Things were going very well for Greg Milhorn with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette baseball team just under a year ago.
The junior right-hander had cemented a spot in a strong starting rotation for what he knew was going to be a very good Cajuns squad, after he bounced from Arkansas to Northeast Texas Community College the previous two seasons.
Milhorn had shut out Eastern Illinois in the opening weekend and came back with a rain-shortened win at LSU the following week. He dropped a decision to Alabama a few days later, but he still felt good in his next Sunday start in what wound up a three-game weekend sweep of Texas Southern.
He struck out Texas Southern third baseman Jag Gordaya with the final pitch of the second inning, but as he uncorked that pitch, he felt something pop in his side.
“I started playing baseball at age 3, and I’d never had a problem with an injury,” Milhorn said. “I didn’t know what to do. One pitch, and I felt the pop.”
Milhorn went back out and threw to three more batters in the third inning. But after another strikeout, the pain increased, and he was pulled. The next morning, he had to get roommate Caleb Adams to pull him out of bed and get over to the training room. The torn oblique muscle eventually sidelined him for more than a month.
“You don’t realize how much that affects everything you do,” Milhorn said about the pain in his side. “My whole life, I’d never had a pull or a tear.”
He was back on the active roster by mid-April, but was never truly back. He didn’t start again until the final regular-season series and in the Sun Belt tournament, and was ineffective in both. He pitched more than three innings only once and saw what was a 1.65 ERA at one point of the season balloon to a 7.12 mark by the finale.
His final 5-2 record was more a product of UL-Lafayette’s potent offensive lineup, since he never regained the form that had Cajuns coaches and fans optimistic at the start of the season. He saw zero action in UL-Lafayette’s hosting of the NCAA regional and super regional rounds.
“The tough thing about injuries sometimes is that they start out as an injury, and then they move from physical to mental,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said.
Robichaux knew that Milhorn was a better pitcher than the one who gave up 12 hits in four innings in those final two appearances.
“He (Robichaux) kept telling me that a lot of pro guys have that same injury,” Milhorn said. “I was seeing three different doctors during that whole time, but it was still frustrating. I’d worked so hard to get into that position, and when it happened, it set everything back.”
Milhorn spent the balance of last year’s magical 58-10 season keeping the pitching charts for most games, standing next to Robichaux and listening as he communicated with pitchers and catchers.
“I’d sit with (backup catcher Nick) Thurman, and we’d talk about what hitters were doing and how they’d react,” he said. “I was right with Robe the whole time. I learned a few things.”
The oblique is now healed, and a series of physical therapy workouts in the fall have 6-foot-2 senior ready to go for opening weekend Friday-Sunday at Texas-San Antonio. Robichaux has not announced his starting rotation, but Milhorn is virtually assured of one of the three starts despite a recent illness.
“He’s 100 percent and feels good,” Robichaux said. “He just fought a real tough go with the flu and lost a little bit of weight, but he’ll be OK for the weekend. It happened early enough to where he’ll have his strength back in time.”
“I don’t even think about it anymore,” Milhorn said. “Robe says not to live in the past and just worry about today, and that’s what I’m trying to do. People ask me about last year, and I tell them that’s over with, it’s a new year.”
The Texarkana, Arkansas, native was a 30th-round draft pick by the Detroit Tigers out of high school, but he threw in only three games as a freshman at Arkansas. He was 3-3 in 10 starts with a 3.77 ERA at Northeast Texas but had a strong fall session before the 2014 season to earn a spot in what became a standout Cajuns rotation.
His presence is key since Milhorn is the only senior pitcher — and one of only five seniors on the squad. There are 11 freshman pitchers on the 36-man roster, along with four other mound newcomers. Milhorn and reliever Reagan Bazar are the only returnees who threw more than 17 innings last year, and only four returnees threw double-digit innings.
“Everybody talks about how young the pitching staff is, but we’ve got some really good freshmen,” Milhorn said. “They’ve worked really hard all fall to get ready, and I really believe we’re going to surprise some people. We’re gonna be just fine.”