The diagnosis came on Friday morning inside a doctor’s office in Dallas. The gravity of the situation hit Luke Hochevar a short while later.
Gregory Pearl, a Dallas-based doctor who specializes in thoracic outlet syndrome, outlined the options, mapped out the future and delivered a hard truth. Hochevar, a 32-year-old reliever, will face season-ending surgery to address his type of thoracic outlet syndrome. He will not pitch again until 2017. And after a decade in Kansas City, his time as a member of the Royals could be nearing an end.
“This is the worst-case scenario,” Hochevar said, standing inside Globe Life Park on Friday. “It’s tough. It’s bad timing and nothing that you ever want to find out.”
In the immediate aftermath, Hochevar will travel to St. Louis to seek a second opinion from Robert Thompson, another specialist who treats thoracic outlet syndrome, a neurogenic issue that is caused by the compression of nerves near the neck and shoulder. The condition can cause pain, swelling and numbness in the arm and hands. Hochevar said the second opinion was likely a mere formality. Thompson was likely to conduct the surgery, he said. He will miss four to six months before being able to return for spring training.
“You just hope the symptoms go away, and I’m able to go out and do my job,” Hochevar said.
On Friday, Hochevar stood inside the visitors clubhouse here at Globe Life Park and ran through the odd symptoms that have limited his effectiveness in 2016.
All year, Hochevar said, he has pitched through what he thought was a nerve issue. But the symptoms began to intensify over the last three to four weeks. After pitching, his right hand would become swollen and discolored. At times, his hand just “felt heavy,” he said.
On Thursday, he underwent testing at a Dallas-area hospital and had an EMG (Electromyography). The tests confirmed Hochevar is suffering from a type of thoracic outlet syndrome.
“Within the last month or so, I had symptoms that I recognized,” Hochevar said. “This is such a tough thing. I was probably dealing with it, but I didn’t think anything of it. I just chalked it up to a nerve issue and kept going.
“And then, you start to lose command or you start to lose a pitch, then you just start to chalk it up to, ‘Well, I just need to make a mechanical adjustment or I need to focus better.’ ”
For Hochevar and the Royals, the injury comes at an especially bad time. Hochevar’s current contract contains a $7 million mutual option for 2017, and he was likely to become a free agent this winter. His contract status also made him a logical piece to be shopped before the trade deadline on Monday.
Now, Hochevar will likely enter free agency coming off a serious injury, while the Royals are down an asset as the deadline approaches.
Hochevar, who will turn 33 in September, has already overcome one significant injury in his career, returning last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014.
In the months after Hochevar underwent reconstructive elbow surgery, the Royals signed him to a two-year extension before the 2015 season. The deal, in part, paid off, with Hochevar earning the win in Game 5 of the World Series as the Royals won a championship last fall. Now the Royals could have another decision to make.
Hochevar could perhaps return to Kansas City on a more club-friendly deal. But those decisions will come later. For now, Hochevar said, he was focused on returning to the field by next spring.
“I think the biggest pill to swallow is not being available for the team,” Hochevar said. “As for free agency, that stuff will work itself out. But the toughest pill to swallow is not being able to go out and help the team win.”
Dillon Gee to start on Sunday
Royals manager Ned Yost said right-hander Dillon Gee would make another start on Sunday against the Rangers. Gee allowed five runs and 10 hits in five innings on Tuesday in a 13-0 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.