Jason Vargas cut short his bullpen session on Friday afternoon when soreness lingered in his left forearm. A few hours later, Yordano Ventura departed his start against the Cardinals due to numbness in his right hand. And so Royals manager Ned Yost entered Saturday facing the possibility of losing two starting pitchers to injury.
For now, only one pitcher will shift to the sidelines. The team placed Vargas on the 15-day disabled list due to a strained flexor muscle in his left elbow. Trainer Nick Kenney indicated this could be a recurrence of the injury that felled Vargas in May. The MRI showed no damage to his ulnar collateral ligament.
Ventura also underwent an MRI on Saturday. This examination revealed irritation of his ulnar nerve due to a buildup of fluid in the elbow. Yost described this as “a freak thing.” Both Yost and Kenney expressed their hope that Ventura will not miss a start.
In the interim, the club scrambled to deal with Vargas’ upcoming absence. Joe Blanton, 0-0, 1.80 ERA, will take the rotation spot of Vargas, 5-2, 4.10 ERA, who started a D.L. stint retroactive to June 9, meaning he can return on June 24. Chris Young will start on Sunday and Edinson Volquez will pitch Monday.
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Yost and the training staff wondered if the pitchers taking batting practice to prepare for games at National League parks on this road trip contributed to the pair of injuries.
“The only thing we can think of that’s been different for Vargas, for Ventura, for all of our starters is we’ve had to incorporate hitting in the last two weeks to get ready for these interleague games,” Yost said. “Hitting does put a lot of stress on your forearm when you’re not used to doing it.”
Ventura lost sensation in his right thumb, pinky and ring finger on Friday. He exited after three innings. The feeling was gradually returning to his hand the next morning. Ventura is slated to throw a light bullpen session on Monday at Miller Park.
Kenney indicated the numbness stemmed from pressure placed on the ulnar nerve by a fluid buildup in Ventura’s elbow. The cause of the injury, though, is still something of a mystery.
“Sometimes what happens is that fluid increases,” Kenney said. “Whether that be because of increased volume over a shorter period of time, which he had in his last start (78 pitches in three innings on June 6). Or whether it because they’re hitting. Or whether it’s because of what they’re doing in the weight room. We don’t know, exactly.”
Kenney told Yost he does not expect Ventura’s condition to be chronic. Ventura is scheduled to start on Wednesday. Vargas, of course, will not be pitching this week.
Vargas missed three weeks in May with an identical injury. He completed six innings in his last start, but threw only 70 pitches. He admitted he felt fatigued on the mound, and an MRI revealed a recurrence of elbow trouble.
“It may be one of those situations where it wasn’t a full resolution of the first one,” Kenney said. “So it’s hard to tell whether it’s a new one or not.”
Kenney added, “We won’t attack it any differently this time than we did last time. Once this guy gets to be pain-free, we’ll resume his throwing program. He feels better today than what he did yesterday. We’ll play it by ear.”
Vargas managed to pitch through the discomfort during his outing on Wednesday. When the trouble recurred during his bullpen session, he understood the problem required solving.
“All we can do,” Vargas said, “is take the right steps and try to get back out there when I’m eligible to come off.”
The Royals recalled Brandon Finnegan from Class AAA Omaha to take Vargas’ spot on the roster.