Yordano Ventura was supposed to cement himself as one of MLB's top young arms this season, but now he might just be the next name on an unfortunate list of injured pitchers that never seems to stop growing.
Ventura, the 22-year-old Kansas City Royals pitcher who is the hardest-throwing starter in baseball this season, left Monday's start against the Houston Astros with lateral elbow discomfort. Given the rash of Tommy John surgeries in MLB this season, it's hard not to assume the worst when you hear the words "pitcher" "elbow" and "injury" together.
Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan, well studied on Tommy John surgeries (he's writing a book on the subject), offered these insights after word of Ventura's injury was announced:
Brutal news: Elbow discomfort for Yordano Ventura, whose velo was down ~6 mph. Royals say it's lateral pain. UCL is on medial side of elbow.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) May 27, 2014
That said: When it comes to UCL injuries, they're never the same. Pain can manifest itself in one place from an injury in another.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) May 27, 2014
Royals confident Ventura injury isn't UCL. If there's one thing I've learned reporting this book, it's: Don't trust anything until the MRI.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) May 27, 2014
Ventura will get an MRI on Tuesday, according to Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star. Royals manager Ned Yost told reporters that Ventura's injury is on "the good side" of his elbow, meaning his training staff believes it's not the type of ligament strain that often leads to Tommy John surgery. Though, it's worth noting, we've often seen lingering elbow or forearm issues that weren't immediately diagnosed as ligament tears turn into Tommy John surgery over time.
Tommy John is a full-blown epidemic among pitchers these days, having claimed more than 30 arms since spring training, the most recent high-profile victim being another young stud, Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins.
Last week, in the wake of the Fernandez news, McCullough wrote about what the Royals had done to prevent their ace-in-training from becoming the next pitcher shelved by Tommy John surgery.
The Royals have monitored Ventura carefully. His progression has been gentle. His largest innings jump occurred in his second season, when he went from 22 2/3 as a professional rookie to 64 1/3 in 2010. Ventura threw 150 innings in 2013 as he rose from Class AA to the majors. Knowing they expected 180 to 200 innings this season, the Royals barred him from pitching in winter ball.
Once on the mound, Ventura is free from constraints. The coaches can only counsel him to stay in his delivery. Asking him to throw softer would invite injury and fly in the face of competition.
“What are you going to do?” Eiland said. “Tell a guy to go into a game and back off?”
More and more, it's starting to seem like elbow worries and Tommy John surgery aren't just an unfortunate chapter to a pitcher's career, but a right of passage for a young, hard-throwing star. Just look at Stephen Strasburg, Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez.
The Royals certainly don't want Ventura to join that list, but as we've seen the last three months, no elbow in MLB is safe.
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