Down goes a Braves’ pitcher with Tommy John surgery (surprise!)

022416 LAKE BUENA VISTA: Braves pitcher Andrew McKirahan delivers a pitch working in the batting cages on Wednesday, Feb 24, 2016, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports, Lake Buena Vista, FL. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Braves pitcher Andrew McKirahan delivers a pitch working in the batting cages early in spring training in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The Braves announced Saturday he is out for the season and will require Tommy John surgery on his elbow. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — At some point, the Braves’ need to expand their welcome gift bags to new pitchers: “Welcome to our great, grand organization. Here’s your uniform, cleats, a dozen baseballs, gum, sunflower seeds, half-off coupons to all home games at Disney for your family, which means it will only cost them $137.50 each on the berm, and two extra elbow ligaments, which should be kept in the mini-fridge in your locker.”

The Braves officially opened Chapter 1 for the 2016 season Saturday with the announcement that relief pitcher Andrew McKirahan will have Tommy John surgery. His spring lasted five pitches of one game.

Play ball!

I don’t mean to make light of McKirahan’s season ending. Really. I’m sure he’s a good kid, other than that whole PED suspension a year ago. But this is the second time he will have Tommy John surgery for a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, the first time coming in 2012. He’s 26 years old. He probably wasn’t going to win a bullpen spot.

The Braves aren’t the only team to accumulate pitchers who have had — or are destined to have — season-ending elbow surgery. It just seems most gravitate to Atlanta. Of the Braves’ 39 pitchers in camp, at least nine have had T.J. surgery: McKirahan, Manny Banuelos, Jason Grilli, Casey Kelly, Paco Rodriguez, Shae Simmons, Arodys Vizcaino, Dan Winkler and Chris Withrow.

Several past Braves have had the surgery, including Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, Peter Moylan, Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty.

“It’s amazing,” Braves general manager John Coppolella said when asked about the accumulation of T.J. surgeries in baseball. “The craziest point for me was a couple of years ago when Medlen and Beachy went down back-to-back days (before the 2014 season). That’s a body blow. But it’s not just Tommy John. It’s everything. The Dodger just lost Brett Anderson for five months with a (bulging) disc in his back. There’s always something – shoulders, elbow, back. The level of attrition with pitching is staggering. That’s why, with every move we have made, we tried to get back more and more arms.”

Coppolella said McKirahan can “still has a bright future.” I’m not sure if he was being serious. In addition to the two surgeries, McKirahan was suspended 80 games in 2015 after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. He’s not exactly setting a great pace for himself.

I asked Coppolella if he just assumes a certain percentage of pitching prospects will have a significant injury. He said former long-time Braves scouting director Paul Snyder said, “If you have eight pitching prospects, you hope two of them hit. So it’s the same. It’s just bad luck sometimes.”

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7 comments
Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

I think the pitchers who played in the era of the four man rotation relied on pitching rather than just throwing 95 MPH .The amount of strain these younger pitchers are putting on their arms by maximizing velocity on all of their pitches, may be the factor in the increase in ulnar collateral ligament tears.

E983
E983

Wow. Some say it's too much baseball and they need to diversify. It's not just the Braves pitchers. It's happening throughout the league. It happens when they're 15 and it happens when they're 30.

extremus
extremus

What blows my mind is looking back at the innings old-time pitchers used to pile up compared to today's.  I don't have any statistics to know how many suffered elbow/shoulder injuries but it's clear at least some pitchers back then either A) had rubber arms or B) there's something vital that's gone missing in the modern era where so many guys end up having TJ and/or being forced to retire early.  It's not as if some of those old-timers were playing soft-toss, either; something seems genuinely different.

Cadillac_Bishop
Cadillac_Bishop

@ajc There has to be something wrong with their process this is too many Tommy Johns for one organization. There's a systemic problem here.