Krogman battling back from surgery

Aaron Blake

Minnesota’s baseball team’s Pro-Alumni game in early February every year is usually reserved for some good times and a few reunions with former players.

But for current Gophers junior Josh Krogman, the game was a reunion with the mound, as he pitched three innings of one-hit, shutout ball in his first game in a Gophers uniform in 20 months.

“It was a big deal for me,” Krogman said. “It was a lot of hard work to get me to that point.

“I didn’t pitch in a game that meant anything in almost two years.”

After two seasons of struggling with soreness in his right elbow, Krogman had Tommy John surgery in July 2002. He knew a long road was ahead, and he’s still traveling it almost two years later.

Krogman and the Gophers (22-15, 10-6 Big Ten) play host to Division III St. Thomas (24-4) at 6:30 p.m. today at Siebert Field.

But at least Krogman can throw now.

Krogman was 9-4 with a 4.49 ERA in his first two seasons with the Gophers. He said the pain was always there, but a summer away from pitching between his freshman and sophomore years enabled him to get through the latter.

Toward the end of his sophomore season, though, Krogman said the situation got so bad that he had to make a decision.

“I was throwing on Saturday and then I wouldn’t even pick up a ball until the next Saturday when I pitched again,” he said.

So he decided to take a medical redshirt year in 2003 and have the surgery early enough so he could be back for 2004.

Tommy John surgery is required when the ulnar collateral ligament on the inside of the elbow becomes torn. It’s named for the 26-year major league baseball pitcher who first urged his doctor to “make up something” for his bum elbow in 1974.

Dr. Frank Jobe took a tendon from John’s right arm and put it in the place of the torn ligament. John pitched 14 more years and never missed a start. The injury had ended careers before then.

Still, the surgery often requires between 12 and 15 months of rehabilitation, and therefore takes some patience.

Krogman couldn’t throw for three and a half months. At that point, he went on a throwing program for five months. It

wasn’t until nine or 10 months after he had the surgery that Krogman first threw from a mound.

Former Minnesota pitcher Kerry Ligtenberg helped out in the meantime, giving Krogman advice on how to deal with the injury. Ligtenberg underwent the surgery in 1999 and was pitching again in 11 months.

Krogman has started the whole season since the Pro-Alumni game, but his 5.57 ERA is the second-worst among Gophers pitchers with 10 innings pitched, and he knows he’s struggling.

His coaches know, too.

“I know he’s had a hard time with it, because he wants to help the team,” Gophers coach John Anderson said. “It’s been hard for us too.

“I feel for him. I really do.”

Krogman said it’s just a matter of getting his feel for the mound and execution back. His arm feels better than it has since middle school, so he has the tool for the job.

In fact, most pitchers who have the surgery perform much better in their second and third years back on the mound. Some of them even add a few miles per hour to their fastballs.

“That’s the biggest thing – just getting back into regular throwing,” Gophers closer Jeff Moen said. “He’s gotten better since the beginning of the season.”

Krogman has started eight games this season, but he has averaged less than four innings per appearance. Opponents are hitting .317 off him.

But he can pitch more than once a week now, tossing in the bullpen or playing catch in practice.

That’s a big step.

“I’m just kind of driving with blinders on right now,” Krogman said. “I don’t have great feel out there, and I suppose that can be expected after two years off. But every outing is getting better.”