Playing Catch With ... Mike Ojala

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I don't plan on utilizing that corny title too often, but every now and again I stumble into an interesting conversation with a student-athlete on campus, and when I do I have to frame it somehow. What will I write when I chat with Funmi Jimoh? I shudder at the mere thought.

Owls senior RHP Mike Ojala began his throwing program on Oct. 8, just 10 days shy of the four-month anniversary of his June 18th Tommy John surgery performed by Dr. J.P. Bramhall. The throwing program consists of two sets of 25 throws from 45 feet and gradually increases to 180 feet, which is the final step before throwing out of the bullpen. Ojala is set to work from the bullpen rubber in late November, and remains on schedule for an April 1 return to action.

Ojala selected Bramhall, the father of former Rice pitcher Bobby Bramhall and disciple of famed orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, because Bramhall has an aggressive approach to rehabilitation. Texas A&M LHP Aaron Daab pitched this past summer, just nine months after Bramhall performed his ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction. Because Ojala had a fraying of the ligament, not a full tear, he is confident he'll be back in under 10 months.

"Me, Dr. Bramhall and Matt Holland, the rehab guy, (April 1) is what we are shooting for," Ojala said. "(Dr. Bramhall) likes to release guys nine months, 10 months (out from surgery) and let them get back out there and get after it. It's a big year for me. I want to get it done this year."

Primarily used as a starter throughout his sophomore and junior seasons, Ojala (drafted in the 34th round by Milwaukee last June) knows that when he does return he will have to contribute out of the bullpen. That, Ojala said, won't be a problem. He considers his relief appearance last March 17 against No. 1 Texas as one of the highlights of his college career, and given the impact former Owls pitcher and Tommy John success story Bobby Bell had as a reliever down the stretch in 2008 (1-0, 1.31 ERA with three saves, a .139 BAA, 0.87 WHIP and 28 Ks in 20 2/3 IP), Ojala is looking forward to the opportunity to work from the back end of the bullpen.

"I'd love to do the Bobby Bell set up," Ojala said. "I love closing. If I get the opportunity to do that, I'll jump on it for sure. I really feed off those big pressure situations. I love those."

The Owls wouldn't mind a quality bullpen addition for the final three months of the 2010 season. If Ojala returns for the Rice-UH series that first weekend in April, he could provide a boost of significant proportions, the kind that ignites runs to Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha.

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What a great mid-season boost he could be. Like an acquisition at the trade deadline in MLB. I have no doubt he will thrive in that bullpen role and could really be stabilizer down there. He'd get back even earlier than Bobby Bell if he made it back for the UH series (didn't Bobby come back in May?)

MK, is Anthony Fazio on that same approach to rehab and hence why he could have pitched in fall ball? I think it would be very interesting to hear from Dr. Bramahll as to why this new schedule of rehab has been so successful. I always thought TJ surgery was a 12-18 month comeback sort of thing. Now, it seems to be a 9-12 month rehab. I wonder why more MLB pitchers haven't caught on to this. Anyway, I think it would be neat to hear him clarify that.

d1owls4life: Now THAT is a great idea for an interview. I'll have to lob a phone call to Dr. Bramhall and get his input. From what I have learned, doctors have almost perfected Tommy John surgery, and that plays a role in why guys are coming back sooner. Bell was out 13 months, and it appears that Fazio will be ready to pitch in 9-plus, the same as Ojala. It really is amazing when one contemplates it all. - MK

Good luck to Mike O with his rehab. Hopefully he can regain form this spring to help the team out and showcase his stuff for the MLB personnel.

His gritting things out last year and pitching through the pain for a team in desperate need of his contributions is one of the most admirable personal efforts this program has seen.

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