Buckeyes left-hander is trying to making up for lost time after emergency appendectomy in April. Summer league baseball in nearby Chillicothe is presently his ‘operating’ room.
Springfield, Ohio – It was the eve of Mitch Milheim’s second collegiate start for Ohio State, and he wasn’t taking any chances with what he thought was the onset of a virus. He went to bed early thinking an extra hour or two of sleep would beat back the bug for at least 24 hours.
The week before, the true freshman gave up five hits, two runs and one walk and struck out three in going four innings in a 4-2 victory over Dayton.
It looked as though Milheim, a left-hander from Olentangy Liberty High School in northwest Columbus, had unseated Jake Vance as the mid-week starting pitcher.
“I had a sore throat and felt kind of sick, and the next morning I woke up with a fever,’’ he said of April 16. “I had class in the morning and felt sick all day, but I got through it. I didn’t feel that bad when I came to the ballpark. I saw our trainer and thought, ‘Okay, he’ll give me some antibiotics and I’ll feel just fine.’’’
The trainer, though, referred Milheim to the team doctor for further examination. He wasn’t going to start against Xavier that night. In fact, he wasn’t going to be anywhere near Bill Davis Stadium.
“The team doctor examined me by pressing on one spot near my stomach, and I basically yelled,’’ Milheim said. “It was super-painful. He said I had to go to the hospital and get a CAT scan because I might have appendicitis. The test came back positive and I was in surgery by the time the game ended.’’
The surgery chopped a month off his season and limited him to five appearances in relief the rest of the season.
Recuperation meant no pitching for 2 ½ to 3 weeks and not feeling right for another 4 ½ weeks.
These days, Milheim has been pitching in short and middle relief for the Chillicothe Paints of the Prospects League, a wooden bat league for college players.
His goal is to work on a change-up and put in enough innings to get ready for fall baseball. With Andrew Magno leaving a year early to sign with the Detroit Tigers, Buckeyes pitching coach Mike Stafford has to find a closer and possibly a mid-week starter.
Stafford said that Will Pfennig, a sophomore to be, should get a long look at replacing Magno at the back end of the bullpen. If he gets the job, Milheim would be one of several pitchers to get looks as the mid-week starter.
“The role I want most is to be a starter, but at the same time I don’t want to limit myself if I don’t get that role,’’ Milheim said. “If they decide that Will Pfennig is better extending out (to be a starter) and I’m better shortening up (for the bullpen), I could see that. I just want everyone, including me, to get better. Whatever role I get is fine. It will work out. I became a lot more comfortable in the bullpen once I figured out how to get ready more quickly.’’
Milheim worked on a change-up in the middle of last season to go with a fastball and curve. His fastball tops out around 86 to 87 miles per hour, and the idea is to add a pitch to give batters something to think about.
He has an 8.01 earned run average for the Paints, but that is misleading. Eight runs came in a loss to Champion City on June 26. He’s 2-1 with one save and 19 strikeouts in 10 innings.
“Playing this summer is a little bit of both – I want to get some innings in and work on some things,’’ Milheim said. “I had been throwing just a fastball and two-seam curveball. That was fine, but not great. If I want to be a starter I have to have a third pitch to go to, and to me that’s the change-up. I’ve been working on it a lot. I throw four seams if I go up in the zone or against lefties.’’
Pitching against players holding wooden bats isn’t that big a difference for him other than he knows when a pitch is effective, particularly when it’s hit off the end of the bat or the bat breaks on contact, better than aluminum.
This also has been a busy summer for Milheim in the classroom. He’s taking a chemistry class on Monday and physics class on Thursday to lighten the load for fall and winter quarters.
And, of course, he was intently watching Michigan work its way through the NCAA Tournament to the College World Series championship game before a loss to Vanderbilt in Game 3.
Does he think about the Buckeyes’ possibilities of making that same journey next season? Starters Garrett Burhenn, Seth Lonsway and Griffan Smith return with the entire infield.
Ohio State took two of three games from Michigan in a regular-season series and won 2-1 in the opening game of the Big Ten Tournament.
“The comment that I made to my dad during Game 2 of the College World Series that it just seems like so much of a smaller stage than last year when I was in high school,’’ Milheim said. “They are crazy good players, but playing against Michigan and Vanderbilt and seeing other really good teams last season showed that playing college baseball was realistic for me.
“It was cool what our team accomplished at the end of the year. That was a really high level, and we rose to another level. I think everybody is really excited to see what happens next year. Everyone on our pitching staff is going to get better.’’