Cohl Walla can’t field fly balls, can’t run the base paths and can’t even practice. He hobbles when he jogs, limps when he walks and would fall over if he tried to sprint.
Walla, who is plagued by a bone contusion in his left knee, can’t do much more than stand idly in the batter’s box and swing away — although that still hurts a little.
But there he was Tuesday night, fresh off the training room table, pinch-hitting and punching a ball through the left side of the infield, scoring Texas’ final run of the night and putting the proverbial dagger through the heart of UT-Pan American.
“That hit was big,” said freshman right fielder Mark Payton. “It really put them away.”
When Walla fouled a pitch off his left knee against Oral Roberts on March 29, he tried to fight through the pain, return to the batter’s box to finish his at-bat. He couldn’t do it; it hurt too bad. Walla limped back to the dugout and hoped that it was nothing serious.
“Initially, I thought it’d be like a two- to three-day-injury,” he said. “I had no idea it would be this bad.”
An MRI came back clean, but Walla was still in enormous pain. The fastest guy on the team, and a staple in center field, was grounded. When his teammates practiced, he’d be stuck on the treadmill. Or the stationary bike. Sometimes, he’d muster up the strength to squat light weight.
“I have been doing whatever I can to get back into playing shape,” he said. “But I can’t run — at all.”
Tuesday night proved as much. His run to first base after his hit was, as best described by Walla, “just bad.” Upon reaching, he was replaced by pinch-runner Dex Kjerstad.
“Walla said before the game that if he had an opportunity to pinch-hit, he’d do it,” said head coach Augie Garrido. “It worked out, he produced. But he can’t run for long periods of time, so I took him out of the game immediately.”
While a timetable for Walla’s return to the everyday lineup isn’t set — he doesn’t think he’ll be able to travel to Lawrence this week to play Kansas — he’s optimistic about a quick return.
“I can’t really play right now. I can pinch-hit though,” he said. “The injury is getting better. My leg’s pretty swollen, but hopefully I’ll be good to go in a week or so.”
Payton says that Walla’s determination has been an inspiration in his own rehab this season. Against Baylor on March 10, Payton rolled his ankle coming to a quick halt at third base and has been nursing it for about a week.
“Cohl is doing everything he can to get back and help this team,” said Payton, who went 3-4 Tuesday night, including plating the go-ahead run in the eighth. “He hates sitting. Today showed his heart.”