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O’Sullivan getting back to 2016 form

Joliet pitcher Liam O'Sullivan is 5-2 with a 3.07 ERA this season after returning from an injury. He is one of four Slammers who will take part in Wednesday's Frontier League All-Star Game.[]

JOLIET – After taking 2017 off to recover from surgery, Liam O’Sullivan returned to the Joliet Slammers with hopes of trying to recapture some of the magic that he enjoyed on the mound in 2016, when he was named the Frontier League’s Pitcher of the Year.

That’s when he went 11-1 with a 3.32 ERA with 109 strikeouts and
26 walks in 1212/3 innings and won a playoff game for the Slammers, who won the East Division championship.

His 2018 season didn’t get off to a good start with two losses and a no-decision in his first three starts. Then, his ERA shot up to 6.84 about a month ago. But O’Sullivan has returned to his form of 2016 during his past five starts.

He won four straight decisions and just missed out on another win in perhaps his best effort of the year. In those five starts, O’Sullivan allowed only three earned runs in 41 innings for a 0.66 ERA. During that stretch, he threw three complete games and two shutouts to drop his ERA to 3.07.

His 5-2 record and 41 strikeouts to 12 walks have helped the right-hander from South Grafton, Massachusetts, earn a spot on the Rookie team for this week’s league All-Star Game in O’Fallon, Missouri. That’s an honor he did not receive in 2016.

He joins three teammates as All-Stars: catcher Trey Fulton, first baseman Trenton Hill and third baseman Danny Zardon as All-Stars. At 27, O’Sullivan is one of the oldest players on the Rookies team, where he’ll be joined by Fulton and Hill, both of whom are starters. Zardon is on the Experienced team.

After yielding one run in six innings in a win June 12 at Southern Illinois, he tossed complete-game shutouts against Gateway and Traverse City before giving up two runs in another complete game against Lake Erie. In his last outing against Normal, O’Sullivan threw no-hit ball for 62/3 innings and allowed three hits in eight innings but got a no-decision.

“I’m just trying to improve in every start and get better as the season goes on,” O’Sullivan said. “And I just want to keep building off of what I’ve been doing in my last start and just continue to get better. I’m definitely blessed to be an All-Star, and I’m excited to represent the Slammers. I didn’t get to do that in 2016, but I’m looking forward to doing it this year.

“A lot of people are kind of sleeping on us a little bit since we only had four guys who were recognized as All-Stars, but we’ve got a couple of other guys who definitely qualify. It just shows why we’re in second place right now and have been playing well.”

None of O’Sullivan’s success comes as much of a surprise to Slammers manager Jeff Isom, who is very happy to have had a talented performer like him who also has been a valuable team leader for two of the past three seasons.

“He was Pitcher of the Year
two years ago and had a heck of a season,” Isom said. “He knew he was banged up and had to get that surgery, and when you come back from a major surgery, you don’t know what to expect. But I remember his first outing in spring training, and he was throwing 82 miles [per] hour, and it wasn’t real pretty. But he’s always had a good attitude with everything. I’m just able that he was able to get back from major surgery.

“We knew that he was going to take some time to knock some rust off. There’s nothing like getting into the game and getting yourself game-ready. It took him a little while, but once he got it, his stuff is getting closer to being back to where he was two years ago. He’s a guy who used to throw 91 or 92 [mph] at times, and now he has to pitch at 87, 88 or 89, but his velocity is coming back, and he knows how to pitch. He’s a competitor, and it’s great having him out there on the mound in every fifth game. But in between, what people don’t see is what he brings on those other days. He’s like a pitching coach and a mentor and a clubhouse leader.”