Pitcher perfect recovery (Baseball)

Ariel Alexovich

Despite enduring more than his share of rough luck, Northwesternpitcher Dan Konecny is back. And with a 2.32 ERA this season alongwith a new role as the Wildcats’ ace, he’s better than ever.

As the NU baseball team (10-10, 3-3 Big Ten) kicks off its homeseason today against Purdue (15-12, 6-7), Konecny is finally at thetop of his game.

During the summer before he started college, an injury shatteredthe right side of his face. With the help of reconstructive surgeryand some metal plates, he healed. Mononucleosis kept him on thesidelines for a full month of conference play last season, but herecovered.

Both these health issues were frustrating for the right-hander,who finished 2-2 in 18 games in 2002. It wasn’t until last summerthat he had an epiphany.

“I was playing baseball in Minnesota, and it all just clicked,”Konecny said. “If anything’s going to happen for this team, it’sgoing to be this year.”

The graduation of starting pitchers Ryan Bos, Gabe Ribas andZach Schara at the end of last season elevated the then-No. 4pitcher Konecny into the top spot.

“From being in their shadows, I learned that being No. 1 is morethan physical talent,” Konecny said. “You have to have your head onstraight.”

In his first start since getting mono, Konecny earned Big TenPitcher of the Week honors after shutting out Brigham Young 1-0 onFeb. 15.

At 50.1 innings pitched — already more than the 37.2 he threwlast season — Konecny also boasts more innings than any other BigTen hurler this year. And although his record stands at 2-3, allthree losses were in one-run defeats.

“I feel like when we lose a game, it’s my fault,” Konecny said.”I’m not going to blame it on the hitters.”

NU coach Paul Stevens partially attributes Konecny’s success tohis rapport with NU’s No. 2 starter, J.A. Happ. Besides havingsimilar statures — Happ is 6-foot-5, and Konecny is 6-foot-4 –the two hurlers share the same strong work ethic.

“They have a tremendous one-two punch about them,” Stevens said.”It’s like having two twin towers who understand that one’s therefor the other.”

After playing all 20 games this season on the road, the Cats areoptimistic about today’s home opener at Rocky Miller Park. But thehome-field advantage might not stop the Boilermakers.

Purdue senior Nick McIntyre slammed six balls out of the parklast week, earning him Big Ten Player of the Week honors. Stevenssaid he looks forward to seeing how McIntyre and Happ — the mostrecent conference Pitcher of the Week — match up.

After stealing three of four from the Cats last season, Purduedidn’t win another Big Ten series until winning three home contestsagainst Illinois last weekend.

But with Konecny set to pitch the first game of the Purdueseries, Stevens is counting on the Cats getting off to a strongstart at home.

“He’s a guy that these guys know when he walks onto the mound,they’re going to be in a ball game,” Stevens said.

As with any player, there’s always room for improvement, andStevens knows that even Konecny can do more to close out games.

“I’d like to see him get a bit more of a nasty side and put thenails in their coffin,” Stevens said. “Then the MLB will be biddingaway.”