Rice coach Wayne Graham confirmed reports this morning that junior righthanders Ryan Berry and Mike Ojala will miss some time with injuries. Ojala will likely miss the next week or two with tightness in his elbow, while Berry will miss four to six weeks with tightness in his arm (Graham said he could not specify where, exactly). Both arm issues are strictly muscular, and neither pitcher has any ligament, labrum or rotator cuff damage. Owls pitching coach David Pierce added in an e-mail that Ojala might be available in relief Sunday and is likely to miss just one start.
"The doctors have assured us there is no permanent damage and both will be back pitching this year," Graham said. "We use the best orthopedic surgeon in Houston, and then the Astros team doctor. They’ve all assured me 100 percent that these guys will be back. You’re always worried about ligament damage, but also rotator cuff damage. In neither case was there any of that, which is, I felt, very fortunate.
"The doctors said, ‘If you were playing in a super regional (Berry) could pitch today.’ But our chances depend on him being 100 percent."
This is obviously a significant setback, as Berry (4-0, 1.96) and Ojala (1-0, 1.38) are the two best starters in Conference USA. In the short term, Graham said the Owls will start junior college transfer Jared Rogers (1-0, 11.57 in five innings) tonight against Memphis, then move freshman lefty Taylor Wall (2-2, 4.40) up a day to the Saturday starter spot. Graham said he was leaning toward starting freshman righty Matthew Reckling (0-2, 5.27) Sunday, but freshman righty Andrew Benak (1-0, 3.75) was still an option. Catcher/righthander Diego Seastrunk, who touched 93 and showed a good curveball in a relief outing against Lamar earlier this week, is likely to get more time out of the bullpen while Berry and Ojala are out, but this weekend he’s unlikely to pitch more than one inning because the Owls need him behind the plate and in the lineup against two lefthanded starters for Memphis.
Rogers, a junior righthander, arrived at Rice with a tender elbow from his junior college days, and the Owls spent most of the fall and spring rehabbing him. But Graham said he’s finally close to 100 percent for the first time at Rice, and he threw 87-89 with sink against Lamar this week. The Owls just need him and their freshmen to keep their potent offense in games until their two big guns come back.
"I asked my wife yesterday, ‘Can you pitch?’" Graham said. "She said, ‘Yeah, but my eligibility’s up.’ We’re going to have to fight our guts out to keep ourselves in position for when both pitchers come back. I think we have a good ballclub. I’m optimistic, obviously—I always have been."
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