UCLA's Olsen returns less than month after horrific injury

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UCLA's Olsen returns less than month after horrific injury
This March 11, 2018, photo provided by UCLA Athletics shows University of California Los Angeles pitcher Jon Olsen pitching against the University of Southern California at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. On April 8, 2018, a month after getting hit in the head by a line drive, Olsen pitched three strong innings against Stanford. (Don Liebig/ASUCLA via AP)

In his five decades in baseball, UCLA coach John Savage had never seen an injury like the one pitcher Jon Olsen sustained when he was hit in the face by a line drive last month.

“He went down on the ground and you never know when you turn somebody around what you’re going to see,” Savage said. “There was massive blood coming from his face. It was a little beyond scary.”

It was a little beyond amazing that Olsen was back on the mound less than a month after the March 11 incident. Wearing a protective facemask, he started against Stanford on Sunday and allowed a home run and single, struck out five and picked off a runner in three innings. UCLA won 7-2.

“I wasn’t scared or anything. Didn’t feel off,” Olsen said Monday. “Even watching the line drive (on video), it doesn’t bother me. It’s weird. It happened, and you have to move on.”

Olsen was hit on the right side of his face by a liner off the bat of Southern California’s Lars Nootbaar in the first inning of the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic. The junior from Rancho Cucamonga, California, required titanium implants to repair a broken orbital bone. During the same surgery he had his nose re-set and other fractures repaired. He battled double vision for almost three weeks.

Olsen threw bullpen sessions and pitched in simulated games before his return against Stanford. Olsen also talked to the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Archie Bradley about what it would be like to come back. Bradley was hit in the face by a line drive in 2015.

“He was saying you might have a flinch or be scared at first and it’s something you have to work through,” Olsen said. “I got lucky. When I was back out there yesterday, it felt completely normal.”

Olsen said Nootbaar has checked on him via text messages, and Nootbaar’s family sent chocolate-covered strawberries to his house after surgery.

“He reached out and he felt terrible,” Olsen said. “I told him it’s not his fault. He’s playing baseball and he smoked one. That’s baseball. So it’s not anything I hold against him or anything like that. He’s a good guy.”

Savage said the plan is to work Olsen back into the starting rotation for the Pac-12-leading Bruins (19-9, 8-4). Olsen said he probably would wear his mask for another three games.

“I love this team and I love what we’re trying to do here,” Olsen said. “I’m just excited that I can get back out there and compete for them.”

IN THE POLLS

Florida (28-6) remains the consensus No. 1 team in the major polls, having won nine straight before losing 6-4 to Tennessee on Sunday. North Carolina State (25-6), which won two of three at Louisville, is No. 2 by Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball newspaper — the Wolfpack’s highest ranking ever. Stanford (23-5) is No. 2 by DIBaseball.com.

YAHOO, WAZZU!

Scotty Sunitsch pitched Washington State’s first solo nine-inning no-hitter since 1976 in a 7-0 win at Oregon on Sunday. The senior left-hander struck out a career-high nine, walked two and hit two batters in the 95-pitch outing.

GET YOUR SIX

Western Michigan shortstop Connor Smith became the 10th player this season to collect six hits in a game. He singled in all six of his at-bats in a 10-4 win at Northern Illinois on Sunday.

THE LENGTHS WE GO

Bad weather in the Midwest forced Minnesota and Creighton to move their weekend home series to neutral sites.

Minnesota played Penn State at Purdue’s stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana. That required both teams to ride buses for nine hours Thursday for a Friday afternoon series opener. The Gophers swept the three games. Moving Creighton’s games against Butler from Omaha, Nebraska, was more of an adventure. It took Creighton coach Ed Servais until mid-afternoon Friday to secure the field at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.

The Bluejays drove for 6 ½ hours, arriving at 1 a.m. Saturday for its “home” series that started just 13 hours later. Butler traveled 3 ½ hours from Indianapolis. The series was shortened from three games to two, and the teams split.

Big East teams have only 18 scheduled conference games — too few, in Servais’ opinion, to determine a legitimate champion. The prospect of losing the three games didn’t sit well with Servais and his players.

“We sacrificed three home games,” Servais said, “and our guys went down there and played really solid baseball. They deserve a lot of credit.”