Redshirt sophomore Paul Hammond’s return to the
pitcher’s mound at the Fish was reward for two years of hard
work in rehab following Tommy John surgery. Yesterday, he made his
fifth appearance on the season, his first at home since his
comeback began.

In April 2002, Hammond was looking to be one of a handful of
talented new arms in the Wolverines’ arsenal. Interim coach
Chris Harrison had named him the team’s closer and the
freshman was rolling along. When he came in to pitch against
Illinois on April 13, 2002, something felt wrong in his elbow. His
fastball still had its usual velocity, so Hammond stayed in and
kept pitching. Then Illinois’ Dusty Bensko stepped into the
box with a 3-1 count.

“I threw a fastball. It was a strike, but I couldn’t
feel it,” Hammond said. “I couldn’t feel my
arm.”

He told Harrison that he needed to be taken out. It would be two
years from when Hammond left the mound at Illinois until he would
find himself in a game again. Hammond spent most of the following
two seasons as the Michigan baseball team’s biggest
cheerleader while rehabbing his elbow. He was at practice everyday,
and in uniform when the team played at The Fish — just not
out on the field.

“I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t able
to be around all the guys,” Hammond said. “That’s
probably 90 percent of the great thing about being on the team:
your teammates.”

Yesterday marked his return to the mound at The Fish, a place
where he had pitched a mere three times. Bubba Sparxxx’s
“Deliverance,” the song that Hammond chose to be played
every time he enters a game, stopped blasting out of The Fish
loudspeaker. After throwing his warm-up pitches, he came set to
deliver his first official pitch in Ann Arbor in two years. But
before he began his wind up, he stepped off the rubber to take a
moment to shake the butterflies.

“I came set and felt my back leg shaking,” Hammond
said. “I had to step off.”

That’s when sophomore third baseman A.J. Scheidt chimed in
to help calm Hammond down. But Scheidt didn’t offer the usual
“just playing catch” or “we are behind you”
piece of advice.

“We all had this big turmoil over what our mound/plate
songs were going to be,” Hammond said. “So when mine
came on, (A.J.) goes ‘great choice, great
decision.’”

That did the trick. Hammond re-toed the rubber and began to show
the home crowd what he could do. Using his hard curveball, Hammond
froze the first two Detroit batters and sent them back to the
dugout for excessive window shopping.

When his day was done, and freshman Dan Lentz came in to replace
him, Hammond had finished with a pair of scoreless innings, having
yielded only one baserunner.

“I was very pleased with Paul’s performance this
weekend,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “He’s
showing signs. His consistency still needs to improve, but the last
few times he’s gone out have been better.”

Pitching for Michigan again was an opportunity that Hammond
didn’t know if he would get again. As his rehab was entering
full swing and his sophomore year was starting, Hammond was faced
with a new coach, one who had never seen him pitch before.

“I was so nervous,” Hammond said. “(Maloney
and I) didn’t get a chance to talk that whole summer. When we
came back (to school, Maloney) told me ‘Hey, I know
you’re good, we are going to work your butt off … and
then come back next fall and be ready to play.’ ”

Yesterday’s showing is slowly becoming the norm for
Hammond. After struggling in his first three appearances this year,
he has begun to start throwing strikes more consistently. Last
weekend, he set a career high in strikeouts with five.

“He’s finding his rhythm and getting better and
better each time out,” Michigan pitching coach John Lowery
said. “If he’s going to be a guy we are going to count
on, he’s going to have to throw those pitches for
strikes.”

Whether he returns to the closer role he seemed destined for as
a freshman or becomes a long reliever is still in question. But
what’s not in question to Hammond is that the baseball
diamond is where he wants to be.

“I always thought that baseball wasn’t everything to
me, which it still isn’t, but it’s a lot,”
Hammond said. “To have that away from me for a year alone was
miserable. I don’t ever want to go through that
again.”

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