Cory Luebke looked like a fast rising star for the San Diego Padres coming off a breakout 2011 season. Unfortunately, his momentum came to a screeching halt early in 2012 when the then 26-year-old left-hander felt something give in his elbow. It was determined Luebke tore his ulnar collateral ligament, which required Tommy John surgery on May 23 of the same year.
The Padres knew it would be a big setback in Luebke's development. They just didn't anticipate the complications that would follow. In the 21 months since his surgery, Luebke still hasn’t pitched in a baseball game after working through minor setbacks during his rehab. Now comes word from MLB.com's Corey Brock that Luebke's return won't come in 2014 either after an MRI revealed a new tear in his UCL.
A second Tommy John surgery is likely to follow for Luebke. Another 12 to 18 months of rehab awaits after that. His baseball future is now much cloudier, which has to be heart-breaking for both player and team.
"I feel bad for him … from 2011 through the first part of 2012, he was certainly on his way," said Padres general manager Josh Byrnes. "This is a real setback. There's been a lot of missed time. Hopefully in a year or so, he can get back to being Cory Luebke.
"This whole thing has been a mystery."
Over 17 starts and 29 relief appearances, Luebke went 6-10 with a 3.29 ERA in 2011. That impressed the Padres front office enough to offer him a three-year, $12 million extension with club options for 2016-17, which he signed during spring training.
He was off to an even better start in 2012, going 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA in five starts. At that point, it seemed like the Padres had discovered a gem who was on the fast track to the top of their rotation. In fact, pitching coach Darren Balsley was quoted saying it was a matter of when, not if, Luebke would be one of the more dominant lefties in the National League.
Then came the initial injury, and now comes the concern that a second tear may put his career in jeopardy before it ever really got started. It's unfortunate, but it also comes with the territory.
The Padres were prepared to be cautious with Luebke in spring training. The seemingly minor setbacks over the winter had them thinking about a bullpen spot to ease him in. Even still, just having him back and healthy would have a been a big boost for San Diego's outlook. Knowing he's gone for another full season serves more as a kick in the gut. Though they're expected to be improved, the Padres still aren't in a position to absorb such setbacks.
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