LAKELAND, Fla. – Worst fears were realized when Braves reliever Arodys Vizcaino’s visit to Dr. James Andrews ended with the right-hander undergoing “Tommy John” elbow surgery Tuesday that will sidelined him for the entire 2012 season.
Vizcaino, rated the No. 40 prospect in baseball and top relief pitching prospect for 2012 by Baseball America, faces a 12-month rehabilitation.
The 21-year-old Dominican reinjured the ulnar collateral ligament that he partially tore as a minor leaguer in 2010, an injury that was allowed to heal without surgery at that time.
He hadn’t had any recurrence until this spring, when he was shut down after pitching in the March 3 Grapefruit League opener.
“He had the episode in 2010 that derailed his year, and now he was having trouble at the beginning of spring training,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “Hopefully this will get it taken care of and he’s a young guy who will have a long career.”
After examining Vizcaino on Monday night, Andrews recommended ligament-transplant surgery, which was done Tuesday at the famed surgeon’s clinic in Pensacola, Fla.
When the non-surgery option was recommended to the Braves and Vizcaino in 2010, they chose it in hopes he could avoid Tommy John surgery and the long recovery. He returned three months later and threw 97-98 mph fastballs in the Instructional League after the 2010 season, Wren said.
“There are guys that have ligaments that don’t look good on MRI and they play their whole career,” Wren said. “Greg Maddux’s ligament, from what I’ve been told, was one of the worst looking ligaments they’ve ever seen. But he continued to pitch and it never really became a problem. And that was when he first signed with the Braves.”
“It’s one of those things where as long a player is functional and not having any major difficulties, you don’t want to go in and do [surgery] until it gets to that point. And that’s where we are.”
Vizcaino stayed healthy in 2011, when he was moved from Double-A Mississippi rotation to the bullpen at midseason. He was brought to the majors in August after a brief stint at Triple-A Gwinnett.
He had 17 strikeouts in 17-1/3 innings in the majors and gave Atlanta’s bullpen a boost before fading down the stretch. After posting a 1.69 ERA and .086 opponents’ average in August in his first nine major league appearances, Vizcaino had a 9.45 ERA and .406 OA in eight September games.
Wren said he came into spring training this year “on the bubble” and could have begun the season in the bullpen either with Atlanta or Gwinnett.
Vizcaino is one of the organization’s coveted trio of Latin pitching prospects, with starters Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado. Scouts think Vizcaino could be a long-term standout in either role.
As a starter in 2010, he was 9-4 with a 2.74 ERA in 17 starts in Class A, with 79 strikeouts and 12 walks in 85-1/3 innings. The Braves moved him to the bullpen last summer to control his innings as he approached his career-high workload.