Gil LeBreton

Former All-Star pitcher Ross battling the odds, but Rangers like the possible reward

mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

. – If nothing else, it’s gotten to be an impressive list.

Matt Harvey of the Mets, Chris Young of the Royals, Jaime Garcia of the Braves and Kenny Rogers, who pitched 12 seasons with the Texas Rangers.

They all had surgery to relieve the symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome.

Tyson Ross, in other words, is in good company.

Pitching is a nasty business. Elbows tear, shoulder tendons fray.

But thoracic outlet syndrome is often the silent career-killer. A pitcher’s arm can swell or feel numb. He may feel a tingling down his forearm and into his fingers. Nerves and blood vessels can be compressed, raising the ugly possibility of a blood clot.

In October of last year, Tyson Ross underwent surgery to remove a rib and alleviate the pressure. In December, the San Diego Padres chose to non-tender a contract to him, making Ross a free agent.

On Jan. 19, Ross signed a one-year, $6-million deal with the Rangers.

At first glance, Ross appears almost indestructible. He stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 247 pounds.

In 2014 Ross struck out 195 batters and had a 2.93 ERA. A year later, according to Marc Simon of ESPN, Ross had the third-lowest hard-hit rate among MLB pitchers, behind only Jake Arrieta and Clayton Kershaw.

"I've always liked him and tried to acquire him," Rangers president and general manager Jon Daniels said. "You hear great stuff about his work ethic and you see that here. You see the physicality. And he’s smart. He gets it."

When he’s healthy, Ross’ pitching repertoire fits the staff profile that

the Rangers’ have been coveting.

"He has two elite-level pitches, the sinker and slider," Daniels said. "And what do you want pitchers to do, ideally? Strike guys out and get ground balls."

To me, this was an easy risk with a chance for a great reward. If he fully recovers, Ross likely becomes the third-best starter on the staff.

The "if" seems impossible to measure, however. For every Chris Young who had TOS surgery and went on to success – pitching in the World Series for the Royals, in Young’s case – there is a Chris Carpenter, who lost velocity on each of his pitches and soon retired.

The Mets’ Harvey threw 96 mph in a spring training start this week, eight months after TOS surgery.

Ross’ operation, however, was only five months ago. He will begin the season on the disabled list, but with the expectation of pitching for the Rangers by May.

That seems optimistic to me, based upon the Harvey example. In his most recent pitching session, Ross threw 20 batting practice pitches to a couple of Texas minor leaguers.

The Rangers feel they are taking a calculated, conservative approach to Ross’ rehab.

"When our guys took over his rehab," Daniels said, "we talked to Tyson about, ‘Let’s do this once. We don't want to have any setbacks and have to rehab again.’

"The mindset is to finish strong -- finish the rehab strong and finish the year strong. I'd rather take these steps, these extra days on the front end, so when he does get out there, he just hits the ground running and we don't have to revisit it."

To some observers, rolling the dice on a pitcher who won’t take a big league mound until May, if at all, wasn’t a prudent choice with free agent Colby Lewis still on the market. And they may be right.

But when Daniels gambles, the potential prize is usually a big one. Before his injury, Ross, an All-Star in 2014, was one of the National League’s top young pitchers.

The Chicago Cubs were trying to sign Ross, before he picked the Rangers.

This isn’t just somebody else’s discard, hoping to catch on as some team’s No. 5 starter. This is a guy who, if healthy, projects to the middle of the rotation.

The "if," however, is large. Thoracic outlet syndrome surgery seems to bring so many different outcomes.

By May, the Rangers feel, they will be seeing Ross on a big league mound.

Too optimistic? Maybe. But they own the dice, not the Cubs or Indians or Astros, who all reportedly were willing to take the same chance.

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