OSU hurler went through 'terrible time' before breakthrough

CORVALLIS - Life takes funny turns. Some good, some bad.

Josh Osich is on a serious upswing, the latest and greatest evidence being the Oregon State junior's no-hitter against UCLA on Saturday that set the college baseball world on notice.

'There's still no way to explain what happened,' the 6-3, 225-pound lefthander said Tuesday night before the Beavers' 7-2 Civil War loss to Oregon at Goss Stadium. 'I'm still super excited about it. It's pretty cool to be a part of history.'

Before the ultimate high from Osich's 2-0 victory at UCLA - the first OSU complete-game no-hitter since 1947, the first by a Pac-10 pitcher against a conference foe since 1994 - came a long period of lows.

A full year of rehabilitation from a second surgery to his throwing (left) elbow took its toll.

'A terrible time in my life,' Osich says. 'Went to rehab every day for 12 months. It was tough to handle.'

Osich was rehabbing from his first elbow surgery - to repair an ulnar nerve following the 2009 season, his sophomore year - and was throwing the ball in the outfield at Goss during fall ball when disaster struck.

'I happened to see it,' OSU coach Pat Casey says. 'I was walking to the bullpen. Josh was 100 feet away. He slipped while throwing, tried to catch himself and his arm got pinned behind him. He got up and was holding his elbow. That was it.'

It was a major blow to Osich, who had enjoyed a promising sophomore season in the bullpen, with a 2.05 ERA and 34 strikeouts with 17 walks in 26 1/3 innings as opponents hit .170 against him in his 17 appearances. It was a major blow, too, to Casey and pitching coach Nate Yeskie, who had Osich ticketed for a spot in the starting rotation for 2010.

'There was no question he was going to be a huge contributor to us last year,' Casey says. 'We felt Josh would be what he is today - a legitimate Friday night starter in the Pac-10.'

Instead, Osich underwent Tommy John surgery in January 2010 and sat on the shelf as a redshirt, wondering if and when his arm would come back.

'Just went through rehab, kept coming to the park every day, kept working,' Osich says. 'It got better.'

Was it tough emotionally or physically?

'Both,' he says. 'Rehab is tough, period. You're working on strengthening (the elbow), range of motion ... and that's about it. Day after day.'

Osich worried that he might never realize the dreams that he had when he signed with Oregon State out of Boise's Bishop Kelly High in 2007, on the eve of the Beavers' second straight College World Series title. Blessed with a warp-speed fastball and twice named Idaho prep Pitcher of the Year, Osich went undrafted because he let scouts know he intended to become a Beaver.

'Close to home, I like the weather, but the program was the biggest factor,' Osich says. 'I'm not going to say the national championships didn't figure in, but really, not that much.

'I wanted to go to a place that had a good coaching staff, that teaches you stuff on and off the field, how to become men. And that's pretty much what's happened to me my four years here.'

Osich, Casey says, could have been a position player.

'Could have been drafted as a hitter,' the veteran OSU coach says. 'He was a first baseman with real power. He had a power arm, too. And from the beginning, he wanted to go to school. That made it fairly easy for us.'

Osich knew he had plenty learn.

'I threw one pitch in high school,' he says. 'That's all you needed in Idaho, because no one can hit. You can't do that in the Pac-10.'

Osich was unreliable as a freshman in 2008, going 0-2 with a 7.56 ERA in 25 innings, allowing 33 hits with 26 walks and 19 strikeouts.

'Josh had command issues, like a lot of freshmen do,' Casey says. 'He was trying to find his way into a program that had just won back-to-back national titles, and he put a little pressure on himself. He just needed to be refined as a pitcher. Since then, he has learned how to pitch, and overcome tremendous adversity as well.'

There was the promising sophomore campaign. And the surgeries. And the recovery.

Osich was able to begin throwing again January. When the season started in February, Yeskie had him on a strict pitch count. At first, 35 pitches. Then 40, and 50 and on up.

All the while, Osich was pitching superbly as the Saturday starter behind ace righthander Sam Gaviglio, a major reason why the Beavers have climbed to a No. 3 national ranking and the top of the Pac-10 standings.

Then last week, Yeskie lifted all restrictions from his fireballing southpaw as the UCLA series approached. No pitch count, and the introduction of the curveball for the first time since surgery.

'There's a time period following Tommy John (surgery) for the curve,' Yeskie says. 'We were in the gray area where we might be able to start incorporating that pitch.

'We talked (on Friday). He said, 'Coach, I'm ready.' I said, 'Well, let's do it.' That, along with a couple of other pieces of the puzzle, led to what we saw on Saturday.'

Osich was matched up against UCLA ace Trevor Bauer, projected by some as the No. 1 player in the June major league draft.

'We thought it would be a good pitching duel,' Casey says. 'I wasn't thinking it was going to be our guy throwing the no-hitter, knowing the stuff the other guy had.'

Osich had respect for Bauer, but no fear of matching talents with him.

'I told myself I had to pitch inning to inning,' Osich says. 'To be just as good as he is and let my teammates scrap for me.'

Osich, who piled up 13 strikeouts, threw 121 pitches. He estimates he used the fastball about 90 times, the changeup about 30 times, the curve no more than 10 times.

'The 10 or so he threw had a positive effect, even if they weren't all for strikes,' Yeskie says. 'It's going to become a weapon for him down the road.'

Osich kept mowing down Bruin batters. Kavin Keyes' double produced a pair of sixth-inning runs, and then it was a race to destiny. In the end, the only blemish on Osich's performance was a fourth-inning walk.

'And ball four was a close call,' Casey says. 'At the time, we weren't thinking that would separate him from a perfect game.'

Casey says he wasn't aware of the no-hit bid until the sixth or seventh inning.

'In the ninth, I just sat down and watched it,' he says. 'It was pretty cool - surreal, really. You're trying to win a game, not thinking about no-hitters ... but Josh just kept going out there and getting guys out.'

When Osich threw the final strike, there was a dash to the dogpile on the mound at Jackie Robinson Stadium.

'I was absolutely like a little kid,' Yeskie says. 'It's something you dream about being a part of. I was excited running out there, and the players just blew right by me.'

Yeskie says he had never before been involved in a no-hitter as a college player or coach. Casey, remarkably, had never, either, in his 34 years as a college and pro player and college coach.

The next day, Osich's arm 'felt great,' he says. 'Feels good today, too. I'm pretty close to 100 percent, I'd say.'

Osich's fastball was clocked at 99 mph earlier this season. It averages between 93 and 95.

'I'd never touched 99,' he says. 'I'm faster than I was before' the surgery.

Osich, who had never won a college game before this season, is 6-1 with a 2.77 ERA. He has allowed 39 hits with 58 strikeouts and 22 walks in 55 1/3 innings. Opponents are hitting .199 against him.

This is likely the final season in an Oregon State uniform for Osich, 22. He should be a hot commodity in the draft, and is far from a finished product.

'I'm not even close to where I can be,' he says. 'I have a lot of learning to go.'

'There's an interesting dichotomy there,' Yeskie says. 'He doesn't have a lot of innings on him in college. You're looking at a fresh arm. The professional level looks at (Tommy John) surgeries now like it's an oil change for your vehicle.

'He's still a kid. His strength levels will increase. In the pros, he could be a starter, or he could be a power lefthanded arm coming out of the back end of somebody's bullpen, like an Arthur Rhodes or an Alan Embree.'

Yeskie has great respect for Osich as a player. He has even greater respect for Osich as a person.

'The epitome of blue collar,' Yeskie says. 'He should have his picture next to that in the dictionary. He's just tough. He's a tremendous student, a tremendous worker, a great mentor for the younger kids and a pleasure to coach.

'I can't speak highly enough about him. I certainly hope we get more kids like him in the future. They make the program what is is now and what it's been in the past.'

Osich says his only goal is to help the Beavers get back to the College World Series.

'We want to keep working toward Omaha,' he says. 'I'm a big team guy. It's not about me; it's about the team.'

No matter what Osich accomplishes in the future, his coach won't forget what he did on that glorious Saturday in Westwood.

'He was darn near untouchable,' Casey marvels. 'Threw to location, got ahead of hitters, used all three pitches. On that day, he was better than Trevor Bauer, whom a lot of people are comparing to Tim Lincecum. Good for Josh.'

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