NEW YORK – It was the Braves’ worst fears realized but news they expected: pitcher Brandon Beachy needs season-ending surgery for his torn elbow ligament.
The burgeoning ace will have ligament-transplant surgery (aka “Tommy John” surgery) done on Thursday by Dr. James Andrews, the renowned specialist who examined his elbow and MRI results on Wednesday to provide a second opinion, after a Braves orthopedist diagnosed a torn ulnar collateral ligament.
Rehabilitation from the surgery is typically 11-13 months, meaning Beachy could be expected to return sometime around the 2013 All-Star break.
“It’s a shame, but Dr. Andrews confirmed what our doctors saw,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said, “and he’s going to have the procedure [Thursday]. We’re going to miss him.”
Beachy, 25, had emerged as an All-Star candidate after going 5-5 with a 2.00 ERA in his first 13 starts, tied for the National League ERA lead and leading the majors with a .171 opponents’ batting average.
“It’s tough,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “He was pitching well, really doing everything you could ask. Growing as a pitcher, growing in stature as a guy that you could really expect to shut the other team down. So it’s tough. Tough to lose him, and obviously tough for him.”
The Braves have recalled Jair Jurrjens from Triple-A Gwinnett to move into Beachy’s rotation spot beginning with a start Friday night in an interleague series opener against the Red Sox in Boston. They hope Jurrjens pitches well enough in the next few starts to alleviate their starting-rotation concerns, but Beachy’s season-ending injury could increase the likelihood of the Braves trading for a proven pitcher before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Braves top scout Jim Fregosi, a special assistant to Wren, was spotted at Cubs starter Matt Garza’s, most recent start, and the Braves are believed to be among the six or more teams interested in the right-hander, who is making $9.5 million this season and has another year of arbitration eligibility in 2013 before he can be a free agent.
The Cubs have also made it known that veteran pitcher Ryan Dempster is available, through Dempster is currently on the 15-day disabled list with a lat strain and is eligible for free agency after the season.
Either pitcher would probably cost at least two prospects in a trade, and those prospects would presumably have to be of a higher quality in a deal for Garza given his contract status.
Dempster is still owed more than half of his $14 million salary this season, and the Cubs might cover a good chunk of it depending upon the grade of prospects they are offered in a potential trade.
Jurrjens was a 2012 All-Star, but his performance plummeted after the All-Star break and knee problems sidelined him for much of the second half of the season. He went 0-2 with a 9.37 ERA and .411 opponents’ average in four starts this season before being sent to Gwinnett and instructed to work on all aspects of his game.
He was just 3-4 with a 5.18 ERA in 10 starts at Gwinnett, including a one-inning tuneup appearance Tuesday, but Braves officials say his performance was better than the numbers indicated and were skewed somewhat by one poor start when he pitched while weakened with flu symptoms.
“I think we get through the next few weeks leading up to when the trading season really begins,” Wren said, “and we evaluate what we have, how guys are throwing and who might be available. It was nice to see our guys bounce back the last couple of days here [against the Yankees]… Our pitchers did a fine job – this was a good series all in all.”
Beachy retired the first 11 batters he faced in Saturday’s game against Baltimore, then felt pain in his elbow when he threw two curveballs that spiked into the dirt against Chris Davis in the fourth inning. When his fastball velocity dipped to 86 mph on a pitch before he walked Davis, Beachy knew something was wrong. Davis was the last batter he’ll face this season.
Among the Braves pitchers who’ve come back strong after Tommy John surgery: Tim Hudson, Jonny Venters, Kris Medlen and Chad Durbin, along with non-roster veteran Peter Moylan, who is currently rehabbing from from shoulder surgery. Braves pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino had Tommy John surgery during spring training and should be back in 2013.
“It’s never fun,” Braves pitcher Tommy Hanson said. “Especially when you see it happen to a guy like Beachy, who works so hard and is such a good guy. It’s never fun to watch, because I think we all know at any time that could happen to us, too.
“It sucks. I feel really bad for him, but you know how Beachy is. He’ll be fine. He’ll work hard and get back. But obviously he wishes he was here, and so did we.”