Red Sox

Thornburg to undergo shoulder surgery, out for remainder of season

Thornburg to undergo shoulder surgery, out for remainder of season

PHILADELPHIA — Tyler Thornburg’s season is over before it began. 

The righty, whom the Red Sox traded third baseman Travis Shaw and prospects to the Brewers for this winter, is to undergo season-ending surgery on his throwing shoulder Friday.

Nine months is the expected time for Thornburg to be major league ready, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. That would be mid-March.

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“I’m sure that doesn’t mean it can’t be 10 months or can’t be eight months, but that’s what they tell me is the time period,” Dombrowski said.

The procedure is to treat thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) and is to be performed by Dr. Robert Thompson at the Barnes-Jewish Hospital, which is home to a medical center at Washington University for that syndrome. Mets pitcher Matt Harvey was operated on by the same doctor

A rib is probably going to be removed in the surgery but Dombrowski was not definitive. Per the Mayo Clinic's website, thoracic outlet syndrome "is a group of disorders that occur when blood vessels or nerves in the space between your collarbone and your first rib (thoracic outlet) are compressed. This can cause pain in your shoulders and neck and numbness in your fingers."

“It’s been a long process for Tyler,” Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. “It’s a situation where a lot of other avenues are exhausted before they get to this perspective. I know it was a frustrating situation for him at times because, he would feel good, and then wouldn’t feel quite as good, and we keep going forward on it.”

About three weeks ago, Dombrowski said, Thornburg first got word that thoracic outlet syndrome was likely the problem.

“He treated it with Botox shots; apparently that’s how you treat that,” Dombrowski said. “Made some strides, but again didn’t get through it. And then Dr. Thompson, who is one of the other specialists in the country who has done some surgeries on pitchers. He flew out there to see him on Tuesday, and later in the day on Tuesday they recommended that they feel that this is the problem. They finally feel that the only way to correct it after giving the Botox shots is to have the surgery.”

Thornburg was put on the disabled list with a right shoulder impingement to start the year, and in May, the Red Sox acknowledged they suspected something else was amiss. He was the centerpiece of a trade the Sox pulled off at the winter meetings, a trade that has so far worked out terribly for the team.

Thoracic outlet syndrome is difficult to detect.

“You always have it, you’re born with a system that you would basically, you’re susceptible to getting it,” Dombrowski said. “When he traces back to some things that he had last year, I’m sure he had it then, but again it’s not something that you look to treat right away. You look at shoulder strengthness. He did some chiropractic work last year. He got himself through it and felt fine and threw throughout the year. 

“It’s not something that just develops. But your ribs – which basically cause the problem because that causes the pinching in most cases – they’re not straight. They pinch. Why it ends up happening at a certain time? Sometimes guys have it and they just keep on pitching with it. You just never really know.”

Last year with the Brewers, Thornburg had a 2.15 ERA in 67 innings with 90 strikeouts. Brewers general manager David Stearns told CSNNE in May that Thornburg was healthy when he was dealt. Dombrowski said Thursday that the Brewers shared all the expected medical info with the Sox.

“He was healthy,” Stearns said on the CSNNE Baseball Show podcast. “I am not particularly sure what the timeline was prior to when I got here, but he was healthy certainly when I got here in 2015, and throughout the 2016 season and did really an outstanding job for us.”

Red Sox trade LHP Roenis Elias back to Mariners

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File photo

Red Sox trade LHP Roenis Elias back to Mariners

The Boston Red Sox have traded left-hander Roenis Elias to the Seattle Mariners for future considerations.

The Red Sox announced the trade Monday.

Elias was 1-0 with a 1.23 ERA in Triple-A Pawtucket this season. In 55 major league appearances, he is 15-21 with a 4.20 ERA.

The 29-year-old native of Cuba was originally signed by Seattle as a free agent in 2011. He was sent to Boston four years later in a trade with Carson Smith for Wade Miley and Jonathan Aro.

The Red Sox will receive a yet-undetermined player or cash.

Drellich: Still a lot we don't know about Cora's managerial strategies

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Drellich: Still a lot we don't know about Cora's managerial strategies

There aren't many in-game moves to weigh when a team is decimating its opponents. After the Red Sox dropped consecutive games for the first time this season, we have a reminder of how little we know about Alex Cora's in-game managing philosophy.

The 2018 Red Sox have been a wild success so far, and the changes in the atmosphere alone make Cora a success as well. But he may need to reconsider a few things when it comes to that other part of the job, managing the lineup and the bullpen and the X's and O's. (Even if it means sacrificing some good will in the clubhouse at times.)

Managers have to constantly balance keeping players happy, fresh and the present. The present cannot -- and should not -- always be favored. Sometimes, though, the present can be pushed too far aside. Sunday's 4-1 loss to the A's seemed like one of those days.

MOOKIE MUST BAT

The most egregious mistake Cora made on Sunday was leaving Mookie Betts in the on-deck circle, with Christian Vazquez at the plate for the final out.

If Cora were determined to give Betts a full day off for a health reason, that would be one thing. Betts was available, and it's therefore inexcusable to let the game slip by with him in waiting.

"It has to be the perfect spot for him," Cora told reporters in Oakland, including MassLive.com. "He was ready to run earlier in the game. If J.D. [Martinez in the eighth inning] were to get on with two outs and they had the closer, we felt we could run on him and put pressure on him and get the go-ahead run at second. Probably he was going to run there. But besides that, it would have to be the perfect spot for him to change the game.”

Had Vazquez reached, Betts would have represented the tying run at the plate. Is that the so-called perfect spot Cora sought? The chances Betts hits a game-tying home run are not high. The rally needed to continue in some form, and Betts needed to be given a chance to do so.

Looking for a future moment that may not arrive for your best hitter is not sound managing in the ninth inning. 

The same logic that surrounds Betts appears applicable to Hanley Ramirez and Eduardo Nunez, who were both out of the starting lineup as well. There's no indication those two were unavailable, so what were they being saved for?

Both Vazquez and Tzu-Wei Lin batted with two men on in the seventh inning, when the game was tied at 1-1, and did not get the job done. Cora could have pinch-hit then too.

Lin and Vazquez are important defensively. Delaying pinch-hitting appearances until after the seventh came with a leg to stand on: Save the bullets for later to better the defense. But those bullets were never used.

HOW MUCH REST IS NEEDED, AND WHEN IS BEST?

At some point, Cora's strategy of resting players was going to invite wider scrutiny. The concept is great: increase performance by keeping players fresh. Cora recently pointed out that Sox players are physically small relative to some  teams. Their bodies, in turn, may need more downtime.

What remains something of a guess is how much rest is really needed. What's the right number? Probably, for each player, it varies. Not every move made with rest in mind is equally smart.

It's one thing to rest players. It's another to rest three regulars -- and two of your best hitters -- at once. Every game counts, whether you're resting players in April or the day after a division clincher.

Cora before the game told reporters he was resting the regulars to take advantage of the scheduled off-day Monday. Was the trade-off worth it? Did Nunez and Ramirez need the entirety of the day off?

Nunez, coming off a knee injury to end the 2017 season, has been playing complete games regularly. Perhaps he could be pulled sometimes for a defensive replacement to gain rest. 

For example: Nunez played every inning of the sweep of the Angels, during which the Sox outscored Anaheim 27-3. He played every inning of the next two games in Oakland, as well.

Someone who did not play a single inning in the field during that stretch: Blake Swihart, who seems exempt from Cora's plan to keep everyone fresh defensively. Swihart was the designated hitter Sunday, seemingly forced into the lineup more than strategically used.

WAS SUNDAY ALL ABOUT CONFIDENCE?

As speculation: Maybe Cora didn't pinch-hit Betts for Vazquez in the ninth because he wanted Vazquez, his starting catcher, to have the opportunity to earn the right to future big at-bats. Vazquez has been struggling. Maybe the choice was made so that, in a similar spot in the future, Vazquez cannot turn around and tell Cora he feels slighted if someone does bat in his place.

And maybe that's why Swihart was not asked to bunt with men on in the seventh inning.

Same goes for David Price in the eighth inning. Perhaps Cora was trying to give Price some confidence and leeway when he left him in with two on, the Nos. 3-4-5 hitters up, one out and a tie gamed at 1-1. Going forward, after Price did not come through, perhaps Cora will have an easier time taking Price out in a key spot.

Would that be worth the loss on Sunday?

Even if Cora boosted Price's confidence by letting him stay in, he might have sent the opposite message to others in the Red Sox bullpen, who were kept away from a key moment.

The Sox have been careful with workload all April. As a jam developed Sunday, it felt a perfect moment to establish some confidence in the eighth-inning crew. The inning was high stress and Price was creeping up on 100 pitches. Plus, between the relievers and Price, who needed the moment more?

Carson Smith was warming. Once Price got the second out of the inning with a strikeout of Jed Lowrie, Cora went with a gut feeling rather than something pre-planned.

“We had Smith ready, but it doesn't matter,” Cora told reporters, including NESN. "The way [Price] got [Jed Lowrie] out, you know, you could see, you know, he still had his fastball was good enough, and the pitch to Jed was probably the one that made me make the decision.”

In other words: One pitch to Lowrie made Cora think Price was better equipped than a fresh arm. Gut feelings are fine for a manager occasionally, but this seemed a textbook moment: go to the 'pen. Pulling Price was an easy first guess, not second guess:

KIMBREL'S BEING SAVED FOR SAVES, NOT BIGGEST MOMENTS

The Red Sox can win the division with Craig Kimbrel as an old-school, saves-hungry closer who does not want to pitch in the eighth inning -- and only the eighth -- if the game is on the line. They've shown they can do that. But their chances are worse for it.

Brewers manager Craig Counsell on Sunday had a former traditional closer, Jeremy Jeffress, escape a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning of what wound up being a 4-2 Milwaukee victory.

"Today's sixth inning by J.J. was absolutely incredible. You can't do any better than that," Counsell said. "We make a big deal about the ninth inning but that was the game right there."

Counsell's not talking about the eighth. He's talking about the sixth.

Entering Tuesday, Kimbrel will have pitched once in eight days, in a blowout in Anaheim just to get work in. He did not warm in the eighth inning Sunday. There is no argument to be made that using Kimbrel on Sunday for two outs in the eighth would have tired him out. 

Here's what Cora said during spring training about Kimbrel in the eighth: "We'll sit down with him throughout spring training. People think it's a big adjustment. If you start looking at the numbers, you don't lose too many saves if it's the way you want to use him. We're not talking about the lower third of the lineup. We're talking the middle of the lineup, eighth inning, certain situations. What I feel is the game on the line . . . We'll sit down and talk about it and he'll understand where we're coming from. And as long as he's healthy he'll do it.”

He's healthy. He's not doing it. The pitcher appear more concerned with saves than what's best for the team, and the manager appears at the pitcher's mercy.

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