Lessons learned from Tommy John surgery

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY)- A Miami Marlins doctor has recommended elbow reconstruction for Marlins ace Jose Fernandez. That would make last years National League Rookie of the Year the 18th Major League Baseball pitcher to need Tommy John surgery this season. “With 18 to start the season, that’s just off the charts and whats really tough if you’re talking some of the premier pitchers in the game,” says Baltimore Orioles Director of Pitching Development Rick Peterson.

How do you see the signs that might lead to injury? It’s not clear-cut. Peterson says when an organization like the Orioles invests in a pitcher, they look closely at the players track record, but the information only goes so far. “It’s like buying a used car with no Carfax. You really don’t know what you’re buying.”

Peterson says an organization would like to know the players 10 year history and look for signs that made lead to elbow injury. “Overuse is the number 1 factor of these types of injuries. Number 2 is delivery and number 3 is pitchers are throwing harder than they ever have in the history of the game. Velocity has continued to increase. You can train the body. You can train the muscles and the cardiovascular system, but you can’t train the tendons.”

Norfolk Tides pitcher Eddie Gamboa is all too familiar with Tommy John surgery and the long road to recovery. “When you have 5-year-olds throwing the ball further than you, it’s very depressing.”

That was the only time Gamboa has not been in baseball. “Throwing a baseball is a very unnatural thing. We are already doing something our body should not be doing so the more you do it, it’s going to effect the elbow a lot,” says Gamboa.

And not every player who has Tommy John surgery has a 100 percent recovery. “About 50% of elbow surgery’s come back to their previous level or go higher. That’s it. So if you’re having Tommy John surgery in high school you have a 50% chance of making the varsity. Same thing for a Major League Pitcher. He has a 50% chance of making back to the big leagues.,” says Norfolk Tides Athletic trainer Mark Shires.

Overuse appears to be the biggest cause for injury, but research is still being done to help players avoid scars like Gamboa’s. “The thing I learned most about this experience is to try to avoid throwing off speed pitches until as late as possible,” added Gamboa.


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