Two Shots In The Arm

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Diego Seastrunk worked up a lather that was, from the perspective of a senior who had lost one game in three season to injury, a long time coming. He spent most of Monday afternoon swinging a bat with unrestrained determination, and by the time he finished completing situational hitting drills with several members of his hitting group, Seastrunk was drenched in sweat. After spending 12 games sidelined with a strained left oblique, he wasn't complaining.

"It was frustrating for sure," Seastrunk said of the injury. "We've been struggling a little bit and I haven't been able to help the team out, so I've been feeling pretty helpless about that. I've had to put on a different hat and be a cheerleader and help these guys out between innings when they might not be paying attention. I just tried to help the team out any way I could."

Seastrunk should have a more tangible impact in the immediate future against either Texas on Tuesday or San Diego this weekend. Before pinch hitting in the seventh inning of Sunday's 7-4 victory over California, Seastrunk was cleared to bat from the left side of the plate. The Owls' switch-hitting catcher will be limited to that one duty for at least another week, with Seastrunk hopeful that he might return behind the plate and to hitting against southpaws by the time the Owls reach Memphis for their Conference USA opening series next weekend.

Seastrunk was batting .400/.500/.600 with one home run and three RBIs through four games before pulling a muscle in his side while warming up for the Owls' game against Elon on Feb. 26. The Owls actually won nine of 12 games without Seastrunk, who struck out in his plate appearance on Sunday, but they certainly missed his presence at the plate and behind it. Down one catcher, the Owls were forced to thrust freshman Geoff Perrott into a more active role behind sophomore Craig Manuel, and the loss of an experienced lefthanded stick meant more at-bats for another rookie, Chase McDowell, who has served as a designated hitter.

When Seastrunk dug in against Cal righthander Brian Diemer on Sunday, he was justifiably anxious. He poked fun at his eager approach but welcomed what the at-bat represented: a step toward rejoining the starting lineup and resuming what was a strong start at the plate.

"My swing feels fine," Seastrunk said. "This whole year my swing has felt the best it's felt since my freshman year (.304/.338/.388 with one home run and 42 RBIs), and I'm just trying to keep a steady pace and keep working to get back in the lineup. I just need to get more reps.

"I'd like to be able to get back in the groove. With us rattling off 26 runs this weekend (in Saturday's win) and me just being able to sit and watch that, I want to be a part of that again. I want to get back behind the plate and lead these pitchers to exactly where they need to be."

By the time Seastrunk resumes his backstop duties, Sr. RHP Mike Ojala should be several outings into his return from midsummer Tommy John surgery. Ojala was cleared for full participation by Dr. J.P. Bramhall on Sunday, and while he doesn't quite have his velocity back (Ojala was topping out at 88-89 mph while facing live hitters last week), his curve ball is sharp and his control pinpoint enough that he should be able to retire the limited batters he will face.

"It's good enough to get guys out right now," Ojala said of his stuff. "My arm is feeling great, so I need to get my feet wet. I want to get past that stage where the beginning (of the comeback) is over and I'm really helping the team again. It's pretty exciting knowing that I'm available."

Ojala (12-0, 3.52 ERA in 36 career appearances) will face only a couple of hitters in his season debut, and the coaching staff will gradually increase his workload out of the bullpen. Ojala had originally targeted the Owls' series against Houston for his return, but his rehab unfolded without a hitch and Bramhall made the surprise announcement over the weekend.

"I just want to get him out there," The OG said. "If you keep rehabbing a guy when he's ready for competition you're making a mistake."

The staff could use the addition. The Owls (4.99 ERA, .260 BAA, 1.39 WHIP, 6.4 Ks/9 IP) have been erratic on the mound, and a healthy Ojala (10.3 Ks/9 IP as a two-year starter) not only provides dominant stuff, but a steady hand for an inexperienced staff seeking an identity.

"I'm excited to test myself and see what's going to happen, but at the same time I have a great amount of confidence just because I was able to pitch with less stuff than I have now last year and get people out," Ojala said. "I feel ready. I really want to pitch on Tuesday (against No. 5 Texas) but I know it may not happen because Dr. Bramhall wants me to get into a lopsided game for my first outing so I don't try to throw too hard. Hopefully we kick the crap out of them so I can get out there."

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Will be good to get both back and producing. I actually thought Mike might get into Saturday's blowout win when Wayne went to the 3B coaching box and moved Taylor over to first (btw what was the story with that since Wayne let Ojala coach two innings). I figured Mike was headed to the pen to pitch the ninth.

Yeah, like Tiki asks, what was the story?

Guy: I just realized that I read past Tiki's question. The OG inserted Ojala into the first-base coaching box when Hallmark was ejected and later made the change to Taylor at first (and himself at third) in order to 'put their best foot forward' and 'maintain a professional touch' with regards to their approach to the game. - MK

MK, any word on why Fazio wasn't used this weekend or against UT? After his very good start last week, I assumed the coaches would be using him again in short order.

mrbig: Blister on a finger of his right hand. As soon as it goes away, Fazio will be back. - MK

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