Yankees pitcher Nathan Eovaldi to undergo two elbow surgeries

ByWallace Matthews ESPN logo
Tuesday, August 16, 2016

NEW YORK -The New York Yankees starting rotation, already reduced by injuries, ineffectiveness and a trade, suffered a crippling blow on Tuesday when it was announced that Nathan Eovaldi would undergo extensive surgery on his pitching elbow to repair a torn flexor tendon and partially-torn ulnar collateral ligament.

The procedure includes Tommy John surgery tore pair the UCL injury, the second time Eovaldi has had the surgery. The first time was nine years ago when he was a 17-year-old high school pitching star for Alvin H.S. in Alvin, TX, the same high school attended by Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.

Eovaldi has been on the disabled list since leaving after one inning of a start against the Red Sox in Boston on August 10 suffering what the team described as "elbow discomfort.''

Eovaldi was sent for an MRI, and without announcing the results, the Yankees, ominously, said Eovaldi would seek a second opinion. He got that second opinion on Tuesday from Dr. David Altchek, the New York Mets team physician, and it could hardly have been more dire: According to Eovaldi, the flexor tendon had been torn from the bone in addition to the new UCL tear.

The recovery period is expected to be 14-18 months, meaning it is quite possible Eovaldi's Yankees career is at an end. The 26-year-old right-hander is arbitration eligible after this season, and is scheduled to become a free agent in 2018.

Asked if it was likely the Yankees would non-tender Eovaldi this winter, making him a free-agent, Yankee GM Brian Cashman said via text message, "That is all for another day. Let's get him the best medical care possible and make decisions like that at a later date.''

Despite the severity of the injury, Eovaldi said he felt little pain, just "a little pinch down there whenever I threw a fastball.''

Eovaldi said he first began to feel something unusual in his elbow while playing catch three days after an Aug. 4 start against the Mets in which he took the loss, allowing four earned runs in seven innings.

"I felt like I couldn't really let my fastball go,'' Eovaldi said, "and if I did something bad would happen.''

He went ahead with his start against the Red Sox without informing the Yankees of his discomfort, but manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild immediately suspected something was wrong when Eovaldi's fastball, which normally averages 98 MPH, was down to 94 in his 12-pitch, 1-2-3 first inning.

Rothschild asked Eovaldi several times if anything was wrong, and after getting repeated denials, finally changed tactics. "What hurts?,'' he asked Eovaldi, who admitted to some elbow discomfort. He was immediately removed from the game.

Eovaldi said he was "devastated'' by the severity of his injury. "It's a huge blow,'' he said, "And it's my second one, so it's a big deal. Hopefully everything goes well with the surgery, and I'll work hard to get back.''

Despite possessing the second-hardest fastball among big-league starters - the Mets Noah Syndegaard is ranked first - Eovaldi has had an erratic big-league career with three teams in six seasons. His career record is 38-46 with a 4.21 ERA, and in 2014 he led MLB in hits allowed (223) while a member of the Miami Marlins. This season, he was 9-8 with a 4.76 ERA for the Yankees.

The Mets Zack Wheeler suffered a similar injury in March 2015, 17 months ago, and has yet to return to action, suffering several setbacks in his recovery.

According to Eovaldi, Altchek - who performed Wheeler's surgery - said "the very best case scenario would be me making it back towards the very end of next year, maybe out of the bullpen.''

With Luis Severino demoted to AAA due to ineffectiveness, Ivan Nova traded to the Pittsburh Pirates, and now Eovaldi lost to injury, the Yankees will go with rookies Chad Green and Luis Cessa in their starting rotation for the rest of the season.