Nov. 14, 2003
Notre Dame junior righthanded pitcher John Axford (Port Dover, Ontario) underwent “Tommy John” reconstructive elbow surgery in the first week of November and is slated to miss the entire 2004 season. Axford was expected to be one of the top starters on a 2004 staff that includes the deepest pitching talent in the program’s history.
“This is a frustrating break for John but we expect him to make a full recovery and be back pitching for Notre Dame in the 2005 season,” said 10th-year Notre Dame head coach Paul Mainieri.
“We always have been a team that has rallied when faced with injuries and other challenges, and I certainly expect our team to respond in the same way for the upcoming season. The prognosis is good for a full recovery and John will have the support of everyone in this program while undergoing the rehabilitation process under the expert care of our athletic trainer Mike Bean.”
Axford posted a 9-3 record in the 2003 season, tying classmate Chris Niesel for the team lead, while also ranking second on the staff in strikeouts (69) and games started (13) and third in innings pitched (71.0). The 6-5, 180-pounder’s other 2003 stats included a 4.31 ERA, 50 walks, 63 hits allowed, a .245 opponent batting average, 14 wild pitches and five hit batters in 14 appearances. His average of 8.75 strikeouts per nine innings ranked second on the staff (trailing only Ryan Doherty’s 13.8) while he tied Niesel for the team lead with 26 strikeouts “looking.” Axford also ranked fourth on the 2003 staff for lowest opponent batting average with runners on base (.238) while his average of 8.0 hits allowed per nine innings was fifth-best on the staff.
His first two seasons with the Irish include a 4.13 ERA and 14-5 record in 31 appearance (25 starts), with 133 strikeouts, 109 walks, 122 hits allowed, a .243 opponent batting average, 21 wild pitches and 11 hit batters in 141.2 innings.
Axford’s classmates Niesel and Grant Johnson form the core of Notre Dame’s veteran pitchers – with senior lefthander Joe Thaman (the team’s starting first baseman in 2000-02) also emerging as one of the staff’s top pitchers during the 2003 fall season. Thaman joins Niesel and Johnson as the probable three-man starting rotation heading into spring practice.
Notre Dame’s freshman class – rated sixth-best in the nation, by Baseball America – boasts six highly-regarded pitchers, including high school All-Americans Jeff Manship, Derik Olvey and Chris Vasami.