Pitcher opens season with 15 shutout innings

By Erik Hall

For the past 21 months, Illinois pitcher Brian Blomquist did not pull on the polyester pants and the Illini uniform with the No. 4 spanning his back.

Blomquist could not pitch during Illinois’ games. Instead, he had to focus on rehabilitation from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery.

Ten days ago, Blomquist started his first game for Illinois since May 2003. He pitched as if he had not missed a day.

“It’s exciting,” Blomquist said. “Being out of the game for so long- it’s just good to be back. I get excited for every weekend now.”

Blomquist has totaled 15 innings pitched in two starts and has a 2-0 record. He has not had a run scored against him largely because of 13 strikeouts and only two walks.

“It’s just confidence and I’m getting older, more mature and getting smarter in the head, I guess,” Blomquist said. “I am understanding that if you hit your spots, you don’t have to throw as hard as you can every time. If you hit your spots, you’re going to get guys out.”

Blomquist has already gotten 45 outs this season without a runner crossing home. Two consecutive shutouts brought the 6-foot-4 righty conference and national recognition.

Last week, Blomquist earned Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honors for his win against Wagner. After Saturday’s success against Texas-Pan American, the College Baseball Foundation placed Blomquist on the National Honor Roll for one of the top performances last week. He is one of 12 pitchers named to the 25-man National Honor Roll.

Along with receiving recognition in back-to-back weeks for pitching great games, it was announced Tuesday that Blomquist is a finalist for the Brooks Wallace National Player of the Year Award.

“Obviously, he is dominating now and more so now than even before his surgery,” said Illinois starting catcher Chris Robinson. “I think he is more mature now. He is two years older, and he knows what it takes to go out there and win.”

Blomquist learned he had torn a ligament in his right elbow during summer 2003. He went to Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., for the surgery to repair the ligament.

After the surgery that summer, Blomquist could not pitch at all until October 2003. He then returned to pitching off a mound in March 2004.

“Brian went through rehab with (trainer Jim) Turk, and I think they took their time,” said Illinois head baseball coach Itch Jones. “They took a long time, and they followed it right to a ‘T’ what they should do. It seems that the people that have done that, that were operated on by Dr. Andrews, have done well.”

Blomquist pitched so well Saturday that he impressed Texas-Pan American head coach Willie Gawlik. Gawlik called Blomquist’s performance “the best-pitched game they had against them all year.”

Gawlik’s team had played No. 1 Texas once and No. 17 Arizona three times before playing Illinois.

“I thought that Brian did a very good job in that ball game; he had complete control,” Jones said.

Two strong performances by Blomquist have his season started in the right direction, but he still could have at least 10 more starts in the regular season. What he has done so far is just a small part of the 2005 season.

“I’ve been pitching well and I hope to continue to do so,” Blomquist said. “Sitting out a year, I got to learn by watching everyone else and seeing how they are successful or if they failed with things. I’m just coming out here and practicing every day, knowing that I have to continue to work and get better.”