BALTIMORE — It took a few minutes of throwing a baseball Monday afternoon for Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Matt Moore to come to grips with what was needed to fix his left elbow -- reconstructive surgery.
Moore will have Tommy John surgery April 22. He is expected to be sidelined for 12 to 15 months.
“Knowing which way we're going to go, at least I'm not stuck in that limbo,” Moore said, “and that's kind of where I think it was the last few days.”
Moore, 24, has a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow. The doctors who examined Moore's elbow -- Rays team orthopedic surgeon Dr. Koco Eaton and Rays medical director Dr, James Andrews -- are not sure when the tear occurred. What they concluded, and what Moore realized Monday when his elbow hurt when he was throwing his fastball and curveball, was that a lengthy rehab this summer would likely not solve the problem.
“We just felt the risk of continuing on to what the damage is going to be and how bad we thought it was to where we thought we could get it to didn't really make sense unless we can get it back to 100 percent,' Moore said, “and I didn't think we could do that in the middle of the season.”
Moore will be the 13th major league pitcher to undergo Tommy John surgery this season. The last Rays pitcher to have Tommy John surgery was Jason Isringhausen in 2009. Milwaukee is the only team to go longer without having a pitcher undergo Tommy John surgery, according to Hardball times, and that was David Riske, who had his procedure in 2009 two weeks before Isringhausen.
Only six Tampa Bay pitchers have ever had that surgery with Moore and Seth McClung the only home grown Rays/Devil Rays to undergo the procedure.
“We're going to miss him,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said, “but we're going to get an even better product back next time.”
With Moore out for the remainder of the season, the Rays have three frontline starters on the disabled list. Alex Cobb (left oblique strain) is out for four to six weeks and Jeremy Hellickson (right elbow surgery) is not expected back until June 1. Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said the organization's pitching depth will be tested, because that is currently the only option.
“I can't imagine we'll be able to line up (with another team) on something that gives us a better chance to win than what we have,” Friedman said. “We have a number of guys that we like who are up right now and a number of guys in Triple A. We always talk about how there's no such thing as too much pitching and unfortunately we're kind of living it first hand right now.”
Moore left his start April 7 in the fifth inning complaining of soreness in his elbow when he threw his changeup. He was last season from July 29 to September 2 with a similar injury. He felt that injury was more severe because he tried to pitch through the pain before telling head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield. He hoped leaving his last start as soon as he felt the pain would mean he caught the injury soon enough so it could heal with a lengthy rehab, one that would rob him of a good portion of the season but still allow him to return the late-season playoff push.
Eaton spent the beginning of the week reviewing the four MRIs taking on Moore's elbow -- the one taken before Moore signed his long-term contract in December 2011, the one taken last July and the two taken last week.
“Most other elbow situations that I've encountered were much more binary, where the guy either needed to have Tommy John or not,” Friedman said. “This is one of the first one's that I actually remember was much more in the gray area.”
That gray area disappeared with Monday's throwing session.
“At that point it became inevitable and how do we preserve as much of the 2015 season as we can, and so we decided to go the surgical route,” Friedman said.
Moore said he never thought he would suffer such and injury this early into his career.
“It was something that when they told me the news I didn't think it could be right because it didn't feel that way,” he said. “It wasn't that sore. I remembered what it felt like in the game, but it wasn't that sore. In my game of catch (Monday) I couldn't continue to play catch like that and expect to get better. It would have been a complete shutdown type of thing and build up from there. It would have been a really long process. This is the best option we have with all the information we have and after all the conversations and thinking and game planning that went into it, this was the best option.”