A year ago, Lewis took the mound at Minnesota with OSU needing a four-game series sweep to take the Big Ten championship. But things went horribly awry as he suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm. He suffered his only defeat in what was an otherwise spectacular sophomore year.
Weeks later, he underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery. After 10 months on the shelf, Lewis returned to action April 11 against Purdue. He got his first win of the season this past Saturday, going four innings in a 4-2 win over Northwestern in the first game of a doubleheader.
Now, the stakes could not be any larger. Second-place Ohio State (31-21 overall, 18-10 Big Ten) once again goes to Minnesota (33-19, 19-9) with a chance to snatch the Big Ten regular season title. OSU will need at least three wins in the conference season-ending series.
And for Lewis, who is working his way back into form, it means a lot as well.
"I know I can't do anything more to that tendon now," Lewis said. "I think I have put all of that in the back of my mind. But I admit it will be weird to be back on that mound."
Lewis was the Big Ten pitcher of the year and an All-American a year ago, going 9-1 with a 1.61 ERA. He was not around as his teammates rallied a week later to win the Big Ten tournament at Minnesota and advance to the NCAA Tournament.
"I definitely knew something was wrong," said Lewis, a native of Washington C.H., Ohio. "I had a cramp in my elbow and I felt a pop. I threw one more pitch just to see if it was O.K. But that next pitch was pretty painful."
Within a matter of days, Lewis found himself in Birmingham, Ala., where renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews performed surgery.
"Dr. Andrews has done surgery on guys like John Smoltz and Kerry Wood," Lewis said. "They send them to him. On the day I was there, he did seven other surgeries in the same day."
Lewis began the slow road back with plenty of rehab work.
"There was a lot of rehab," he said. "My first throw was 10 yards. Then, I gradually just moved it back. Eventually I was doing 50 yards and just long tossing. Then, I pitched in some simulated games and now I'm here."
Lewis figures to pitch one of the doubleheader games Saturday against the Gophers.
He said he won't dwell too much on his surroundings.
"I'm just going to go out there and pitch," he said.
One Big Series
Yes, the stakes are high. But Ohio State has been down this road many times under coach Bob Todd. Todd is in his 17th season as the OSU coach. His teams have won seven regular season championships and six conference tournament titles.
"This is not a position that is new to us," Todd said. "But I think a month ago if you came out and looked at this ball club, you would probably not think we would be in the position we are now.
"A lot of it has been attitude. They have started to believe in themselves a little bit. I think we're pitching better, playing better defense and offensively we are a lot more productive."
To complicate matters, OSU wants to do anything but lose the series opener. That would mean the Buckeyes would have to win three straight to still claim the conference crown and the right to host next week's Big Ten tournament.
But the Gophers will be sending the Big Ten's best pitcher to the mound in Glen Perkins. On the year, he is 7-2 with a 2.98 ERA in 12 starts. He has been particular tough in conference play, posting a 6-0 mark with a 2.02 ERA.
"We are playing at Minnesota and, in the first game, we'll be against one of the best pitchers in the country," Todd said. "He has not lost a Big Ten game yet in his career. This will be a tremendous test for us."
With Lewis out much of the year, Todd and the Buckeyes turned to senior Josh Newman to open each Big Ten series. Newman (7-5, 3.67 ERA) will again be out there Friday night for the series opener.
"Our backs are up against the wall," Newman said. "It has been important that we've gotten Scott Lewis healthy as we've been coming down the stretch. I think our starting pitching staff is good enough to match up against anybody.
"We've been talking in the locker room. We have played so many games at Minnesota the last couple years that it's like our second home."
Catcher Derek Kinnear said the Buckeyes are excited to face this challenge.
"We know we will have to score some runs to give Josh a chance to win that first game," he said. "It seems like every year it's us and Minnesota as the two best teams in the Big Ten. It's usually two good teams feeding off each other."
Outfielder Mike Rabin said each team should be up for this series.
"Everyone knows that if you win the Big Ten regular season title, you get a ring," he said. "At the beginning of the year, it's our goal to win the Big Ten regular season championship. Last year, we had to have a sweep. That's tough to do. This year, we only need to take three out of four. That's a little more feasible."
Each team will come in off a midweek nonconference loss. Minnesota fell to Northern Iowa 14-4 Tuesday, while OSU wrapped the home schedule -- at least for the regular season -- with a 7-2 loss to Cleveland State Wednesday.
But the Buckeyes will try and ride the hot bat of outfielder Steve Caravati, who earned Big Ten player of the week honors after batting .786 (11-for-14) in last weekend's series with Northwestern. He leads the Buckeyes in batting average (.390), hits (76), home runs (nine) and RBI (45).
If OSU can win at least three of the four games, the Buckeyes would claim their 15th Big Ten regular season title and first since 2001.
The teams will play a single game Friday at 7:35 p.m. (EDT) before playing a doubleheader Saturday at 3:05 p.m. The series finale will be Sunday at 2:05 p.m. WOSU-AM (820) will broadcast all four games and Fox Sports Net North will televise the series opener.