The Pittsburgh Pirates' loss of pitcher Charlie Morton to Tommy John surgery will have major implications for the team and the player, now and into the future.
Morton had the surgery Thursday to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament, performed by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., an injury that surprised all concerned. Morton had been shut down after a May 29 start, at which time he acknowledged feeling off-and-on discomfort in the elbow for about three weeks. He was throwing off flat ground as recently as Sunday until asking to be examined.
"It's been a chronic thing," general manager Neal Huntington said. "Picture a rope that over time, a little piece of string breaks, and another little piece of string breaks. We got to a point where it was no longer functional."
From the moment the Morton news broke on the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's website Thursday, the reaction on the Internet and on talk shows was about the effect on the rotation. The team already had shown kinks of late in its rotation, and now being without Morton for the rest of 2012 only amplified fears that the flirtation with first place over the weekend might be as good as it gets.
But perhaps the larger issue is whether or not Morton has thrown his final pitch in Pittsburgh.
He'll be arbitration-eligible again after making $2,445,000 this season, and it's rare for any team to commit that kind of money to a player coming off major surgery.
The Pittsburgh pitching staff took a pounding in the first game after Morton's operation. The Baltimore Orioles beat the Pirates 12-6 Thursday, with Pittsburgh starter Erik Bedard giving up seven runs in 3 1/3 innings.