Kenyon Yovan pitched only the first two innings of Oregon’s baseball season last season.
Oregon’s ace allowed one run before leaving a 9-4 win over Texas Tech on Feb. 15 with a hand injury. He developed blood clots in his palm and later felt numbness in a finger as he tried to return during his junior year.
Following the season, doctors diagnosed that the issue originated in his shoulder — “it was like a soft tissue ball blocking everything,” Yovan explained — and he had surgery to clean it out. The 6-foot-2 right-hander started throwing about three weeks ago and hopes to be able to return to the mound late next month during Oregon’s fall practices.
“I get a little sore here and there because it has been six months since I’ve actually thrown, but I am excited,” Yovan said. “I got stronger over the summer and I’m happy to be back on the field.”
Sitting out last season challenged Yovan mentally as well as physically after he earned all-Pac-12 honors during his first two seasons with the Ducks while going 7-5 with a 2.70 ERA.
“It was life-changing,” he said. “It made me more humble. Being a young kid, thinking you’re invincible and then something happens like that. I went three months not knowing exactly what was going on. They found it in my shoulder after an MRI and surgery took it out.
"Two months later, I was back throwing again and started doing other things. My arm is still trying to learn how to be an arm again after surgery. It was tough sitting on the bench knowing I couldn’t go out there to help the team. Hopefully, I can go out there for a full season and help the team get to the playoffs.”
Yovan was ranked as one of the top 25 pitching prospects in college baseball entering last season, but fell to the 27th round of the MLB Draft where he was selected by the Los Angeles Angels. He elected to return to the Ducks as a redshirt junior.
“Being able to throw only two innings in a season and still get picked by a team was unbelievable,” he said. “Hopefully, this year I can stay healthy and get picked higher.”
Yovan was originally recruited to Oregon by new coach Mark Wasikowski, who was an assistant for the Ducks before leaving to become head coach at Purdue in 2016. Oregon’s new pitching coach, Jake Angier, spent the past six seasons as an assistant at Sacramento State.
“Coach Angier did great things at Sacramento State and has a great mind so I am excited to see how it goes,” Yovan said. “It’s hard for me to tell now because I am not throwing on the mound yet so I have not really dug into his brain, but all the stuff he is giving to us is exactly what we need as a pitching staff so I am excited to see where it goes.”
Angier spoke on the phone with Oregon’s pitchers while spending most of his first two months on the road recruiting after being hired by Wasikowski.
“I think it’s important to have a little bit of background on them,” Angier said. “I got to know them a bit, what makes them tick, talking about strengths and weaknesses. I got a feel of that to figure out how best to help each individual. But you also have to give them a clean slate, that is important. Whether they were really good or not last year doesn’t matter for next year.”
Ahlstrom adds experience
Oregon’s best starting pitcher last season was Robert Ahlstrom, a North Eugene graduate who spent one season at Chemeketa Community College before going 5-7 with a 3.93 ERA for the Ducks. Ahlstrom was recruited by Angier at Sacramento State before returning to his hometown.
“It is cool because we have been in contact before,” Ahlstrom said. “He has a good philosophy on things.”
Ahlstrom began last season in the bullpen with the Ducks before joining the rotation for Pac-12 play.
“I had a year to get my feet wet at the Division I level and this year I am coming in with more confidence,” Ahlstrom said. “I am ready to go out there and work hard every day. I kind of know what to expect now.”
Oregon schedule is set
Oregon will open the season Feb. 14 at the Angels Classic in Tempe, Ariz. The Ducks will play three games in the tournament that also includes Illinois, Indiana State, Minnesota, Pepperdine and San Diego.
Oregon’s home opener is Feb. 21 for the first of three games against Nevada. Milwaukee will play four games at PK Park beginning Feb. 28.
The Ducks will also visit Hawaii in nonconference play before opening the Pac-12 schedule at UCLA on March 13. Oregon’s first Pac-12 home series comes against USC on March 20-22.
Oregon will then visit Texas Tech and host Cal Poly before returning to conference play at Oregon State on April 3. The Ducks close out the regular season at home against California on May 23.