The Kansas City Royals worst fears were realized on Friday when it was determined 30-year-old reliever Luke Hochevar will require Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
Hochevar was originally diagnosed with a sprained ulnar-collateral ligament (UCL) on Wednesday. The Royals held some hope that he would be able to recover through rest and rehab and return to the mound by May. Unfortunately, that won't be the case. Hochevar's 2014 season is over, but there's a positive outlook for guys in his position thanks to Dr. Frank Jobe, who pioneered Tommy John surgery back in 1974.
Jobe died on Thursday at age 88, but his legacy lives on through an operation that has already saved and extended the careers of hundreds of pitchers, and will continue doing so for generations to come.
Perhaps someday another pioneer in medicine will come along and discover the next best method for reconstructing elbow ligaments. For now, Hochevar will face at least 12 months of rehab and hope to add his name to the long list of pitchers who have come back stronger following Jobe's innovative procedure. The success rate and recovery varies from pitcher to pitcher, but having the operation now would put him on track to return sometime next spring and have him ready to contribute at the highest level as early as May or June should the best case scenario play out.
Still, even in a best case scenario, this is a tough break for Hochevar and a big loss for the Royals. After struggling to find traction as a starter for the better part of six seasons, Hochevar finally carved out a niche in 2013 as an effective late-inning reliever. In 70 1/3 innings, Hochevar posted a 1.92 ERA with a 0.83 WHIP and 82 strikeouts. By mid-June he'd established himself as Ned Yost's go to setup man ahead of closer Greg Holland, and that setup was expected to continue this season giving Kansas City a very solid late-inning duo.
Another year flourishing in that role would have been good for everybody involved, but especially Hochevar, who's slated to be a free agent next winter. Now, instead of pitching for a guaranteed contract and perhaps a future's closing role, he's rehabbing for a likely minor league deal.
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