By Jonathan Hodgson
Canadian Baseball Network
It has been a challenging year for Josh Burgmann, but he’s back and ready to throw strikes.
The right-handed pitcher from Nanaimo, B.C. made his 2018 season debut for the University of Washington on Sunday at Oregon State, marking his return to the mound following Tommy John surgery in April of 2017.
Burgmann entered with a runner on base in the sixth inning of Washington’s 8-4 victory, salvaging the final game of the weekend series against the top-ranked team in the country. He worked two innings, allowing just an unearned run on one hit with a strikeout.
“It was a very emotional day, for sure,” said Burgmann, whose parents had made the trip south to Corvallis, Ore., for the weekend series at Oregon State. “I had to be locked in mentally before and during the game, but it was definitely emotional seeing my parents after the game.”
The last time the Nanaimo Pirates alum toed the rubber for the Huskies was March 22, 2017 against Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash.
Burgmann had pitched well during the fall of 2016 and opened the spring with six relief appearances.
The young right-hander also began 2017 with six relief appearances before making a start at home against Utah, and then at Gonzaga.
“The bullpen was a higher workload, but my arm started to hurt when I started,” Burgmann said. “I went to Gonzaga for my second start and pitched okay, but my elbow started to hurt so I told our trainer.”
The decision was made to take a week off. After accompanying the team to the next series at the University of Oregon, Burgmann went home to Nanaimo to undergo an MRI.
Burgmann had a choice whether to take some time off from throwing and try to come back, or to have the elbow surgery.
“I had the same symptoms in high school and I worked through it, but the symptoms came back, so this time it was the right decision to do the surgery,” Burgmann said.
“I was crushed at first,” Burgmann recalls. “I love to be out there with my team, helping my brothers.”
It was a necessary bump in the road says Burgmann, who was taken in the 30th round of the 2016 MLB draft by St. Louis, but opted to go to Washington.
“I never thought it would get to this point of needing Tommy John, but I truly believe it was best for my future,” he said.
The procedure took place on April 10, 2017 at the University of Washington medical centre. What awaited the Vauxhall Academy alum, was a marathon year-long recovery process.
“The first six months were the longest,” he said. “Once I got out of the soft cast, it was about a month and a half working on my range of motion. From there, I added exercises for about a month, and then got back in the weight room.”
“At six months, I started playing light catch. My mechanics were loose and needed work, and I had to gradually build my strength back up, but it felt good to be able to throw again.”
Burgmann points to his family and UW pitching coach Jason Kelly, who had been through the same procedure, as key people he leaned on throughout the process.
“I lean on my family in anything I do; they’re my rock,” he said. “Jason told me that I had one of the smoothest Tommy John recoveries he had seen, and assured me that it was long but it would be worth it.”
He also received guidance from teammate Alex Hardy, a fifth-year senior right-hander for the Huskies, who had also had the surgery as a freshman.
“Alex helped me mentally, and helped with me manage my expectations of the process,” Burgmann said. “I can’t thank him enough; he’s like a brother to me.”
As he inched closer to return early in the spring, Burgmann and his coaches targeted the Huskies’ second conference series this past weekend at top-ranked Oregon State.
He didn’t get in to either game on Saturday, but plans were to get him into the final game on Sunday.
“I had a bit of an anxious night on Saturday for sure, knowing that I was going to get an inning on Sunday,” Burgmann said. “We had planned on me starting a clean inning, but that didn’t happen; the leadoff hitter singled and they wanted me to go in.”
The change of script didn’t faze him.
“I was really excited,” Burgmann said. “That was the coolest, most satisfying feeling, having success against the top team in the country. The most important thing was being back with my brothers and helping my team have success in a great team win.”
Any goals that Burgmann has for the remainder of the spring are all team-oriented.
“I want to help my team win any way I can, whatever role that might be,” he said. “Building my pitch count up to be able to start games would be great, but it doesn’t matter. Whatever the team needs.”
Burgmann says hopes are high for UW to make noise in the Pac-12 this year, and they have started strong, posting a 6-3 record in Pac-12 play, including a conference-opening sweep of Arizona.
To date, the former Canadian Junior National Team hurler has worked to a 3.38 ERA in five appearances, one start, covering eight innings.
Burgmann is one of two Canadians on the Washington roster, joined this year by freshman southpaw Jack Decooman of North Vancouver, B.C., who has worked to a 1.17 ERA in three appearances, including one start.
“We’re just going to take it one game at a time, but we have a good team for sure,” said Burgmann.
That is just how the Nanaimo right-hander worked himself back to the mound; one day at a time with a good team.