Bulldogs' Wojo has got his mojo working

Asher Wojciechowski

At the time, it seemed like a bad break for a good kid.

Citadel pitcher Asher Wojciechowski, coming off a promising freshman season in 2008, suffered a lower back strain last season that sidelined him for about a month of down-the-stretch baseball.

"It was tough to sit out that long," Wojciechowski says now.

In retrospect, it may have been a blessing in disguise.

Since returning from that injury, Wojo is 7-0 with an ERA of 2.39. That includes a complete-game five-hitter in a 5-1 win over Elon in the Southern Conference tournament last year, and a 6-0 start with a 2.70 ERA for the Bulldogs (19-7, 9-0) this season heading into this weekend's SoCon series at Wofford.

Oh, he also went 2-1 with a 2.18 ERA in five appearancesfor the U.S. national team last summer.

All together, that's a 9-1 record pitching for school and country since coming back from injury. No wonder the 6-4, 235-pound right-hander is drawing droves of pro scouts at his Friday night starts this season.

"That lower-back strain he suffered last year may have been the best thing to help him in his development and his career," Bulldogs coach Fred Jordan said. "It really helped him harness his rhythm and made him more aware of his mechanics. He's still a power pitcher, but really has a better understanding of how to pitch."

Wojo's numbers this season -- 59 strikeouts and just 14 walks in 40 innings pitched, with opponents batting a paltry .225 against him -- have drawn notice. He's been named to the College Baseball Foundation's pitcher of the year watch list and has twice been selected SoCon pitcher of the week.

An article in Baseball America compared him to former Red Sox star Curt Schilling in that he "is a hard worker with a commanding mound presence."

It might be heady stuff for a player less even-keeled than Wojciechowski. But this son of a missionary, who's lived in Florida, the Dominican Republic, Romania, Michigan and Beaufort, takes it all in stride.

"I just have a lot more confidence this year," said Wojciechowski, who was 3-3 with a 4.39 ERA last season. "And it seems like we score a lot of runs every Friday night. I do what I can, but the team is the key. We're scoring a lot of runs and playing good defense behind me."

Wojo is modest, of course. He's added a fourth pitch to his arsenal this season, a changeup that complements a low 90s fastball, a slider and a curveball.

Ironically, Elon coach Mike Kennedy has played a key role in Wojciechowski's development. After Wojo struck out 15 Elon batters in the SoCon Tournament last year, Kennedy recommended him for the U.S. National team, for which Kennedy served as pitching coach. Kennedy also helped Wojo develop his changeup.

The whole Team USA experience -- Wojciechowski struck out 29 batters in 20 2/3 innings over five appearances -- was another boost to his confidence heading into this season.

"Just playing with the best in the nation gave me a lot of confidence and some good exposure," he said. "It really helped me progress with my game."

Kennedy got another look at that progress on March 19, when Wojo struck out 11 Elon batters in eight innings of a 9-4 victory. In his last three starts, Wojciechowski has struck out 36 while walking two, including a dominating 138-pitch performance against Western Carolina on March 12. He struck out 14 while walking none and allowing six hits in eight innings of that 4-0 victory.

Outings like those have Wojciechowski shooting up the draft boards of major league teams, but he's trying not to think ahead to the June draft.

"It's in the back of my mind," he said. "But I just try to think about the game and the batter I'm facing."