When news arose on Monday that Pat Neshek would be undergoing an MRI exam of his right elbow after experiencing some discomfort while throwing last week, many Twins fans immediately thought the worst. It seems we've seen this scenario play out a hundred times -- a pitcher tries to rehab a partially damaged ligament only to eventually suffer a setback and learn that surgery is unavoidable. We saw it happen in 2006 with Francisco Liriano, and that's likely why so many fans were unhappy with the team's decision to once again take the rest-and-rehab approach after Neshek originally injured the elbow back in May.
As it turns out, those fears were well-founded. Neshek's imaging scan revealed a fully torn ligament, and the team announced yesterday that he will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the entire 2009 season.
This news will undoubtedly raise some ire among Twins fans. There were plenty out there who vocally opined that the team should bite the bullet and have Neshek go through surgery immediately; indeed, had this been their course of action the reliever probably would have been able to return sometime around June or July of next year rather than sitting out the entire campaign.
The finger-pointing, though, is ultimately pointless. There's little doubt that both the player and the team strongly preferred to avoid surgery if at all possible, and as Joe Christensen made sure to note in his blog post on the news, when Neshek first suffered the injury "he received a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews, who agreed with the Twins recommendation to rehab the injury, instead of having surgery."
The news that Neshek will be lost for all of next year is gravely disappointing for several reasons. For one thing, he's a great guy and you hate to see anyone as nice, outgoing and helpful to the blogging community go through such an ordeal. Furthermore, he's a great reliever and his return was going to be a key aspect of rebuilding a bullpen that was downright awful this season. Knowing without a doubt that he'll be unable to step in and reclaim that spot as a dominating setup man in front of Joe Nathan clouds matters considerably.
Even without Neshek, there's a chance that the Twins can still field an adequate bullpen with the guys they already have: Nathan, Jesse Crain, Jose Mijares, Craig Breslow, Matt Guerrier, Philip Humber and Boof Bonser. The odds of all those guys performing well aren't terribly high though, especially considering how poorly many of them produced during this past season. I held a lot of hope that Neshek could return and provide a significant jolt to the relief corps. Losing that hope is a tough blow.