Working His Way Back

Jake Morgan was at the ballpark several hours before the game between Ole Miss and Arkansas Saturday, just like every home game. But this season, that hasn't meant getting ready to pitch.

The Canton native would likely have been in Brett Huber's shoes at the end of the game against the Razorbacks, trying to close it out after Aaron Barrett's successful eight innings.

Instead, the fourth-year junior right-hander was doing what he's done every game this season. He was watching.

Morgan, who had established himself as the Rebels' closer and one of the SEC's best, has been rehabbing from Tommy John surgery since last October. It was back then that something wasn't right in his throwing arm, and he got it checked out. It was decided surgery was needed, and Morgan's 2010 season was done.

"I took it for what it was, and there was nothing I could really do about it," said the personable and level-headed Morgan. "It is what it is. Get it fixed and come back to play. I got lucky because I had another year to be able to come back. It's the way I try to handle life. I take what's thrown at me and I try to do the best I can with it."

He's kept a good outlook and says it really hasn't been as grueling as he originally thought it might be. And he credits others.

"With (UM trainer) Tony (Barnett) there, he really knows what he's doing and he helps me and tells me how I'm progressing," Morgan said. "It really hasn't been nearly as hard as I thought it would be. And maybe it's also because I have Jon Andy Scott with me. He was ahead of me, and I get to base my progress off of him. He's in there, so it's not like I'm doing it by myself."

Fellow Rebel pitcher Scott, a transfer from Northeast Mississippi Community College, had Tommy John surgery in September.

Morgan wasted little time in starting the rehab process following his surgery in Birmingham with Dr. James Andrews.

"The day I got back," he said. "That's when I started."

Of course that's what the plan said to do. But it also meant the sooner he recovered the better. He has always been eager to get back on the field.

"I could only do wrist stuff back then, and I gradually moved to curls and triceps, things like that. Then I moved to shoulder exercises. It's been a long progression."

Now he's out on the mound some, and that's where he wants to be.

"I'm throwing off the mound right now but only 15 pitches (a session) at 50 percent (velocity)," Jake said. "It's all arm and body, so it's no real effort into it."

But the progress will continue. He will get that number up to 30 soon and in only a couple of weeks up to 45.

"Once you get up to 75 (pitches) at 50 percent, then you go back and do a certain number of throws at 50 percent velocity and a certain number at 75 percent. You increase from there, and then go back and do 75 percent and then some with 100 percent. You finally get to the point where you're doing all 100 percent velocity, and you do three bullpens a week, all of them 90 pitches."

But that's a while down the road.

"Five months from now, I think," Morgan said.

And then he will be just about all the way back. It will have been a year.

"Right now I'm throwing all four-seam fastballs," he said. "No changeups, no spinning the balls or anything like that. When you get to the point where you're throwing 100 percent for the entire bullpen, then you start working in your changeups and then your sliders after that."

He says things have gone well throughout the process to this point.

"I'm doing wonderful. Dr. Andrews has a set program, and we go by it and also on how I feel," Jake said. "As long as I stay with the program and I feel good, I guess you could say I'm 100 percent on track. If I have a problem or a pain, then we back off.

"But I don't really know," he continued, "because I haven't had a problem yet."

Morgan, with 27 relief appearances and nine saves in 2009, admitted the most painful thing of all is not physical pain at all. It's not playing.

"Watching us play, wishing I could help the team out, that's been the toughest for me," he said. "I really want to be out there, because I love being on the field. Other than that, you've got 12 months rehab and all that, and that hasn't really bothered me. And with Tony and Jon Andy and a lot of support from my teammates, that's helped, too."

Morgan has been at all the home games but can't travel with the team to SEC road games. Only 25 can be on a roster for league road games. He made the trip to the Governor's Cup game in Pearl and on his own to the Tulane series in New Orleans.

At home games he's been there to pat his teammates on the back.

"I cheer ‘em on and try to help ‘em out," he said. "But I'm not the most vocal guy in the dugout."

He's been impressed with what redshirt freshman Huber has been able to accomplish this season.

"He's been unbelievable," Jake said. "Next year I'm going to be fighting to get my position back."

That will be a nice problem for the Rebel coaches to have, a healthy Morgan and an experienced Huber.

For now, he can only continue to do what he's supposed to do with his recovery and look forward to being on the mound again in an actual game.

"I love what I'm doing. I love closing," Morgan said. "Pressure-packed situation with the game on the line. I love to be in that situation. I don't know why, but I just love that feeling.

"I love being up by one and having to go through six more guys against the best hitting team in the nation. That's why I play baseball."

And that's why he can't wait to get back.

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