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Jake Roehn, a sophomore majoring in sociology-criminology and the closing pitcher for OU, poses for a portrait at Bob Wren Stadium on Tuesday. 

Closing time: A new beginning for Jake Roehn's shoulder throws him at the end of the bullpen

Pitcher Jake Roehn has transformed from Ohio's ace to the team's closer.

It’s a cold Sunday afternoon at Bob Wren Stadium, and Ohio needs to find a way to heat up. Its lead is 3-1 in the top of the eighth.

Redshirt sophomore pitcher Jake Roehn exits the bullpen and begins his jog to the mound. He’s got the club’s best earned run average as well as its best strikeout-to-walk ratio.

With six outs to go, coach Rob Smith has called in his closer.

The Starter

When you ask him what went wrong, Roehn can’t muster much more than a smile and a shake of his head.

He’s not referring to a blown save or a hung curveball. He’s talking about his shoulder.

As a freshman, Roehn became the ace of Ohio’s pitching staff during the worst season of the program’s history. In the 2014 season, he threw more innings than anyone else on the staff.

Entering 2015, Roehn was expected to be the Friday starter again, but something was off. His shoulder was sore, his velocity was down and his mechanics weren’t what they’d been before.

Eventually, doctors and coaches settled on a conclusion: Dead Arm Syndrome.

“It’s one of those injuries you can’t really explain,” Roehn said. “There was a little bit of pain in the shoulder to begin with, but then there was no pain at all. I felt fine throwing, but my velocity wasn’t there and nobody could figure out why.”

Dead Arm is a relatively common ailment among major league pitchers, and despite the name, typically stems from overuse of the shoulder. It sometimes requires surgery to fix, but fortunately for Roehn, he was able to bring it back with rest and back exercises.

Though the injury didn’t need surgery, it caused Roehn to miss the entire 2015 MAC championship-winning season.

Roehn smoothly transitioned back into the staff, free from a heavy workload, thanks to strong pitching depth. 

During the first 12 games of the season, Roehn appeared in five games, allowing one run in eight innings.

With the starters struggling early on, Jake Miller was moved from closer to a starting spot. That freed up the closer role — Roehn took it. 

"I’ve started to like it a lot more,” Roehn said. “I’ve been put into some high-pressure situations, and the juices are flowing."

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Once he secured the closer’s role, he cemented it. In 31 1/3 innings, Roehn has notched four saves and has held down a 2.30 ERA with 32 strikeouts and just eight walks.

His performance out of the back of the bullpen has led his coach to compare him to Logan Cozart, who was Ohio's closer last year and was the MAC Pitcher of the Year. Cozart pitches in Advanced-A ball for the Colorado Rockies.

“He gives us that same presence that we had at the end of the game last year with (Cozart),” Smith said. “Jake gives us a competitive presence late in the game that gives our team confidence that they’re going to win.”

The Closer

It's still cold, but Ohio's confidence is heating up. Roehn freezes the Bulls’ leadoff man with strike three and doesn’t stop throwing strikes after that. He works around an error by inducing a groundout and a pop-up. He gets two more flyouts to begin the ninth inning, then gets a groundout to end the game.

It’s just two innings, but they can mean so much more. Possessing a shutdown closer means pressure. It means forcing the opposing team to face your best pitcher two, maybe even three times in a series, instead of showing him for the first six innings of the series and sitting him the rest of the way.

Roehn may return as a starter in time and may even one day be the ace of the staff again. But as Ohio burns through the core of its MAC schedule, it will keep him right where it needs him — at the back of the bullpen, providing almost an automatic advantage for his team in any close game it plays.


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