction with a male nurse after he broke his ankle playing basketball in eighth grade.

“I was in a panic, just sweating, my bed sheets were soaking wet. And he came in and just started cracking jokes and lightening the mood up,” Sager said.

“To have that kind of impact on someone, that’s something I’d like to be able to do.”

Sager is unsure whether he will play baseball in college. For now, he will focus on being the leader and mentor that the Falcons will need this spring while they try to overcome the graduation of six valuable seniors off last season’s 11-10 squad.

“I think a lot of people will be doubting us because we graduated so many seniors last year,” Sager said, “and they’ll be looking at us as we’ll be a very young program. But our young guys are really coming along and I think we’re going to shock some teams.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD