Luke Hochevar departed the visitor’s clubhouse here at Globe Life Park on Thursday afternoon, packing his things and heading across town to see a vascular specialist at a hospital in the Dallas metroplex. The drive took just 25 minutes. The results of the meeting could determine his fate as a Royal.
The Royals on Thursday placed Hochevar, a 32-year-old reliever, on the disabled list after he experienced continuing numbness in his right hand. The club’s medical staff suspected that Hochevar is suffering from thoracic outlet syndrome, a neurogenic issue that is caused by the compression of nerves near the neck and shoulder. In a corresponding roster move, the club recalled right-hander Brooks Pounders from Class AAA Omaha.
Hochevar was slated to see Dr. Gregory Pearl, a specialist who deals with the condition, late Thursday afternoon. If Hochevar is diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, he would likely face season-ending surgery. The recovery timetable is roughly six months.
“It’s unfortunate it’s happening at this point,” said Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland. “But you can also say: ‘Now we know what’s going on.’”
The timing of the injury could also signal the end of Hochevar’s days in a Royals uniform. His current contract contains a mutual option for $7 million for 2017. If the option is not picked up by both the club and the player, Hochevar would become a free agent after the season.
Club officials also believe the injury could help explain some of Hochevar’s struggles in 2016. In 40 appearances, Hochevar has recorded a 3.86 ERA, his highest mark since transitioning to the bullpen in 2013. In his last 12 appearances, his ERA has been 7.84.
Royals manager Ned Yost said Hochevar began to report increased symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome — numbness, swelling and tingling in the fingers — during the last two to three weeks. But Eiland said Hochevar had pitched through minor issues all season.
“He felt it two or three times here lately,” Yost said. “We shut him down for three days.”
According to Yost, Hochevar attempted to throw a side session on Thursday afternoon. After experiencing swelling in his hand, the Royals scheduled an appointment with Pearl, a Dallas-based doctor who has diagnosed TOS in many major-league pitchers.
In mid July, Royals top prospect Kyle Zimmer was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome after traveling to Texas to undergo tests with Pearl. He was expected to undergo surgery — which includes the removal of a rib to relieve pressure off an entrapped nerve — in late July or early August.
In recent years, more and more pitchers have been diagnosed with types of TOS. Mets starter Matt Harvey was diagnosed earlier this summer. Other pitchers who have dealt with the syndrome include Royals pitcher Chris Young, Josh Beckett, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Matt Harrison and Shaun Marcum.
Hochevar, who was not available to speak to reporters on Thursday, signed a two-year, $10 million contract with the Royals before the 2015 season, re-upping with the only franchise he has ever known. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft, Hochevar struggled for years as a starting pitcher before finding success in the bullpen. He logged a 1.92 ERA in 58 appearances in 2013. He blew out the following spring, undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
The reconstructive elbow surgery put Hochevar’s future as a Royal in peril, but when the 2014 season ended, he returned to Kansas City on a two-year deal. Now his future is uncertain once more. If Hochevar is officially diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, the Royals could face another difficult decision this offseason.