Nevada's Owen Brolsma on comeback trail

RENO - Owen Brolsma remembers the date very well. Pitchers have a knack for remembering serious injuries.

It was nearly a year ago, April 10 to be exact, when Brolsma was making his 16th appearance of the season and felt a twinge in his elbow while throwing in a 27-9 blowout win over Louisiana Tech in Ruston, La.

Brolsma, a Carson High graduate, threw a couple of more pitches, then indicated to the Wolf Pack coaching staff that he couldn't go on. His season, which had been going well to that point, was over.

"It happened on a slider," said Brolsma, who didn't allow a run in 11 of his 16 appearances last year and finished with a 4.00 ERA. "I was throwing a lot of sliders at the time."

The diagnosis wasn't good. Brolsma had torn ligaments in his elbow, which would require ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, otherwise known as Tommy John surgery. It's a procedure where a tendon is taken from another part of the body and put in the elbow. The success rate is between 85 and 90 percent, and often times pitchers come back throwing with more velocity than before.

Brolsma underwent the 90-minute surgery on May 10 in Birmingham, Alabama, under the watchful eye of Dr. James Andrews, who also has operated on the likes of major leaguers Kerry Wood, John Smoltz and Ricky Bones.

The comeback has been slow, but steady for Brolsma.

"It's actually going pretty slow," Brolsma said last week. "I knew I wasn't going to be back this season, and the coaches didn't want me to rush it."

Brolsma said he started throwing about four months ago and building up strength in his arm and elbow. He said it's a matter of moving forward from there.

"There are a number of steps you go through in the program," Brolsma said. "You have to do each step three times without pain. You first start out at 25 feet, then go to 30 feet then 45 feet.

"You throw 25 times from 60 feet. Then you do two sets of 25 (throws). It's pretty detailed. For most people it takes 12 months (to throw full strength). They say it takes 18 months or more before you get everything back."

Brolsma has progressed to the point where he is throwing from the mound at half speed.

"He's doing great," pitching coach Stan Stolte said. "He is progressing right on schedule. He had just started throwing (from the mound) when I left 10 days ago. Arm injuries are hard to explain. Some guys can throw forever and not get hurt. He was really becoming an important factor with us (before the injury)."

Brolsma was 2-0 with wins over San Jose State and Sacramento State before the injury. He had developed into the Pack's best arm out of the bullpen.

Why the injury happened remains a mystery to Brolsma, who was primarily a catcher at Carson High. Brolsma said he hadn't felt any arm pain before that day.

"He (Dr. Andrews) said it could have been something that actually started when I was in Little League," Brolsma said. "In a lot of cases, it's people overthrowing, and the tendon just kind of gave way. I felt one sharp pain and that was it."

One of the things, and it could be a blessing in disguise, is that the injury has given Brolsma time to work on mechanics.

"My mechanics were day to day," he said. "I never had the time to settle into something."

Catching and pitching have different arm motions, according to Stolte, who said that he will be working with Brolsma to get a little longer with his arm motion as he continues his rehab.

The Pack bullpen is in good hands presently with freshman Steve Taylor and junior Wesley Dorsett. If Dorsett doesn't go pro at the end of the season and Brolsma's injury heals, the Pack could have the best bullpen in the Western Athletic Conference.

n Darrell Moody can be reached at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281

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