- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2007

Left-hander Michael O’Connor will open the season on the disabled list while he recovers from November elbow surgery. O’Connor is the Nationals’ first true homegrown product, having played collegiately at George Washington after growing up in Ellicott City, Md. O’Connor opened last season at Class AAA New Orleans, but was called up on April 27 and made his big-league debut that night against the St. Louis Cardinals. O’Connor started 20 games last season and went 3-8 with a 4.80 ERA in 105 innings. Ken Wright caught up with O’Connor last week to see how his rehab is progressing and what he expects this season.

Q: Are you surprised your elbow is still like this?

A: It’s definitely taking longer than I thought. I haven’t had any injuries in my career, this is the first time dealing with it. So, it’s definitely been a long process, but it’s gone by quickly, but it’s still been long. The whole offseason I had to deal with it. Going to rehab and there is a lot that goes into it that people don’t know about I guess.

Q: When do you think you can participate again? What are you doing right now?

A: Right now, I’m just throwing on flat ground. I’m at 105 feet, that’s the furthest I’ve gone at this point. I think in another couple weeks and then I’ll be off the mound and then from there, I’m not sure how long it’s going to take from there. As long as everything goes smoothly, the trainers, they pretty much make the schedule and I just tell them how everything felt and how it went. As long as everything goes well, they move things along.

Q: Are you feeling any pain in your elbow?

A: No, it feels good. There are no problems.

Q: So, is it fair to say that you are trying to build strength right now?

A: Yeah, you don’t want to rush back and have a problem and then you’re going to start over again. That’s why they are real cautious at the beginning. So, if you have a setback, that could push things back further. I’m trying to avoid having a setback. That’s a big thing right now.

Q: Are you a little disappointed that you’re most likely going to open the season on the disabled list?

A: For sure. From last year, my first season up there, I mean definitely, coming into my second year, this isn’t how I want things to go obviously. This is disappointing, but I’ve got to make the best out of it and work hard to get back where I was at last year.

Q: What did you think of your first season?

A: I thought I did pretty well. At the end I struggled a little and in the middle of the season. I felt like I finished the season pretty well. It’s definitely something to learn from. A lot of stuff that had happened and just learning how to pitch up there is different than pitching in the minor leagues obviously. It’s something that’s going to help me in the future just getting that experience last year pitching in all those games and everything.

Q: When you found out that you could pitch at this level, is there any substitute for that?

A: Yeah, for sure. The biggest thing is knowing, and to a lot of people it’s tough to say, Oh, you can go up there and get people out. After last year, I know that I can do that.

Q: When do you think you’re going to be back?

A: I don’t want to set a date right now and not be able to reach that. At this point, May would be probably be quick for how things have progressed so far and the schedule they’ve had me on, but it’s not really up to me 100 percent. I can’t say that I want to be back then. It’s really on them, on the trainers and the doctors. They’ve dealt with this more than I have. If it was up to me, I would have said, from the time I had the surgery I would say that I want to be ready by Opening Day. Obviously, that’s when you want to be ready for the season. You don’t want to miss any part of the season ever. But, I mean, it’s just being cautious and making sure this isn’t something that does further damage and the problem doesn’t come back.

Q: What actually is the injury?

A: I had cartilege in my elbow that was partially, like, torn, I guess and they removed that. And, I had a bone spur on the back of my elbow.

Q: With elbows, I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry?

A: Yeah, you don’t want to rush back and then all of a sudden it’s Tommy John, or something like that. You’ve got to give it time to build the strength back up. When you try to rush back, that’s when … it just takes time to work back into.

Q: Do you feel different than some of the guys because you played college baseball in Washington and grew up in the area? Do you think the fans relate better to you than some of the other players?

A: No, we don’t have any other guys from D.C., but I don’t think anybody is looking at me differently. I don’t know. I think it’s nice to do that, but I think everybody is happy to be here. As lomg as you’re in the big leagues, I think people would play anywhere. It’s nice to play at home. I’ve been fortunate to be able to do that.

Q: When you got that first callup, what was that like?

A: It was kind of one of those things that you don’t really believe it until you get there. It didn’t seem like it was really going to happen. It’s tough to put that into words. I was in Triple-A in New Orleans. I never went to Double-A. I was in high Class A for two years and then the next year started in Triple-A about a month and then got called up.

Q: Since you grew up in Ellicott City, do you keep an eye on the Baltimore Orioles?

A: I guess I may pay a little more attention. I just follow the game in general. I have an idea what’s going on, but I may pay a little more attention to them just because it’s the team I grew up watching.

Q: Who was like your idol on those Orioles teams?

A: On that team, they had a lot of good players when I was really big into it. They had Cal Ripken, Mike Mussina, Rafael Palmeiro, Robby Alomar all of those guys. They had some really good teams back then. So, it’s tough to say one of those guys, but if I had to pick one, I would say Mussina since he was a pitcher and he was their ace the whole time there.

Q: Do you have any good college memories?

A: Finally in our senior year we won the conference championship and went to the NCAA tournament. We beat Richmond, they were a top 25 team when I was there. They had a couple guys get drafted pretty high out of there. Winning the conference championship was probably the biggest thing.

Q: What do you do when you’re not playing baseball?

A: When I’m not playing baseball? TV, video games, golf. That’s about it.

Q: You’re still so young. Have you laid down any career goals you would like to meet by a certain age or anything you would like to accomplish by a certain year?

A: No. I’ve never set goals. All I try to do is make sure that I work as hard as I can and do all the stuff I need to do to set myself up to have success and the rest should take care of itself and not worry about statistics and all that stuff. Just try and worry about things I can control.

Q: Are you planning on adding any pitches?

A: Not at this point. I’ve got a lot of work to do at this point. I don’t think that’s the thing I need to worry about right now. It’s not really something I’m working on right now.

Q: Where is your favorite restaurant in Washington?

A: Not one specifically that I go to all the time. I try not to go to the same places there. I go down to the waterfront in Georgetown right there at Sequoia, I like that one.

Q: Since you have spent so much time in the District, what’s your favorite thing or area of D.C.?

A: I guess the monuments, the reflecting pool. There’s nowhere else that has something like really. That kind of mall and all the stuff, the White House in that area.

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