Christian Vazquez to have Tommy John surgery on right elbow

ByGordon Edes ESPN logo
Thursday, April 2, 2015

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Confirming their worst fears, the Boston Red Sox announced Wednesday night that Christian Vazquez, who was to have begun the season as the team's No. 1 catcher, will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery on his right elbow Thursday.

Dr. James Andrews, the orthopedist whom Vazquez, 24, had sought out Wednesday for a second opinion, will perform the procedure in Pensacola, Florida, the club said.

Vazquez injured the elbow while throwing out New York Yankees minor leaguer Tyler Wade on an attempted steal of second base in the eighth inning of an exhibition game March 13. The team's medical staff administered an MRI on Friday, and when tests showed ligament damage, Vazquez arranged to see Andrews.

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington will address the player's situation Thursday at JetBlue Park, the club said. But earlier Wednesday, Cherington described the sequence of events that led to Vazquez's decision to have surgery and how it affects the club's catching situation.

"[Vazquez] had some elbow soreness after the Yankees game, and based on how he was presenting, it wasn't a high-level concern," Cherington said. "And then he just sort of plateaued.

"I'm sure there are other players, but I don't know many players who love to play their particular position as much as Christian Vazquez, and here was seemingly an opportunity to do that at the major league level. Of all the players in any spring training in baseball, there are not many who want to be out there more than him. So I think when he started saying he wasn't feeling comfortable -- he wants to be out there, this guy loves to catch -- so that was concerning, that he wasn't just progressing as well or as quickly as we thought.

"So we decided to do an MRI, and honestly when we did the MRI, we were hoping it would provide peace of mind. It obviously showed something we weren't expecting. My initial reaction was really more for the kid. This is someone, again, who really loves baseball, he loves the position he plays, it means a lot to him to be a catcher, a catcher from Puerto Rico, a catcher for the Red Sox, all those things. So I felt for him. OK, he's going to miss this time. He's going to come back, and he'll play. But I felt for him."

Ryan Hanigan -- who played with Tampa Bay, was traded to San Diego and flipped on the same day in December to the Red Sox for third baseman Will Middlebrooks -- will open the season as the team's No. 1 catcher. On Monday, the Sox acquired a backup catcher from the Washington Nationals, Sandy Leon, for cash considerations.

Promoting top prospect Blake Swihart to the big league team after Vazquez's elbow injury was never a consideration, Cherington said.

Coming into camp, Cherington said, the team was committed to having Swihart, who turns 23 on April 3, begin the season with Triple-A Pawtucket, where he played just 18 games after his promotion from Double-A Portland last Aug. 4. That did not change, Cherington said, after an MRI revealed Vazquez's injury was significantly more serious than the Sox thought it was.

Swihart was a consensus pick as Boston's first pick in 2011. The decision to have Swihart begin in Triple-A, Cherington said, had nothing to do with the player's service time.

"Absolutely not," he said.

"At that particular position, given the responsibilities of that position, he just barely got to Triple-A last year. We feel it's in his best interest and our best interest to let him get a little more time there, polish up the [defensive] part of his game.

"Again, we know there are no hard or fast rules on this, because if there are, we've broken them. There is some history here, when we've called young players up during a season, we've had some success doing that, or maybe comparatively more success, than we've had having guys making the team somewhat unexpectedly out of camp. So it was very clear coming into spring training this was going to be Blake's opportunity to go to Triple-A and play at that level, catch more veteran pitchers, and that's not going to change due to injury."

Hanigan has played as many as 100 games only once in parts of eight seasons in the big leagues. Last season with Tampa Bay, two stints on the disabled list (one for a strained right hamstring, the other for a strained left oblique) limited him to 84 games.

"We feel really good Hanigan is here," Cherington said, "because when Hanigan is back there, we feel similar, in a different way than when Christian is back there, that the pitcher is going to come first. We are going to get good defense. We have someone who is going to help the pitcher get through a game.

"With Christian out we have to replenish that depth somehow, so we made the deal for Leon, who we also feel is a really strong defender. We're glad Vazquez is still here; he's going to recover. We're really glad Swihart is here. I feel really good about the catching position, short and long term, even after this injury."

Related Video