Felipe Paulino knew something was wrong Wednesday night when he left a slider up while testing his recovery from a strained right groin in a rehab start for Class AA Northwest Arkansas.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
“I felt something in my elbow,” he said. “Some pain that I never felt before.”
That pain was the ulnar collateral ligament tearing in his right elbow – an injury that is all-too-common this season for the Royals. It required Tommy John surgery for Joakim Soria, Blake Wood and Danny Duffy.
The same is likely for Paulino, although his medical work will be evaluated first by Dr. Lewis Yocum, a specialist who performed the procedures on Soria, Wood and Duffy. But Paulino is already bracing for the operation, which typically required a year to recover.
“They gave me two options,” he said. “Two or three months of rest or surgery. I prefer taking the option of surgery. When I come back in 10 or 12 months, my elbow will be strong again. I just have to believe that everything will be good.”
Paulino, 28, continued to pitch after first experiencing pain. Whether that caused further damage is unknown.
“I was supposed to go three or four innings,” he said. “But in the third inning, my last 12 to 15 pitches were really painful. Then I told my trainer, `Hey, something is no good with my elbow.’ It was painful. It was the first time I felt that in my career.”
A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam Thursday confirmed the tear.
“He’s had issues with (the elbow) in the past,” manager Ned Yost said. “It was like Duffy. We knew he was pitching with some potential for this to happen.
“But he had been throwing the ball really well, and this wasn’t even in the equation (before Wednesday). It’s not something he’s felt all year long.”
Club officials say Paulino’s injury is unrelated to the strained right forearm that forced him to open the season on the disabled list.
Either way, the news is a major blow to a staff already piecing together its rotation. Paulino was 3-1 with a 1.67 ERA in seven starts after returning from the forearm injury before exiting a June 6 start against Minnesota because of a strained groin.
“You move on,” Yost said. “It was a real blow when Jack got hurt. It was a real blow when Duffy got hurt. You move on. I’m not saying it to sound cold, but it is what it is. Yeah, we feel bad for the guy, and we feel bad for ourselves, but we can’t slow down.
“Someone is going to have to grasp the opportunity and run with it.”
Even so, general manager Dayton Moore acknowledged Paulino’s injury creates added urgency to previous efforts to fortify the starting staff.
“We’ve been looking and evaluating opportunities to strengthen our rotation for the last couple of months,” Moore said. “The truth of the matter is there are many clubs that consider themselves to be in the playoff hunt.
“With the extra wild card, it’s hard to know whether there will be more or less movement than we’re used to in July (prior to the non-waiver trading deadline). But, yeah, it puts us in a position where we have to look harder.”
Efforts to acquire help through a trade will likely hinge on ownership’s willingness to increase the payroll. For example, Colorado is looking to deal right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, but he is still owed about $4.8 million for the rest of the year.
Internal options include right-hander Jake Odorizzi, who emerged this season as the organization’s top pitching prospect. He was a combined 8-2 with a 2.89 ERA this season in 13 games prior to his start Friday for Class AAA Omaha against Memphis.
“We’ll always look internally first,” Moore said, “and we’re evaluating all of our internal options. Jake Odorizzi is certainly one of them.”
Lefty Everett Teaford is also flourishing at Omaha: 4-0 with a 1.09 ERA in seven games. Other possibilities are veteran lefty Doug Davis and lefty prospects Will Smith and Mike Montgomery.