Bolsinger Back, Better Than Ever

Mike Bolsinger's decision to return to school has landed him the role of starting pitcher in Arkansas' season-opener with Ball State Friday at 3:05 p.m.

Mike Bolsinger hopes 2010 is a little better year.

It's not that Bolsinger had an all-around bad year in 2009; after all he was a primary piece in Arkansas' run to the College World Series. But Bolsinger's year was filled with a mixture of illnesses, injuries and disappointments.

A frustrating bout with mononucleosis filled the early part of the year. In the summer Bolsinger endured a disappointing MLB Draft in which he was selected in the 33rd round by the Oakland Athletics after expecting to be picked up on the first day. His summer season with the McKinney Marshals was interrupted when he underwent an emergency appendectomy. He even had his knee scoped over the Christmas break.

So 2010 has to be a little better, right?

"He gets teased like, ‘What's going to happen next, Mike?'" said Arkansas pitching coach Dave Jorn. "He's had a lot of physical stuff going on. But he's bounced back from all that stuff and has done a lot for us. We look forward to him having a pretty good year."

That year begins Friday when Bolsinger takes the mound for the Razorbacks' season opener against Ball State at Baum Stadium. The first pitch is scheduled for 3:05 p.m.

Primed to be a weekend starter in 2009, Bolsinger missed the first six games of Arkansas' season with mono. He said he began to not feel right some time in November of 2008, but played it off as a cold and didn't go to a doctor until his eyes began to turn yellow in January. When he was able to return he had lost all stamina and ended up starting just one game – a 2.1 inning performance against Florida in which he walked four batters.

"The mono brought me down a lot," Bolsinger said. "I was upset about that because I really wanted to start my junior year off strong and that got in the way."

But it could have been a blessing in disguise for the McKinney, Texas, native. After the Florida game Bolsinger was limited to bullpen duty where he flourished. He pitched 67.1 innings, struck out a team-leading 79 batters with a 2.99 ERA. In 29 relief appearances he recorded a 6-4 record and two saves.

Marc F. Henning
Bolsinger was chased in the third inning of his last start against Florida in 2009.
"I got put into that role and I guess it just came natural to me," Bolsinger said. "It was a lot of fun getting to pitch twice a weekend. There were even some weekends where I would pitch three times. I had a lot of fun doing it. I got to go out there a lot and do what I love to do."

Bolsinger starts his final campaign Friday as healthy as the he has been since he came to Arkansas and he'd like to prove some scouts wrong.

"I'd by lying to you if I said I wasn't upset about the draft. I want to play with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder," Bolsinger said. "I think I can go out there and prove that I wasn't a 33rd round draft pick. I want to start and prove to some people I'm better than that.

"The reason I went out there to pitch summer ball was that I was going to pitch in front of some of the Oakland guys. I did it about three times. I felt good about myself. Hopefully I can take what I did this summer – which I thought I had a pretty good summer – and take that into my performance this year."

It might sound like Bolsinger is upset to be back in Fayetteville, but he said that's far from the truth.

"I think the first couple of weeks I came back people could see disappointment on my face," Bolsinger said. "I remember sitting down with Coach (Dave) Van Horn about it and told him, ‘I don't want you to think of me as that guy with a chip on my shoulder and being mad the rest of the season. I'm here and I made the decision to come back and I'm here for the team. Whatever happened over the summer with the draft, I'm over it now.'

"I get to come back and will be close to graduating after this spring. Plus I get to play ball with so many friends. It was really a win-win situation. I could've gone and played pro ball or come back here, which it's awesome playing here. We have great fans and great facilities."

Bolsinger had a good fall, Jorn said, working on a limited basis in intrasquad match-ups. In one start in the Fall World Series Bolsinger struck out six batters in four innings.

"It was one of those deals where he and Drew Smyly both were on the same program where they didn't pitch in the intrasquad program until the last week of the fall season and going into the fall series," Jorn said. "I was really trying to get their arms some rest and do a little bit of bullpen and iron out some mechanical stuff they needed to work on, which wasn't major.

"I think he's 100 percent healthy and we've done some filmwork with him. His arm and his delivery are in good shape so I think he's on course to have a pretty good season for us."

Bolsinger's decision to come back has pitted him first in the weekend rotation in front of Drew Smyly and Brett Eibner.

"Those are three guys that have some experience and it's hard to win without experience," Jorn said. "You take that from last year and go into this season with it, and there are enough guys in the bullpen to back them up. If any of them are faltering we've always got some guys we can turn to. I feel real good about the rotation.

"Mike deserves that opportunity and he's a senior. He threw out of the bullpen a lot last year and I'm not so sure that's not a better role for him. With his personality – just kind of a hang loose and come in and not knowing when you're going to pitch – he's good coming in tough situations or closing games."

Marc F. Henning
Bolsinger recorded six wins and two saves as a junior reliever.
Bolsinger acknowledged the scouts liked his role as a long reliever, too.

"They told me I had a bulldog mentality," Bolsinger said. "I think it's hard to find someone who can go out there and do that because you're put in pressure situations; I was put in a lot of those last year. I think that role is just as important as starting. You know if you have a good starter, you don't want to lose and the most important innings are the seventh, eight and ninth innings. To find a good pitcher that come out late and hold on to those leads is important."

So who will fill the role in 2010? More depth in the bullpen helps the decision. DJ Baxendale, TJ Forrest, Geoffrey Davenport and Jason Fuqua are some options.

"We don't have any world-beaters at this point that are going to go out there and awe you with velocity and blow you away. Maybe only Eibner could do that," Jorn said. "I think we've got enough depth in that bullpen, though. Baxendale has real good command and good stuff. I think he's competitive enough and confident enough that he could fill in that role."

And if none of those work out, Bolsinger said he'll be more than happy to return to his old position if it helps Arkansas return to a familiar venue.

"We want to go back to Omaha," Bolsinger said. We had a taste of it last year and it's still fresh on our mind. If I have to do like I did last year, I will. It's whatever I can do to help us win."



MIKE BOLSINGER

Height: 6-2

Weight: 212

Class: Senior

Hometown: McKinney, Texas

Major: Communications

Notable: Bolsinger went 6-1 as a freshman at Grayson County Community College prior to transferring to Arkansas…Was drafted in the 34th round by the Cleveland Indians in 2006…Was drafted in the 33rd round by the Oakland Athletics in 2009.

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