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Pitching perspective

Once considered a prized prospect in the Atlanta Braves farm system, Medford's Cole Rohrbough has seen his world shift in a hurry and yet he's remarkably as content with where he is now as where he was before.

Rohrbough peaked as the No. 6 prospect in the Braves organization following the 2008 season but the left-handed pitcher recently suffered another unfortunate setback that ultimately led to his outright release on May 8.

Having already endured lengthy stints on the disabled list due to torn ligaments in his left ankle and a shoulder injury related to him pitching through his foot ailment, the sixth-year professional hurt his pitching elbow during a relief appearance on May 2 and that was the final straw for the Braves and Rohrbough.

"They were just over it with all my rehabs," said Rohrbough of the organization's decision. "I get it, it's a business. I get that you can't continue to rehab the same people forever. They gave me a lot of opportunities and always stuck with me throughout my injuries and it just finally hit a breaking point."

It's something every ballplayer has to deal with at some point, having to say goodbye to the game on a competitive level, but Rohrbough said he's at peace with the move.

"It's a very hard pill for me to swallow because I know that I'm good enough to pitch in the big leagues when I'm healthy," said Rohrbough, "but at the same time I have a pretty good peace of mind because I know I worked hard and did everything I could. The Braves organization knows that and even called to tell me how much they respected my work for them.

"They know I just had some bad luck with injuries but I always worked hard and did everything I could. It's just one of those things I've got to take with a grain of salt, I guess, and move on with the next stage in my life."

Rohrbough has been setting himself up for a life beyond the minor league bus rides and major league dreams by teaching private pitching lessons in the area over the past two years and is now set to help spearhead the efforts at America's Best Kids Athletic Edge, a 6,000 square foot indoor baseball facility behind Lava Lanes at 1904 Skypark Drive.

"I'm super excited about Athletic Edge because I know that it can really help the baseball in this area," he said. "I'm just excited to get involved with all the Little League and youth coaches and just help the kids out any way I can. It has a lot of potential, we just have to start getting the word out there and let everyone know what we offer and get people to come in there and talk to us to find out how we can help them with our facility."

The former North Medford High and Western Nevada Community College standout exploded on the scene in 2007 after coming to terms with the Braves, who drafted him in the 22nd round one year prior. Rohrbough was named a Baseball America Rookie All-Star in 2007 after splitting time in Danville, Va., and Rome, Ga., where he combined to go 5-2 with a 1.17 ERA thanks to an almost 5-to-1 ratio in strikeouts (96) to walks (20) in 611/3 innings.

Unfortunately for the 25-year-old Rohrbough, that was the last time he made it through a season completely healthy. He hurt his ankle training during his first offseason and that went untreated despite his lingering concern over the pain until 2008 was complete and he eventually had ankle surgery. Favoring the injury created stress on his shoulder and he underwent a minor surgery to tighten things up but there were no structural issues.

Rohrbough appeared to be back on track this season after making it through only 232/3 innings in the 2010 and '11 campaigns. His first five appearances with the Rome Braves of the Class A South Atlantic League were almost flawless, with no runs allowed against only two hits with one walk and four strikeouts.

He hit his first obstacle on April 25 in a road loss to the Hagerstown Suns when he allowed four runs in 12/3 innings after giving up two hits, walking five and striking out four. In that game, Hagerstown had the bases loaded with two outs when Rohrbough induced a pop-up to second base that was misplayed due to some miscommunication and fell to the ground without a play. The Suns' next player hit a home run.

"If you erase that one outing before that (on April 25), I was basically pitching perfect, really solid," he said. "My velocity was back and my curveball was back and I was liking the way I was feeling mentally on the mound."

Rohrbough responded with two scoreless innings of relief work three nights later but had his career come to an end May 2 against Hagerstown. He was asked to warm up and be ready to come in to pitch three times before finally getting into the extra-inning affair. On the last pitch of his first inning of relief, Rohrbough felt a pop in his elbow while throwing a curveball and considerable pain ensued.

Working off adrenaline, Rohrbough went out to pitch for another inning but noticed a definite drop in his velocity and control. He went on to allow two runs on four hits with two strikeouts in 12/3 innings of work, but knew something just wasn't right.

"I didn't have a good feeling about it," he said. "We were hoping it was a flexor pronator muscle strain and treated it that way and it didn't get any better. They just kept telling me we'll see how it responds in a few days but it wasn't getting any better and I think they had an idea it wasn't going to be good."

An MRI that followed by Dr. Hal Townsend in Ashland revealed a tear in Rohrbough's ulnar collateral ligament — often referred to as the Tommy John ligament — with no surgery but a full rehab given as a treatment plan. Faced with the prospect of not likely returning to top form until 2014 and being a 27-year-old seeking a shot in a new organization, Rohrbough decided it was best to focus on his family — he and wife Lisa are parents to 31/2-year-old son Caiden.

"It's a long period of time with no guarantees and I just got done rehabbing my shoulder for two years," he said. "I'm just ready to move on. It was a good experience and I really don't have any regrets. I learned a lot in my time (in the minor leagues) and plan to put all that to good use back here."

Rohrbough, who also has designs on training to be a firefighter, worked with Athletic Edge last year so he's familiar with the facility and the goals put forth by ABK president Don Berryessa. Rohrbough was teaching 20 pitching lessons per week in the last offseason and is particularly excited about a $25 per month membership Athletic Edge is offering that allows players to hit off the facilities' top-of-the-line machines during open hours (10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 3:30-7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m-2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday).

"The whole culture of baseball is dying in the area and the numbers are dwindling among all the programs and we think we can help with that," said Rohrbough.

Rohrbough said he also plans to implement a complete pitching program that tackles all aspects of the position, with participants able to sign up for specific areas or gain a financial break for signing up for multiple areas of interest.

"With all the people I've met along the way and all I've been through I've learned a lot about pitching and about what you can do to stay healthy," he said. "I've seen all the top specialists and know I can be of help to all the young pitchers out there."

For more information on Athletic Edge, contact Rohrbough at 541-245-0432 ext. 409 or visit www.abkfun.com.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Cold Rohrbough, left, trains Luke Dusenbury during a private lesson Thursday at Athletic Edge. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore