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April 10, 2013If Kyle Kubat's arm issue seems mysterious to you, you're not alone. The lefty hurler is right there with you.
On Wednesday afternoon, Kubat conducted his first interviews with the media since being shut down with arm soreness at the beginning of the season. Near the end of his session, one of the reporters commented that this was one of the strangest injuries he had ever seen.
Kubat looked at the ground and said wistfully, "I know. It's weird. But you have to take it as they come."
No one expected Kubat to be dealing with this in the preseason. The sophomore became Nebraska's ace in the second half of 2012, posting a 5-1 record with a 2.63 ERA in 15 appearances, eight of which were starts. He ended up being NU's Friday night starter during conference play and his emergence was one of the big reasons the Huskers made the Big Ten tournament.
Nothing but further greatness was expected this spring. There was a bit of a red flag in the fall, when the NU coaches decided to shut Kubat down for a few days after he pitched a heavy workload for his summer team. But the pitcher understood that the staff was just trying to give him a break and didn't think much of it.
But about a week before Nebraska opened its 2013 season at Cal State Bakersfield, Kubat could tell something wasn't right with his arm. He sat down with Darin Erstad and the two determined it was best that he stayed home and rested.
"It was very hard. It's something I wasn't planning on," Kubat said. "I was very excited for this nonconference schedule as an individual and to help this team win. This is the first time I've ever had to take a step back from the game."
The lefty ended up missing the entire nonconference slate and the waiting period spilled into Big Ten play. Kubat grew so desperate for baseball that he paid his own way to go watch Nebraska play at Illinois three weeks ago. Finally, he was listed on the active roster and traveled with the team to Iowa last weekend, where he got loose in the bullpen once but didn't see any game action. Kubat said he feels about 85-90 percent of where he wants to be.
"It's just a lingering tiredness, a soreness," Kubat said trying to describe the issue. "As a pitcher, if you don't have an elbow, you don't have an arm. You can't do anything. We're taking it slow. The whole coaching staff has been great. They'd rather not have me now earlier in the season than go up to the postseason and try to rush me back, then maybe be out for the rest of this season and next season and just make it worse. We took it slow and hopefully I'll be out there this weekend."
Whether or not Kubat gets a shot this weekend against Ohio State will be determined by how his arm responds to a simulated game Wednesday. He was scheduled to throw two innings or about 20-25 pitches to live hitters. Erstad said that the Huskers will evaluate how he performed in that session and how the arm feels on Thursday and Friday before making any determinations on playing time.
The Huskers could certainly use his return. Erstad has been shuffling the weekend rotation a lot lately, searching for a trio of arms that can produce with consistency. So far, the solution has evaded the Huskers - Nebraska is second to last in the Big Ten with a team ERA of 5.12.
But whenever Kubat returns, Erstad isn't expecting him to be the team's savior. He cares about Kubat's long-term health first and will do what it takes to keep his hurler feeling well.
"The first thing I'm not going to do is put all that pressure on him that he comes back and he's the savior," Erstad said. "That's not the case. I'm just taking it day by day and seeing where he's at."