The emotions right-hander Kris Medlen must be feeling are hard to fathom. He had come so far after undergoing Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in August 2010. All of the rehab for 12 months. All of the training to get his strength back, and all of the repetitions on the mound to get himself right again as a pitcher. The stint in the bullpen until the Atlanta Braves thought it safe for him to join the starting rotation in July 2012. The 2.47 ERA he posted in 43 starts, establishing himself as one of the better pitchers in the National League in that span.
He must to do it all over again at age 28.
Medlen is preparing himself to have Tommy John surgery again after an MRI revealed damage to the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The sight of Medlen clutching his arm in the fourth inning Sunday was awful, but it was just the start.
Reporter David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was among those reporters to speak with Medlen on Wednesday at the Braves' spring training facility at Lake Buena Vista, Fla. O'Brien says Medlen will see Dr. James Andrews in a few days to make a final decision on surgery. But the conversation will be more about when, rather than if.
“Mentally preparing myself,” Medlen said Wednesday. “It’s something that I’ve felt before. I think I had all the answers to anybody’s questions in my head when I was walking off the mound. I never do that. When I did it before in 2010, the same thing kind of happened. Nothing’s … ”
(Here there was a long pause, as he fought back emotions. “Nothing’s official, but I think I know and just go from there.”
Medlen already underwent an MRI exam and other tests that indicate the ligament damage, and he expects to have Tommy John surgery and go through another rigorous 12-month rehab process, which he believes will at least be a little easier now that he has a wife and 1-year-old son to help keep him occupied through the grind.
It all sounds so dreadful. Although rehab remains a remote alternative to surgery for Medlen, as a few other pitchers have tried, the Braves don't expect to have him around this season. They've already signed right-hander Ervin Santana to help fill the gaps in their hurting starting rotation. Having Santana's press conference on site Wednesday morning couldn't have been easy for Medlen to deal with, either. Life in the majors is going on without him.
That's the bad news. The good news, or better news, is that other pitchers have rebounded from two Tommy John surgeries — which are rare for pitchers to endure twice. Left-hander Jonny Venters, a teammate, is in the process of coming back from his second Tommy John. He'll provide inspiration and motivation to Medlen, who needs a big supply of both. Much of his next comeback will be a matter of will. And patience. And good luck.
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