Illinois cautious with Duchene's arm

CHAMPAIGN — One season after losing its pitching ace to an injury, Illinois will play its first Big Ten baseball series of 2014 without its No. 1 starter for the same reason.

Left-hander Kevin Duchene, the 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, is dealing with a left forearm strain and has been ruled out for this weekend against Purdue at Illinois Field. The three-game series begins at 4 p.m. today.

“As long as he’s sore, we’ll continue to hold him out and make sure he’s 100 percent healthy — as we do with all our pitchers,” UI coach Dan Hartleb said.

Duchene (2-1, 1,70 ERA) last pitched on March 14 at Southern Illinois, when he recorded a  complete-game victory.

Last season, a forearm strain sidelined then-Illini senior ace Kevin Johnson for all but one inning of the final six weeks.

The injury can be concerning because for some pitchers, including former Illini Jimmy Journell, a forearm strain was a precursor to serious elbow problems.

Journell — a 1999 second-team All-American and fourth-round draft choice by the St. Louis Cardinals — eventually required elbow ligament-transplant surgery.

However, Hartleb indicated that Duchene is experiencing soreness in a different area of the forearm and that his elbow is structurally sound.

Hartleb said Duchene currently is not throwing and is restricted to conditioning only.

However, he is on track to begin playing catch next week, according to the UI coach.

Taking this cautious approach, Hartleb said, is in Duchene’s and the team’s best interests.

“We want to get him back as soon as possible, but if you continue to run guys out there and they get sore time after time after time and you don’t ever let it heal or get to 100 percent, then I’m not sure you have them 100 percent at any time during the year,” Hartleb said. “I just don’t want a guy at 70 percent when we have guys that are 100 percent that we can run out there. And then we don’t risk further injury.”

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