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Northwestern pitcher Luke Farrell back in groove after surgery to remove tumor

Luke Farrell sBlue Jays manager John Ferrell had 2.18 ERA 14 ­appearances this seassince moving bullpen. | Stephen J. Carrera~Northwestern

Luke Farrell, the son of Blue Jays manager John Ferrell, had a 2.18 ERA in 14 ­appearances this season since moving to the bullpen. | Stephen J. Carrera~Northwestern

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Updated: July 1, 2012 12:45PM



Luke Farrell was shocked, and not in a good way.

It was August 2011, and the Northwestern junior pitcher had just finished a checkup and found out that a tumor had returned to the left side of his jaw. In the fall of 2009, Farrell had surgery to remove a similar tumor, which turned out to be benign, three weeks before he was supposed to begin his freshman year at NU.

“I always knew a portion of it would come back because some of it had been left behind [after the last surgery],” Farrell said. “But never in a million years did I think it would come back in two years. It had grown back pretty rapidly.”

The timing couldn’t have been worse. The right-hander was pitching for the Wareham (Mass.) Gatemen in the Cape Cod League. He had thrown 361/3 innings in eight games, giving up 35 hits and 18 earned runs while striking out 33. He was 4-4 with a 4.46 ERA.

He found out the tumor returned a day before his last start. In September, Farrell was back in a hospital bed at Massachusetts General in Boston.

“The growth was a shock to all of us,” said Luke’s father, John, who also is the Toronto Blue Jays’ manager. “Once we processed the information and looked at the situation, we had to meet the challenge. And there was a lot of wondering why [it returned].”

Like the last tumor, the oblong-shaped mass was benign, but Farrell still needed radiation therapy for six weeks so the mass wouldn’t return. Doctors used proton beam radiation, a special type of therapy better suited for Farrell’s case.

“Before, there were so many unknowns,” John Farrell said. “Now we had an optimistic view, and this new radiation that was available should completely kill those tumor cells.”

But Farrell had complications after the surgery. He lost 80 percent of his voice for three months and had partial paralysis in his throat. The radiation therapy burned some of Farrell’s hair and gave him sore throats.

“The radiation was a grind,” said Farrell, who returned to NU for the winter quarter. “It was five days a week. You feel terrible after the surgery, and you make a small gain and then you start these treatments and get worse. It’s supposed to be helping your body, but you feel so crappy.”

It didn’t get any better by the time the Wildcats started the season in March. Farrell, who was considered the staff’s ace a year ago, was too tired to pitch in the rotation, so he was sent to the bullpen. It was the perfect place for him to get his strength back.

The Wildcats finished their season Sunday with a 4-0 loss to Saint Louis in Evanston. They finished 18-36 overall and 6-18 in the Big Ten.

In 512/3 innings, Farrell gave up 65 hits and 35 earned runs while walking 26 and striking out 50. He finished with a 6.10 ERA, but since being moved to the bullpen, he had a 2.18 ERA in 14 appearances with three saves.

Farrell’s six-month checkup in April was clean, and he plans to go back to the Cape Cod League this summer.

“I was a little nervous, and I wasn’t going to rule any possibility out,” Farrell said. “The last month and a half I’ve felt pretty much back to normal. There’s been a clear shift in my season.”



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