After spending nine months fighting back pain and leg numbness, Arizona Wildcats pitcher Kenzie Fowler will have back surgery Thursday.
The operation - a microscopic lumbar diskectomy - will take place Thursday in Los Angeles. Dr. Robert G. Watkins III, who operated on former UA football star Rob Gronkowski's back in 2009, will do the surgery.
The Canyon Del Oro High School product expects to return in time to play her senior season this spring.
Fowler said she decided on surgery two or three weeks ago, when her balky back continued to hurt despite nine months of treatment.
She's looking forward to a more normal life, on and off the field.
"I was in a lot of pain last season," she said. "It's gotten worse over summer and it's definitely pretty bad right now.
"Living as a normal person is not fun. It's painful."
UA coach Mike Candrea said his three other pitchers could benefit from the extra innings during fall practice, which began Thursday.
He said it was hard to watch Fowler in pain the past nine months.
"They've tried to do everything they can," he said. "This is kinda a last resort, to say it's worth a try to surgically repair this.
"Hopefully she can have a season where's she not in pain."
Fowler has had trouble sleeping. She said she "hasn't had normal feeling in my legs for a while."
The right-hander can't pinpoint a specific play in which she hurt her back, though it started to bother her in January.
An epidural around that time eased the pain. Another, administered before the UA's playoff run, did not.
"I do expect to come back," she said. "The people I've talked to, the doctors are very confident I'll come back and be pain-free and be stronger and healthier."
Fowler said she hopes to feel better by Christmastime, which would give her time to get in game shape.
It's "hard to tell" how long recovery time will take, she said, because it varies on the patient.
"I'd like to think I'm in good shape," she said.
As a freshman, Fowler pitched the Wildcats to the finals of the Women's College World Series, becoming the first UA freshman in six years to be named a first-team All-American.
Her next two seasons, however, were fraught with injuries.
On April 17, 2011, Fowler was struck in the head by a line drive while sitting in the Wildcats' dugout. She missed two weeks with a concussion.
In three years, Fowler is 79-27 with a 1.95 ERA She's started 105 times and appeared 22 times in relief.
She said the pain affected her performance at times last year.