The A’s have lost a second member of the 2014 starting rotation to elbow surgery with the news that A.J. Griffin will undergo elbow surgery Wednesday in Houston.
Griffin was in Houston Tuesday to see Dr. Thomas Mehlhoff for a second opinion on the state of his elbow. Dr. Mehlhoff will perform the elbow surgery, with a typical recovery time of about 12 months, depending on the type of surgery involved.
A’s manager Bob Melvin said he wasn’t sure of the type of surgery that would be needed (Tommy John-style ligament replacement surgery is considered the likeliest option) but said he’d talked to Griffin and said the right-hander was taking the news in a positive way.
“He’s a happy-go-lucky guy,’’ the manager said. “This means he can see the light at the end of the tunnel to be able to pitch next season.’’
Griffin and Jarrod Parker both were supposed to be members of the rotation this year, but both found they couldn’t go forward pitching in pain mid-March, and Parker had surgery shortly thereafter. Griffin was told that three weeks of rest might get his right elbow back in form, but it didn’t happen.
Thanks to their pitching depth, the A’s are better equipped than most teams to handle lowing 40 percent of their rotation for a year. Jesse Chavez (1-0, 2.32) and Tommy Milone (0-2, 4.56) have moved into a rotation that owns an American League-best 2.89 ERA. When the A’s needed a sixth starter, Josh Lindblom came up from Triple-A to start the second game of a day-night doubleheader April 2.
“To lose one pitcher for a whole year is a blow,’’ Melvin said. “To lose two is tough. You move on, but you have sympathy for the two guys that are having to go through that, because they’ve meant so much to this team over the last couple of years.’’
Parker was 25-16 in 2012-13, and Griffin, who came up midway through the 2012 season and went 7-1, came back last year to have the second-best win total on the team with a 14-10 record.
Griffin was left off the roster of the first round of the playoffs last year because of elbow pain, but he came into spring training ready and seemingly healthy. But at the end of the first two weeks of the Cactus League season, the A’s shut him down. He had an MRI on March 14 and the next day the A’s said Griffin had been told to rest for three weeks to see if that would help what was described at right flexor tendinitis.
After spending almost a month doing everything but throwing, Griffin picked up a baseball last week. And when he threw, the pain was still there, leading the A’s to look for him to get a second opinion from Mehlhoff.
Meanwhile, the club will have to move forward with a rotation topped by Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir, followed by Chavez, Dan Straily and Milone. The A’s will probably see Lindblom again on the next homestand when they have another doubleheader on tap May 7 against Seattle thanks to the postponements of the first week of the season in Oakland. If it’s not Lindblom, then Arnold Leon, also pitching at Triple-A Sacramento, is likely to get the call.
The one starting option the A’s have at the big league level is left-hander Drew Pomeranz, but Melvin said he likes the lefty in the role of long man in the bullpen and that in any event, he wasn’t stretched out enough. Pomeranz, who is 1-1 with a 1.59 ERA, has not pitched more than 2.2 innings in a game.
If it turns out to be Tommy John surgery, Griffin will join a list of 16 other major leagues who will have had ligament replacement surgery this year before the calendar turns to May. It’s an alarming trend given that there were only 24 big leaguers who had the process in the entirety of the 2013 season.