On Sunday, Dinelson Lamet walked off the mound in the top of the second inning of a game against the Seattle Mariners, giving Padres’ fans a sinking feeling. That feeling intensified when the team announced the reason for the short start: an elbow injury. But the team downplayed the injury and indicated he’d be back soon, despite the fact that he’s had no diagnostic imaging on his arm.
The mere word elbow or, worse, UCL (ulnar collateral ligament) tends to give San Diego fans a definite feeling of déjà vu and conjures up names like Robbie Erlin, Colin Rea, and Anderson Espinoza. In each of those instances, the team minimized the serious nature of their arm injuries. In the end, all three ended up having elbow reconstruction (aka Tommy John) surgery.
In 2011, the Padres acquired Robbie Erlin in a trade with the Texas Rangers. The following year he started the season with San Antonio. He was shut down with an elbow strain during the season, but returned in the Arizona Fall League. From 2013 through 2015 Erlin shuttled back and forth from the minors to the big leagues with sporadic reports of elbow soreness.
In 2016, Erlin pitched in three major league games, ending up on the disabled list with a strained elbow on April 12. Finally, the team resorted to an MRI and announced on May 12 that he would undergo Tommy John surgery. Erlin returned to the Padres this spring, pitching 6.1 innings with a 2.84 ERA and finding himself in the running for a spot in the rotation.
Fellow Tommy John veteran Colin Rea has been sidelined by a lat (latissiumus dorsi) strain and won’t begin throwing until April. He made his major league debut August 12, 2015, allowing three runs in five innings in a victory over the Cincinnati Reds. He pitched in several games that season until Sept 13 when the Padres shut him down with a right forearm injury.
In 2016, Rea showed up to spring training 20 pounds heavier and looked ready for a spot in the rotation. He had the misfortune to start his first game that year in Coors field, giving up five runs in 3 1/3 innings. He appeared in a total of five games and was traded at the end of July to the Marlins. However, when Florida discovered he was experiencing right elbow soreness, the team returned him to the Padres.
Instead of undergoing surgery that summer, Rea and the Padres decided to try treatment and rest in the hope that the ligament would heal. In late October, the team announced he could face live hitters the following month. Instead, he ended up having surgery Nov 10, 2016. According to the current prognosis, he will begin throwing opening day this year.
Last July, the Padres announced that one of their top prospects, Anderson Espinoza, had a torn UCL and needed surgery. He had been slated to start for high Single-A Elsinore, but was shut down due to elbow soreness. At the time, A. J. Preller, the Padres’ general manager, told Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune that the tightness did not stem from ligament or elbow issues. Espinoza started throwing again in June with the hope he could pitch in games by late July, but the team finally faced the reality of the situation. He will end up missing two seasons.
In the ultimate irony, Espinoza came to the Padres in the trade of Drew Pomeranz to the Boston Red Sox. MLB suspended Preller for 30 days due to the medical records brouhaha over the anti-inflammatory medications Pomeranz was taking. Despite being shut down, Espinoza, at just 20 years of age, ranks 89 in the MLB Pipeline top 100 prospects.
Lamet pitched 12 innings in Cactus League play, had a 3.75 ERA and had been scheduled to start the second game of the new season against the Milwaukee Brewers. The Padres gave options, including Robbie Erlin, but no one of the caliber of Lamet.
According to Marty Caswell of the Mighty 1090 via Twitter, Preller has reported that “the positive news is it’s a muscle deal…the ligament is intact. The initial reports from our medical team are positive.”
Forgive me if I don’t break out the champagne over the Padres’ positive reports on Dinelson Lamet. We local fans have been down this road before and can only hope it’s not “déjà vu all over again”, as Yogi Berra would have said.