Things have gone from bad to worse for Atlanta Braves fans following star pitcher Kris Medlen's abrupt exit from his recent spring training game with what was believed to be a forearm strain. According to a press conference by the team Tuesday, the young pitcher now finds his name in the same sentence as the three scariest words in sports: "Dr. James Andrews."
General manager Frank Wren told reporters that because Andrews performed the 28-year-old pitcher's first Tommy John surgery in 2010, Andrews will "likely" be looking at the potential damage to the hurler's arm.
Medlen, who is coming off back-to-back seasons with a sub-3.50 ERA, has already lost one year of his career to the same "ligament issues" that necessitated the surgery following his second season in the majors. And it's this previous injury that's further complicating what's already an unsettling situation for the club. Wren explained the team's uncertainty to reporters, telling them that "MRI's on previous Tommy Johns are not as clear, not as precise," while also admitting that the current MRI shows "some involvement in the ligament."
Perhaps best known for his remarkable 2012 season when, after spending part of the season in the bullpen, Medlen became a starter in the second half of the year and posted a 1.57 ERA in 12 starts as part of a full 138.0 innings pitched in total. And while his performance last season wasn't nearly as overwhelming, his 3.11 ERA and 197.0 IP project nicely into the coming season, even if his strikeout-to-walk ratio dropped by a full 2 K's per BB from his 2012 height of 5.22 K/BB.
Thankfully for the young pitcher, the injury comes a full two years before he will hit the open market, allowing him some semblance of job and financial security if the worst case scenario of a second Tommy John surgery comes to fruition. And while it isn't exactly comforting, Medlen is yet another top level pitcher in his own division who may find himself getting the surgery developed by the late orthopedic surgeon Frank Jobe as it "celebrates" its 40th year of existence.
Young phenoms like Matt Harvey and Stephen Strasburg have both had the surgery in recent seasons, and damage to the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is obviously not the career death sentence it once was. But surely none of that will genuinely make Medlen feel any better if he has to go under the knife yet again.