Well, it looks like Nathan’s injury is much worse than we’d hoped. FunBobby was out of town this weekend, and so he didn’t hear about the injury when it happened; he asked me for an update, which looked like this:
He came in in the 3rd inning, struck out the first batter, then walked the next two and was taken out with right elbow soreness. He’s gone back to MN to get an MRI.
One theory is that this is just a normal setback after his offseason surgery to break up scar tissue in that elbow. Another is that it’s a more severe injury. There’s no real information about it, but it’s definitely a reason to worry.
My optimism was invalid, though, now that we’ve learned that Nathan actually has a torn UCL, which is the very same ligament that needs to be repaired in Tommy John surgery.
They’re not certain if it’s a full tear or a partial tear — Gardenhire called it “significant” — and Gardenhire says it’s the sort of thing you can’t tell until you get in and do surgery. Tommy John surgery.
Apparently, they’re saying it’s “totally Nathan’s decision” as to whether to have surgery or not. The plan, for now, is to try to avoid surgery:
While surgery certainly looks to be imminent, Nathan will take two weeks to let the swelling in the area subside. He’ll work with the trainers to strengthen the muscles around the elbow. And then he will try to pitch. He’s prepared to pitch in pain – given the huge expectations placed on the 2010 Twins – and is prepared to tests the limits of his tolerance level.
Personally, I’d be shocked if he’s able to pitch with a torn UCL … and perhaps more shocked if the Twins even let him. The Twins famously prefer to let pitchers do several months rest & rehab prior to doing the surgery that was obviously necessary from the start (see Crain, Neshek, Liriano, Bonser) … and that looks like what’s going to happen here. I kind of expect them to string us along until June, when they finally have the surgery they should be having now, delaying Nathan’s eventual return to the second half of 2011, at which point he still won’t even be full strength. Nathan should have the surgery now, and Nathan won’t be part of it.
Or at least, that’s my opinion. I know the Twins don’t share it. But that raises the question about what the Twins should do for a closer this year. Here are the options, as I see them:
- Blindly hope Nathan is okay
- Slama or Delaney
- Someone else from the minors
- A new acquisition
- Closer by committee
Alright … so I’m guessing most teams who lose an elite closer like Nathan don’t have so many internal options to choose from,* so the Twins probably aren’t totally screwed here.
* It’s worth noting that there aren’t very many teams with an elite closer like Nathan, and that they are probably really deep. The Yankees and Red Sox probably do have similar bullpen depth … only the Royals have a closer of Nathan’s caliber without a bunch of bullpen arms behind him. Maybe the Mets. So maybe I’m wrong to make that statement.
I think Mijares is out, given that Gardy doesn’t trust him and he’s a lefty, which will be more useful in a non-closer role. I don’t think much of Crain at the moment, and I don’t think Gardy does either.
If it were me, I’d go with the committee. La Velle disagrees:
I don’t think the Twins will go with a closer-by-committee. They had all kinds of trouble in 2008 when they tried a set-up man by committee, and Gardenhire regretted doing that. We’ll be on the watch for any signals that point to whomever fills that role.
And that’s a good point, though it explains more why the Twins won’t than why they shouldn’t.
So I don’t know what the Twins are going to do. We’ll keep you posted on the news as we know more. But I don’t believe this sinks the Twins’ playoff hopes; regardless of how great Nathan is, the Twins have a deep bullpen, some good arms, and even the best relievers don’t make a huge difference. Given the same innings and leverage, Nathan isn’t much more valuable than a healthy Neshek, for example.5 comments