At some point Thursday morning Yu Darvish will be stuffed inside an MRI tube for a look-see at his right elbow inflammation, and at some point later in the day the Texas Rangers will learn when their staff ace might pitch again.
The combination of “staff ace” and “elbow inflammation” typically leads to an emergency search for the nearest commode. But the good news Wednesday evening, after the Rangers placed Darvish on the 15-day disabled list with elbow inflammation, was that an initial exam by Dr. Keith Meister indicated that Darvish has something called flexor pronator tendinitis.
The flexor tendon is a critical part of the throwing process, as Colby Lewis can attest, but not as critical as the ulnar collateral ligament. When that goes, a pitcher checks into a hospital for Tommy John surgery and checks out on his career for 12 to 18 months.
But in the Season of the Injury for the 2014 Rangers, general manager Jon Daniels has learned to temper those early hopes until all the evidence is in.
“Let’s get the MRI and know more tomorrow,” he said.
Nothing can be certain until then, despite all the positive signs that Darvish will be pitching again this season. He first felt something while playing catch Monday, two days after logging 113 pitches in only four innings at Houston.
The initial hope, at least after all of those prayers for a healthy UCL, is that he will miss only two starts.
Darvish even told the Rangers that he could pitch through the discomfort, and maybe he would be Thursday if things were trending differently this season.
But the Rangers are realistic. The finale against Tampa Bay isn’t meaningful, except possibly moving them closer to the No. 1 overall draft pick in next year’s draft, so there’s no need to risk further damage to their best pitcher.
“He agreed, we agreed that it’s better just to be cautious,” Daniels said. “We’ll know more tomorrow. We’ll get the MRI.”
The Rangers will be seeking a split of the four-game series with Robbie Ross on the mound in place of Darvish after the Rays on Wednesday jumped Miles Mikolas for all 10 runs en route to a 10-1 victory. The Rays hit three homers in the first two innings.
Chris Archer struck out a career-high 12 batters and yielded only four hits in eight innings as the Rangers’ offense was stymied for a third straight game against the Rays.
“He was powering the ball,” manager Ron Washington said. “It was not an easy pitch to get on.”
Ross will be recalled from Triple A Round Rock on Thursday for his first big league appearance since June 15. Lefty Alex Claudio was promoted from Round Rock to take Darvish’s spot on the roster, and on Wednesday became the 56th player used by the Rangers.
No team in the majors has used more. Nor has a team used more than the 35 pitchers, including Claudio’s scoreless debut and a scoreless ninth by J.P. Arencibia, or used the DL more than the 24 times the Rangers have.
The Rangers also lead the majors with 14 players currently on the DL and 17 rookies used.
The season is a mess and has been since mid-June. But shutting Darvish down hasn’t yet been considered.
“We’re real premature on that,” Daniels said. “Let’s get the MRI.”
The worst-case scenario for Darvish and the Rangers, of course, would be Tommy John surgery. That would cost him the rest of this season and all of 2015, and force the Rangers to shop for more pitching this off-season.
As things stand with a healthy Darvish, the Rangers will be seeking as many as two starters, depending on if Colby Lewis and Nick Tepesch continue to pitch their way into the rotation.
Jon Lester and Max Scherzer will likely be the two biggest names to hit free agency, though the better option might be innings-eating changeup specialist James Shields.
Darvish, Shields, Derek Holland, Lewis and Tepesch isn’t terrible, but that’s if Darvish’s elbow inflammation is nothing more than the flexor pronator tendinitis.
That appears to be the case. Meister and Darvish both said so. But in the Season of the Injury, the Rangers have been taught to temper their early hopes until all the evidence is in.
“We’re going to get an MRI just to be certain,” Daniels said.