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Rebels thrown for a loss

As soon as his left elbow "snapped" during a practice in November, UNLV junior Efren Navarro Jr. had a good idea that he might not pitch this season.

After releasing a fastball, Navarro suffered a fractured elbow. He had difficulty explaining the injury.

"It was just a freak accident," he said. "This was a big year for me.

"Next thing you know, I get hurt."

The bad break was the first of several for the Rebels, who have endured plenty of pain and suffering.

UNLV, with a 14-29 overall record and a 3-9 mark in the Mountain West Conference, looks to stop a 10-game losing streak when it opens a three-game series against Utah (19-21, 7-5) at 6:30 p.m. today at Wilson Stadium.

The Rebels have not won since beating the Utes 5-4 on March 31 in Salt Lake City.

If things had gone according to plan, Navarro would be UNLV’s No. 1 starter this season, the pitcher put under the Friday night spotlight. Instead, he had a 3-inch screw inserted in his elbow, sabotaging his plans of being a two-way starter.

Navarro still is doing his part as a first baseman. He has played in 40 games, leads the team in batting average at .351 and has two home runs and 26 RBIs.

He’s also a slick fielder who has made just one error.

"He’s supposed to be our Friday night starter and play first base on Saturday and Sunday. Those would have been the expectations for him," Rebels coach Buddy Gouldsmith said. "Unfortunately, his arm hasn’t been able to stay healthy."

Navarro, from Lynwood, Calif., was one of Gouldsmith’s top recruits, and he made an immediate impact on the UNLV program.

As a freshman, he went 4-4 with a 5.84 ERA in 24 games and was named all-conference as a pitcher as the Rebels won the Mountain West championship and advanced to the NCAA Regionals.

"We felt very fortunate to get him, both as a pitcher and as a position player," Gouldsmith said. "I wrote in my notes, ‘This is Todd Helton-John Olerud for UNLV.’

"Both of those guys pitched and played first base in college, and Efren was that type of talent."

Navarro is a candidate to go in the major league draft in June. But if he returns to school, he hopes to resurrect his pitching career.

He said his arm still is sore when he throws, so his goal of returning to the mound this season probably is too ambitious.

"I’m actually hoping to make a comeback, if you want to say it like that," Navarro said.

A surprising rebound would be necessary for the Rebels to turn around their season. In the past three weeks, Oregon State, Texas Christian and Brigham Young have swept them in three-game series.

"We’re not falling apart," Navarro said. "We have good chemistry.

"We’re a family, and we’re going to stay strong."

Atop the Mountain West two years ago, UNLV has bottomed out mostly because of injuries, poor pitching and a rigorous schedule.

"The three years I’ve been here, this is by far the best team I’ve been with, and it’s just a matter of time before we’re going to break out and start winning," Navarro said. "Even though it hasn’t shown with the record, this is a good team, and we will find a way.

"We’re going to get it together. We all hate losing."

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