In an otherwise quiet Royals spring training, the team announced Friday relief pitcher Luke Hochevar will have Tommy John surgery to fix ligament damage in his right elbow. A specific time and date for the surgery hasn’t been announced, but it’s likely to happen in the next two weeks.
The injury occurred during last Monday’s game against the Chicago White Sox. Hochevar felt pain in his elbow on his next to last pitch and went to get a medical opinion in Los Angeles. The doctors gave him the option of rehabbing the elbow or Tommy John surgery. Hochevar and the Royals decided surgery was the best option.
Hochevar has a history of elbow problems. In 2010 he suffered a 20-40 percent tear in his ligament and rehabbed the elbow to continue pitching for another four years. But last Monday’s injury tore the ligament another 25 percent and made Tommy John surgery the only real option. Unfortunately for Hochevar, this happened after the Royals had their best season since 1989. With the Royals poised to be playoff contenders, Hochevar will not play an on-field role this season.
In the overall scope of the team and this season, Hochevar’s loss isn’t devastating. The Royals possess an already strong bullpen and Hochevar wasn’t considered as a starting rotation candidate. Wade Davis, a contender as a fifth starter, will take Hochevar’s spot in the bullpen.
The real devastation is to Hochevar. After several seasons as a starting pitcher where he didn’t live up to expectations as the overall number one pick in the 2006 Draft, Hochevar resuscitated his career as a reliever. Last season, Hochevar had a 1.92 ERA and two saves in 58 appearances, striking out 82 batters in 70.1 innings. In the final year of his contract, he’ll be a free agent at the end of the season. For a player in his final year of his contract before free agency, the surgery is an untimely blow.
In hindsight, perhaps Hochevar should have opted for Tommy John surgery back in 2010. He might have recovered enough to be a more effective starter and instead of being a part of the Royals bullpen, he would be one the team’s better starters. But at the time, he struggled as a starter and it’s likely Hochevar and the Royals decided that rehabbing the elbow was the better option. Looking at that now, it appears to be the wrong decision.
Hochevar faces an uncertain future. Instead of getting the chance of showing himself as a good bullpen pitcher before reaching free agency, he will have to sign for less years and money, wherever he ends up. It’s possible we’ve seen the Royals story of Luke Hochevar as a promising number one overall draft pick end with Tommy John surgery and an uncertain baseball future.