A's Parker to undergo Tommy John surgery
Right-hander to miss entire 2014 season after second elbow procedure
PHOENIX -- The A's will be playing for their third straight American League West title without Jarrod Parker, whose career is suddenly in jeopardy.
Oakland learned Monday afternoon that the 25-year-old right-hander, who was in line to make his first career Opening Day start, will instead undergo his second Tommy John surgery next week and miss the entirety of the 2014 campaign.
Rehab from the ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery typically spans 12 to 18 months.
"First and foremost, I feel for him," said A's manager Bob Melvin. "I mean, he's done so much for us. He competes hard. He works hard. For a guy who's gone through this before, I really feel for him. As far as the team goes, sure it's a blow. This is a guy that has meant a lot to us, and we'll have to do something different."
The devastating revelation is the latest in an unfortunate string of news for the A's, who learned this weekend they'll be without A.J. Griffin (muscle strain) for at least the first month of the season. Parker and Griffin combined for 397 innings last season.
Now, it's likely that Sonny Gray, who has just 12 big league starts under his belt, assumes Opening Day duties, with Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone filling out the rotation.
"Obviously, we feel bad for Jarrod," said A's assistant general manager David Forst. "I know he worked hard this offseason after having some struggles at the end of the year and was hoping to be at the top of the rotation this year. Other than that, we can only play the hand that we're dealt, and we obviously spent a lot of time putting together pitching depth coming into the year, and some guys are going to have to step up."
Parker, 25-16 with a 3.73 ERA in 61 starts for the A's the last two years, experienced forearm discomfort for much of the last month of the 2013 season. But he entered camp telling reporters he felt stronger than ever, having put on added muscle weight in an effort to avoid another round of late-season fatigue.
But he pitched to a 10.61 ERA in three starts this spring, and several team sources said he was feeling discomfort all along.
"There were points where we thought he had a handle on it and he was feeling better," one said. "It was going to be a matter of time before he was going to turn a corner and start feeling better. I think we all had our fingers crossed that it wasn't going to come to this."
It was Melvin who noticed Parker struggling to get loose while playing catch on Friday. The two spoke shortly after, and it was decided right then that the pitcher would visit Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Fla., on Monday.
Andrews performed Parker's first Tommy John surgery on Oct. 28, 2009, while he was still a member of a D-backs organization that took him with its first pick in the 2007 Draft. He's far from the only pitcher to undergo the elbow procedure twice. Former A's relievers Joey Devine and Jason Isringhausen are examples, as are Brian Wilson, Daniel Hudson and Cory Luebke.
But the recovery rate after a second Tommy John surgery is known to be lower than it is after the first time.
"Unfortunately, there are more data points on this than there were four years ago," said Forst. "It's hard to predict right now. You don't know what the recovery rate is with guys with a second Tommy John, but unfortunately it's becoming more frequent."
"The good thing," said Chavez,"is he's only 25 still."
That's also what's so cruel about it all.
"I'm upset. I feel terrible for him," Sean Doolittle said. "I've had experiences with injuries, but I guess I only have an idea of what he's going through. You go through it once, and it's a long road back, and to only get three years out of it before he has to get it done again, mentally, that's gotta be tough. I feel for the guy. No one should be that young and have to do it all over again."
The A's have shown tremendous resiliency in recent years, and depth is what's separated them from their division counterparts in that time. They're confident they have enough of it to withstand their current crop of injuries and remain a contender, but losing a pitcher of Parker's caliber could potentially alter the look of the AL West.
Chavez, a valuable piece of the A's bullpen last year, takes Griffin's spot in the rotation, while Milone, who has compiled 25 wins for the club the past two years, now likely slots in for Parker. Oakland also has offseason acquisitions Drew Pomeranz and Josh Lindblom as other options, which is why Forst said the organization will not pursue outside help despite Monday's news.
"We obviously thought these guys could start when we brought them in here," said Forst. "That's why we stretched Jesse out from the start of Spring Training. That's why Tommy wasn't traded in the offseason, despite everyone saying, 'What are they going to do with all these starters?'
"We've been through enough seasons to know five starters isn't going to make it, and in this case, five starters didn't make it to Opening Day. Hopefully, we've done enough planning and those guys are ready to step in and be Major League starters."
"I know the A's have pitching," said Rangers manager Ron Washington. "If Jarrod Parker goes down, it gives another player a chance. They have a ton of candidates. They know how to develop pitching. They have pitching, and they always will. Just because they lost one pitcher doesn't mean they're going to fall apart."