Axford out for season
Joe Hettler | Friday, November 14, 2003
It was one pitch too many.
Irish pitcher John Axford fired his final pitch in his team’s last game of fall baseball and struck out the opposing batter. But as he did, the junior fireballer heard something pop in his right elbow.
On Nov. 5, Axford underwent Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament and will be out for Notre Dames upcoming season.
“My biggest concern is for the health of John Axford, not the health of the Notre Dame baseball team,” Irish coach Paul Mainieri said. “I’m concerned for him because he had high expectations – knew he was going to play an important role on the team.”
Tommy John surgery has occurred more frequently with professional and collegiate pitchers in the last several years. The surgery involves removing a tendon from another part of the body and attaching it to the elbow to function as a ligament. The recovery time is usually one year and, according to Mainieri, the player can even come back stronger and healthier than before the surgery.
But even with a positive diagnosis, Axford is disappointed he will not pitch this season.
“I’m trying to stay as positive as I can about it,” Axford said. “[My goals] are pushed back, but it’s just a small obstacle that I’m going to overcome.”
Axford pitched in 14 games and started 13 for the Irish, going 9-3 with a 4.31 ERA. He struck out 69 batters and walked 50 in just over 71 innings of work.
Known for his mid-to-high 90’s fastball, Axford has been a top prospect for Major League teams. He was eligible this season for the MLB draft, but he said he will now wait another year to see how he does next season before deciding whether to go pro.
Despite the setback, Axford said he is determined to find his way back into Notre Dame’s rotation.
“It’s all about what I do to make sure I come back,” Axford said.
While Axford started rehabilitation this week, Mainieri said the team will need other pitchers to step up in Axford’s absence. He points to last season as an indicator of what the 2004 Irish team needs. After Grant Johnson had season-ending surgery, senior Ryan Kalita stepped into Johnson’s role and had an impressive year.
“This injury affords someone else an opportunity to pick up the slack,” Maineri said. “Someone has always taken advantage of the opportunity, and I expect that again this year.”
Notre Dame’s freshman class is ranked sixth in the nation and Mainieri said the pitchers from that class are “as good as any we’ve had come in here.”
Another possible candidate could be converted pitcher Joe Thaman. Thaman played first base for Notre Dame during his first three years but was moved to pitcher in the offseason. Maineri said Thaman has pitched as well as anyone in fall ball.