Tim Collins flew to Florida aware of his fate. The MRI of his left elbow revealed significant damage in the ulnar collateral ligament. A subsequent examination by Dr. James Andrews verified the initial findings, and the necessity for Tommy John surgery.
Andrews performed the operation on Wednesday in Gulf Breeze, Fla. Collins will be out for the season. He may never again pitch for the Royals. The club could non-tender him rather than grant him another run in arbitration after this season. Despite scant success in 2014, Collins returned to Kansas City on a $1.475 million contract for this year.
“It’s obviously very disappointing,” general manager Dayton Moore said. “Timmy’s been a very important part of our bullpen. We expected him to have a terrific year. So it’s a disappointment. We’re just going to have to cover it.”
With Collins out, the team’s two best internal options appear to be 2014 first-round pick Brandon Finnegan and recent addition Franklin Morales. Morales threw a scoreless inning in Thursday’s 10-5 victory over the Indians. Finnegan will continue to stretch out as a starter, but manager Ned Yost indicated the club has already held internal discussions about shifting him into a relief role.
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For the Royals, Collins’ surgery did not come as a surprise. Yost described the tear as “complete.” When Collins suffered a flexor strain last April, a subsequent MRI showed no significant damage to his ligament, Moore said. But Collins felt tightness in his elbow after throwing a curveball in a game last week. He won’t throw another pitch this season.
Collins returned to his home in Massachusetts on Thursday. The standard recovery time from this surgery requires 12 to 18 months of rest. Luke Hochevar is attempting to make Kansas City’s opening-day roster after undergoing elbow reconstruction last March. He called Collins after the surgery.
“He’s a tough kid,” Hochevar said. “He’ll be just fine. That little joker’s a bulldog. He’ll be just fine, and come back just fine, too.”
Before 2014, Collins was a significant contributor to the Kansas City bullpen. He struck out 205 batters in 190 innings with a 3.51 ERA from 2011 to 2013. Last season he never found traction. After his elbow strain, he spent months in Class AAA Omaha, where he grappled with a back condition and a loss of command.
The Royals still felt compelled to retain him for this coming season. Collins was considered the favorite among left-handers to make the team. Now the club must decide whether they can afford to send Finnegan to the minors to develop as a starting pitcher.
Earlier this week, Yost insisted Collins’ health did not affect Finnegan’s status. Yost praised the other options here in camp.
“The good thing for us is Dayton has got us enough depth where it’s not going to kill us,” Yost said.
If the Royals only take one lefty, Morales may have the best chance to replace Collins. Morales joined the team on a minor-league contract, so the Royals would have to make space for him on the 40-man roster. The club has been impressed with imposing lefty Brian Flynn, but he still has minor-league options and could be stashed there for depth.
“We’ve got several guys throwing the ball well,” Moore said. “There’s still a lot of time. Regardless of whether certain relievers make the team or not, we’ll have quality depth in Omaha. And as you know, you’re going to need several pitchers to make it through a major-league season.”