Atlanta Braves pitcher Kris Medlen faces his second Tommy John surgery in five years. (Reuters)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Braves pitcher Kris Medlen choked up a few times Wednesday as he described facing Tommy John elbow surgery for the second time in five years, after injuring the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow Sunday.
“Mentally preparing myself,” he said. “It’s something that I’ve felt before. I think I had all the answers to anybody’s questions in my head when I was walking off the mound. I never do that. When I did it before in 2010, the same thing kind of happened. Nothing’s … ” (Here there was a long pause, as he fought back emotions.) “Nothing’s official, but I think I know and just go from there.”
Medlen had an MRI and other tests that indicate a torn ligament, and he expects to have Tommy John surgery and go through another rigorous rehabilitation of 12 months or longer, which he believes will at least be a little easier now that he has a wife and 1-year-old son to help him through the mental grind.
He will see Dr. James Andrews in the next few days before making a decision about surgery. Orthopedic surgeons have been at a convention in New Orleans that runs through the weekend.
Medlen would join fellow Braves pitcher Jonny Venters in trying to be among the few pitchers to come back from two such surgeries and perform at a high level again. Venters is 10 months into his rehab and hopes to return by June.
“I just told him everyone’s here for you,” Venters said in the Braves clubhouse. “Just stay positive, make the best decision for you and your family.”
Medlen, 28, paused several times and put his head down as he discussed the situation with reporters, three days after he left a game against the Mets clutching his right elbow in pain. He said he felt the injury on a curveball he threw to Curtis Granderson on a ground out, but stayed in the game and threw two more pitches to Matt Clark, and felt searing pain after each, before hopping off the mound and heading to the dugout with the count 1-1.
He said he cursed to himself after the Granderson pitch, almost in a state of disbelief.
“It was more of a denial/frustration/anger thing,” Medlen said. “I was already losing it on the way to the dugout. I couldn’t breathe. Just all that stuff … going through it one time, I told myself if I ever had to do it again I would quit. I’m not going to quit, obviously. But the first time I did it in 2010, I was telling myself there was no way I could will myself to do all this crap again.”
Braves general manager Frank Wren sat next to Medlen and put a hand on his shoulder at one point when Medlen nearly broke down.
“From his perspective, he probably knew when he walked off the mound, based on how he felt,” Wren said. “Over the last couple of days he’s had additional tests. Yesterday he had a stress X-ray, and that stress X-ray, it’s not definitive, but it did probably confirm what he was fearing, that there’s a high likelihood that he’s going to have to have a second Tommy John.”
The Braves moved quickly to bolster their injury-plagued rotation by signing free agent Ervin Santana.
“(Medlen) is our ace; that’s our horse,” second baseman Dan Uggla said. “When he goes down, that’s a big, big loss, man. The morale of the team is like, ‘Oh, my gosh, what’s going to happen now?’ To see the front office step up like they did and get Santana is a huge pick-me-up.
“We all love Medlen so much, and believe me, with the signing of Santana we haven’t forgotten anything that’s going on with Medlen. We’re all hurting for him.”