Atlanta Braves pitcher Alex Wood was recalled to replace Gavin Floyd in the Braves’ pitching rotation. (Reuters)
WASHINGTON — A day after Gavin Floyd fractured his pitching elbow throwing a curveball in the seventh inning against Washington, the Braves recalled Alex Wood from Triple-A Gwinnett and moved him into Floyd’s rotation spot.
Wood will start Wednesday at Houston in place of Floyd, 31, who will almost certainly miss the rest of the season and require surgery to repair the fracture in the olecranon, the tip of the elbow commonly known as the funny bone.
Because the Braves are over budget and still have a solid rotation with Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Ervin Santana, Aaron Harang and Wood, they aren’t expected to get into a high-stakes bidding war for the likes of Tampa Bay’s David Price or the Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Strengthening the bullpen remains their priority before the trade deadline, and it was believed that Floyd or Harang could have been a valuable trade piece in that pursuit. But with their depth down to just one proven starter (David Hale), the Braves now seem unlikely to trade away a starter before the non-waiver deadline.
Wood opened the season in the rotation, but the left-hander was moved to the bullpen in early May after Floyd came off the disabled list following a one-year rehabilitation for Tommy John surgery. Floyd had Tommy John surgery to reconstruct the ulnar collatieral ligament in the same elbow he broke Thursday.
“We had the luxury at the time where we (had) six starters and Woody was out there in the ‘pen,” Gonzalez said. “So I’m glad that (pitching coach) Roger (McDowell) had the foresight at the time to say, ‘Hey, let’s get this guy stretched out. Just in case.’
“And then also the timing of it. We were able to get him two starts (at Triple-A). The last one was around 75 (pitches), so he can probably give you 95 (Wednesday). No more than that I don’t think.”
Gonzalez said the Braves could have had Wood make more more start at Triple-A and then plugged him into the back of the rotation, because there’s an off day in the schedule Monday. But the decision was made to give other starters extra rest by staying with the regular rotation order after the off day.
Wood pitched five solid innings Wednesday at Gwinnett, giving up five hits and one run with two walks and three strikeouts. He has a 1.04 ERA in two starts for Gwinnett and has allowed seven hits, one run and four walks with eight strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings.
A second-round draft pick out of the University of Georgia in 2012, Wood is 5-7 with a 3.30 ERA and .268 opponents’ average in 18 major league starts over two seasons, compared with a 3.16 ERA and .265 opponents’ average in 31 relief appearances.
He’s been effective in both roles, but the Braves project him as a long-term starter. Wood said after being sent down that by the end of the season he hoped to have established himself as a full-time member of the starting rotation. Now, it looks like he’ll have that chance.
Wood had a 1.54 ERA in his first five starts this season, collecting 35 strikeouts in 35 innings, including an eight-inning complete game in 1-0 loss at Philadelphia. Then he gave up 10 hits and seven runs in five innings of a loss on Miami on April 29, and after one more start Wood was replaced by Floyd and moved to the bullpen.
As far as Floyd is concerned, a fractured olecranon is rare for pitchers at any professional level, and there haven’t been enough cases to make a good assessment of Floyd’s chances of pitching again at a high level.
Floyd was to be examined by Braves specialists Friday afternoon after flying back to Atlanta, to get a better look at the elbow through an MRI or CAT scan. The X-ray taken at Nationals Park on Thursday clearly showed a fracture in the elbow, Gonzalez said.
The olecranon is the curved sort of protrusion at the end of the ulna, one of the two forearm bones. It’s where the triceps muscle attaches to the bone, and that powerful muscle can actually tear off a piece of the bone or cause a fracture in the olecranon.
It’s problematic for a pitcher because the injury is usually caused by falling or by repeated violent extension of the arm (i.e., pitching). Whether surgery is required or not, straightening the elbow joint is often more difficult after the injury.
The only recent case of a fractured olecranon in a major league pitcher was Joel Zumaya, the former 100-mph-plus flamethrower who had a non-displaced fracture of the olecranon in his pitching elbow in June 2010 with Detroit.
The Tigers announced the next day that he was out for the season He never pitched in another major league game, but his case was complicated by the fact that Zumaya had multiple shoulder, hand and elbow surgeries before the olecranon fracture.
He missed the next (2011) season after a screw inserted in the olecranon-fracture surgery had to be replaced in another procedure in May. And after Zumaya recovered from that procedure he signed a one-year deal with the Twins in January 2012. One month later in spring training he tore his ulnar collateral ligament, requiring Tommy John surgery.
Zumaya never pitched again and retired in February 2014 at age 29.
Floyd is on a one-year, $4 million contract that would have earned him several million more dollars if he’d stayed in the rotation all season.