Add another pitcher to list of Tommy John surgery patients. This seems to be happening at least twice a week. The latest to join the club is Oakland Athletics right-hander A.J. Griffin, set to go under the knife on Wednesday.
The immediate future didn’t look good for Griffin in mid-March when he developed flexor tendinitis in his right elbow. That seemed to be the explanation for his poor spring, during which he allowed 10 runs and 19 hits in 8.2 innings. Naturally, the A’s shut Griffin down for the rest of the spring, hoping that the condition would improve with rest and rehabilitation.
But the issue with Griffin’s arm went back to the previous season. He was left off Oakland’s roster for the ALDS because of elbow tendinitis. During the regular season, he threw 200 innings, leading A’s starting pitchers. Yet that wasn’t a significant increase for Griffin, as he threw 184.1 innings between the minors and majors the previous year. In 2011, he logged 160.2 innings, beginning a steady progression.
When Griffin was shut down, the hope was that the right-hander would return by May. Unfortunately, Griffin won’t be returning to Oakland’s rotation until at least May 2015 — but likely much later — if he undergoes the Tommy John procedure.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Susan Slusser, the A’s aren’t yet certain that Griffin needs reconstructive elbow surgery. Doctors won’t know for sure until they get into the elbow and see what kind of damage there is. It could be a torn ulnar collateral ligament (which requires Tommy John surgery), but the flexor tendon or torn cartilage could be the issue as well.
With Jarrod Parker also out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Oakland’s pitching depth is rather tapped out. The team has five (presumably) healthy starters in Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone. But if the A’s suffer another injury, there’s not much else to work with. How many teams could withstand losing two top starters? (Well, other than the Braves?)
As it is, Oakland will have to call up either Josh Lindblom or Arnold Leon from Triple-A Sacramento when another starter is needed for a May 7 doubleheader versus the Mariners. Based on their numbers, Leon (3.75 ERA to Lindblom’s 7.23) would appear to be the better candidate. A’s manager Bob Melvin said Drew Pomeranz isn’t stretched out enough to use as a starter right now. Besides, with a 1.59 ERA in 11.1 innings of relief, he’s pitching too well in the bullpen.
If you’re keeping count — and how can you not at this point — Griffin will be the 17th major league pitcher to require Tommy John surgery this year. At this rate, there will be enough pitchers with season-ending elbow injuries to fill out a full big league roster.