After a day to let it sink in, Braves reliever Eric O’Flaherty seemed a little more resigned to the fact that he’s likely headed for season-ending surgery on his pitching elbow.
An MRI revealed a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament and he has an appointment to see noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews on Monday.
“I was sick pretty much all day (Saturday) thinking about it, but it’s part of the game and it seems like now it’s pretty much standard procedure,” O’Flaherty said. “Almost everybody goes through it and the success rate is so high. It’s not the worst news you can get.”
O’Flaherty said his elbow has been bothering him since last September, but he thought he could pitch through it.
He had an MRI last September that showed some wear and tear, and the Braves thought the problem might be related to a bone spur. He had planned to undergo a more extensive dye-contrasted MRI in the offseason but pitched so well in September they thought he was OK.
When O’Flaherty’s elbow continued to bother him early this season, they attributed it to flexor tendon problems.
“It’s been one thing or another for quite a while,” said O’Flaherty, who said he wasn’t surprised by the MRI result. “…Basically the way it was described to me is you can have a lot of different symptoms as a result of things having to overcompensate for the ligament.”
O’Flaherty said he had problems gripping the ball Friday night during the inning he pitched against the Dodgers, but he didn’t feel anything burn or flare up on any one particular pitch.
He’s still holding out hope it’s a flexor tendon problem and the ligament tear in the MRI is an old injury, but the feeling he’s getting from the Braves medical staff and front office is he’s likely headed for ligament-transplant surgery.
“I’m trying to be optimistic, but they’re making surgery appointments already so I don’t know,” O’Flaherty said. “It’s not looking too good.”
O’Flaherty has been one of the most effective relievers in baseball over the past three years, going 11-6 with a 1.68 ERA. He led all major league relievers with a 0.98 ERA in 2011, the lowest ERA in major league history by any pitcher with 75 or more appearances.
He is tied for 21st in the majors with 217 appearances since 2010. Until now, his biggest health problem was his back, which he managed through a disciplined regimen of exercise, stretching and occasional rest. An elbow ligament is different.
“I literally did everything I could possibly think of the last three years to stay healthy,” O’Flaherty said. “Talking to the trainers, it’s just kind of a natural progression these days. You throw a lot of innings you’re going to have the Tommy John at some point.”
Brandon Beachy was scheduled to throw three innings of a simulated game in the indoor cages Sunday at Coolray Field after Triple-A Gwinnett got rained out. The Braves wanted to keep Beachy on schedule as he continues his return from elbow ligament transplant surgery. He should get the first official start of his minor league rehabilitation assignment on Friday in Gwinnett vs. Toledo. He’s on target to return in mid-to-late June.