Hungry Ohman Hoping for Call-up

<B>DES MOINES, Iowa</B> - Will Ohman has pitched incredibly well for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs in four out of the five games he has appeared in this season. Ohman's one rough outing was his April 9 debut when he allowed four runs in one inning. Since then, he has been on top of his game, having pitched five consecutive innings without allowing a hit, and recording eight strikeouts and zero walks in the process.

"I have gotten the outs when I needed to," Ohman said.

Ohman was in the running to make the Cubs' major league roster as a left-handed reliever following a strong winter in the Mexican League. But he struggled in Spring Training and is once again a member of the Triple-A Iowa Cubs for a third year.

The southpaw has a distant memory of Wrigley Field and the major leagues. He was called up to Chicago in 2000 and 2001 before undergoing two separate "Tommy John" surgeries, which sidelined him for two seasons. Ohman has not returned to the majors since the procedures.

"I think I am leaps and bounds ahead of where I was when I was 24 (his age at the time of the first surgery)," Ohman said. "When you have a surgery like that, it really puts things into perspective; it makes you bear down. I feel that I have come a long way and that I am a much more polished pitcher."

If or when Ohman returns to the majors, he will join Corey Patterson, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood as the only members of the Don Baylor era still on the active 25-man roster. Ohman is so far removed from the majors that he only recently begun working with pitching coach Larry Rothschild this spring.

"This is Larry's fourth year in the organization, and he said to me, ‘This is the first time I have seen you throw,' " Ohman said. "What he has been trying to instill in me is to try and throw one pitch at a time and not to worry about the previous pitch.

"When you limit things to that small of a window, it allows for total concentration per pitch and gives you a better chance for success."

Ohman was selected out of Pepperdine University in the eighth round of baseball's annual draft in 1998. Now 27, he has seen the Cubs' organization change dramatically in seven-plus years.

"The expectations were there when Jim Hendry became general manager," Ohman said. "I got along great with Baylor, but getting Dusty Baker was next in line for them to do their best to improve."

The Cubs released Ohman after he missed the 2003 season, but the left-hander returned to the organization in February 2004. He spent last year in Des Moines and appeared in 45 games with a 3-3 record and 4.30 ERA.

"I feel 100 percent now, but you never feel the same after you have the surgery," Ohman said. "I started to feel really good toward the end of (last) year and in Mexico."

Ohman knows he was given a good chance to make the major league team out of spring camp this year, but the Cubs traded for Cliff Bartosh of Cleveland to fill one of the final bullpen spots.

"It's never fun," Ohman said of being left off the 25-man roster. "I was told I had just as much of an opportunity as anybody. I did not perform as well as I did in the past and I just didn't put up the numbers to earn an opening day spot. I have never performed well in Spring Training, though. I love the adrenaline of the season."

With one eye on the major league team, Ohman will continue to toil for the I-Cubs. With brief big league experience under his belt and a healthy arm, he knows 2005 could be the year he returns to the majors.

"I'm hungry for it," Ohman said. "There is never a doubt in my mind about what I want to do. I have something to prove here. The Cubs didn't throw two years away on me, and I didn't waste two years of my career being injured.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hoping my phone rings."

Scott Sabin is the contributing editor of Inside The Ivy. Write to Scott at scott@insidetheivy.com.

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