LINCOLN -- Doctors made Tom Lemke a promise. They'd do everything they could to keep him alive.
"Baseball wasn't really a subject at the time," said Lemke, a 6-foot-8 junior right-hander who will start for Nebraska (20-11, 3-3) against Iowa (12-14, 3-3) at 6:35 p.m. Friday at Haymarket Park. The series continues Saturday at 2:05 p.m. and Sunday at 1:05 p.m.
"My folks were pretty freaked out, but I was unconscious and out of it and I didn't know what really was going on," Lemke said.
Lemke was in the hospital for shoulder surgery last year when doctors discovered blood clots. Treating the clots came first, and so did a change in Lemke's perspective on life and baseball.
"I know it's a blessing to be alive first, and to be pitching, well, that's extra right now," the Phoenix native said.
Lemke didn't pitch from June 2011 until late last fall. He didn't face a batter in live scrimmaging until October.
Husker head coach Darin Erstad took his time, letting Lemke rebuild his strength and endurance.
"I had some bones removed in my shoulder, so I had to learn to pitch all over again," said Lemke, a 10th-round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2009.
So far so good.
In six starts, Lemke is 3-2 with a 4.13 earned-run average. He's struck out 13 and walked seven and given up 16 hits in 32 2/3 innings.
He's getting better each week, too, Erstad said.
Taking the mound in the series opener is important, not only to Lemke but to the Huskers. He earned the victory in last Friday's win against Northwestern. The Huskers dropped the next two games.
"The Friday night guy has to set the tone, throw hard and throw to compete on every pitch," Lemke said. "We believe it all starts with pitching, especially when we're home."
Lemke had adjusted his pitching motion - taking the ball straight back and a "quick-arm" windup and delivery - to adjust to his new shoulder and all the time he spent recovering from the blood clots.
"Because of what I went through, I will not take anything for granted - pitching, living, everything," Lemke said. "I still think about the doctors telling me, 'First and foremost, we're going to try and keep you alive.' They couldn't say if I'd play baseball again and they aren't sure how much longer I can throw. I hope I can finish out here and pitch in the future. I keep getting stronger and I'm really happy I have a chance to pitch now. I don't worry about the next game or the next inning. Just what I can do right now."