April 22, 2004
On April 11th, Scott Lewis' pitching line read: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 6 K, 0 BB.
It was a solid outing, those are not extraordinary numbers coming from an All-American and reigning Big Ten Player of the Year. But consider that 10 and a half months ago Scott's arm was in a sling and six months ago he was tossing the ball just 10 feet after undergoing 'Tommy John' surgery on May 29th of last year.
The 66 pitch effort on April 11th was his first appearance on the mound since the injury. So while the outing against Purdue resulted in an extra-inning loss for the Buckeyes, it could be considered a long-term win for Ohio State and Lewis whose biggest complaint was, "feeling a little rusty."
In 2002, Lewis was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Last year, after striking out 90 batters in Conference play (an average of 11.3 batters per contest), the lefty starter earned Pitcher of the Year honors. Lewis recorded a 1.61 season ERA in over 83 innings of work and posted a 9-1 mark for the year. He also led the League in strikeouts (127) and opponent batting average (.160).
His season ended on May 16, 2003 while on the mound against Minnesota. It only took one pitch for something to go wrong.
"I pretty much knew right away," says Lewis. "I'm used to throwing in pain, but this was different. I felt a pop in my elbow, then threw one more pitch and I knew that was it. The pain was just too much. I've heard what people have said of how it feels when you have that kind of injury, so I knew right away that it was serious."
An appointment with doctors later that weekend confirmed what his body had already told him. He had torn the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. Surgery was inevitable.
"That first weekend was pretty tough," he remembers. "A lot of things went through my head like if I was ever going to be able to throw again. But after those first couple of days, feelings like that passed and I was able to look ahead."
Many athletes now are able to come back from ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction- also know as 'Tommy John' surgery- but not without an extensive commitment to physical therapy and rehabilitation. Roughly two weeks after the surgery and with his arm still in a sling, Lewis began his rehab doing wrist curls with one pound weights- a sharp comparison to the dominant pitcher who had been torturing Big Ten hitters just a month before.
It wasn't until the fall when he actually began to throw the ball again at short distances. During this time, Lewis was also wearing a brace that helped him to slowly restore flexibility to his elbow and working with weights to strengthen the larger muscles in his arm and shoulder. By winter, he was throwing off of a mound, pain free, and slowly increasing his pitch count and velocity.
The rigors of physical therapy were not the only thing weighing on the injured star. Sitting at home while his team was on the road playing winter baseball proved to be difficult as well.
"Everybody I hang out with was gone, and I felt like I should be down there with them. They were down there, in warm weather, playing baseball, and I was still in Columbus. It was really the first trip that I had missed since I've been here."
There was an opportunity to use a medical redshirt for the 2004 season, but it never seemed like much of an option for someone to eager to get back on the field.
"I really didn't want to sit out an entire season," explains Lewis. "I wanted to get back and help the team and I figured that if I was going to be out there throwing in simulated games, I might as well be pitching in real ones."
And that is exactly what happened. Most major league pitchers who undergo the operation require 12-15 months before they return to the hill, Lewis did it in just over ten.
Ultimately for Lewis, who has been a pitcher since his time in Little League, returning to the mound was somewhat of a relief.
"It felt great to see something other than the inside of a training room."
Some pitchers are forced to alter their mechanics post-surgery, but not this one.
"I haven't changed my mechanics at all," he says, "because that's what was working so well for me before the surgery. So I'm actually trying to do the exact same thing."
He admits that he's not the same pitcher he was last year, at least not yet. Before, Lewis would rely on the curve to get hitters with two strikes, but as of now, he's limited to fast balls. However, with more rehab still to go (roughly 45 minutes to an hour per day currently), the day when he returns to his strikeout form will come soon enough.
"My goal right now is just to be back and help my team win a Big Ten championship and go on from there."