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Rays Tales: All about Matt Moore's elbow

The surgery to rebuild Matt Moore’s left elbow won’t be nearly as taxing as a rehab that is likely to take a year or more.
The surgery to rebuild Matt Moore’s left elbow won’t be nearly as taxing as a rehab that is likely to take a year or more.
Published Apr. 20, 2014

LHP Matt Moore's life, at least in the short term, will change extensively after Tommy John elbow ligament reconstruction surgery on Tuesday.

Moore's entire focus, at age 24, has to shift from winning games on the mound to "beating" the yearlong-plus rehab process, his competitiveness channeled to what, especially for the first few months, will be very mundane drills.

"The surgery is about 10 percent of it, and the rehab process is the remaining 90 — it's everything to this," Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman said. "And that's what gives you great peace of mind, is that we know how hard Matt works and we know how badly he wants to get back. And that coupled with a tremendous training staff gives us great optimism for how well he'll bounce back next year."

Tommy John success stories are everywhere — 83 percent or more of pitchers who have it return to pitching, according to recent studies — and Moore doesn't have to look far. Six of his teammates have gone through it and come back, including pitchers Grant Balfour, Brandon Gomes (while in college), Jake McGee and Juan Carlos Oviedo (about to come off the DL), plus two outfielders who pitched as kids — David DeJesus and Brandon Guyer, who had his similar procedure at age 11.

("I threw way too many curveballs in Little League," Guyer said. "There was a game or so I threw like 120 or 150 pitches. They have rules for that now — pitch limits, days rest. Just kind of overdid it. That was the end of my pitching days.")

Moore has consulted with some of the Rays, and others who had the surgery, including his older brother, Bobby; and a couple of buddies, Oakland RHP Jarrod Parker (who has had two) and San Diego LF/1B Kyle Blanks.

McGee is a good parallel for Moore, as he was just shy of turning 22 at the time, July 2008, and was a hard-throwing lefty starter, though still working his way up at Double-A Montgomery.

McGee said the biggest challenge is accepting the slow pace of the rehab timetable.

"If you have to go through it, it's just the patience of the rehab, because you know you're going to be out for a whole year," McGee said. "It's a matter of putting the time in and being consistent with the rehab."

McGee came back relatively quickly, throwing in games 12 months following surgery. And, as other pitchers have reported as well, he came back better.

"Kind of stronger, consistently stronger," McGee said. "Now I'm sitting higher (in terms of fastball velocity) than I was. Before I'd be at 91-92 (mph) here and there, now I'm sitting 94-97. A lot of guys come back stronger, like you have a fresh elbow."

And while that certainly sounds appealing, McGee pointed out that it can lead to other concerns that have to be addressed.

"A lot of times you have to work on your shoulder and strengthen your shoulder more, because then you have a new elbow and your shoulder isn't used to it," he said. "It's all kind of connected."

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Rare event

Evaluating which teams do a better job of keeping pitchers healthy can be subjective — and semantical — as some are hurt in the minors so don't show up in databases, or injured with one team and have surgery with another.

But by any measure, the Rays are considered one of the best.

Part of that is good luck and part great work by their athletic training and medical staff, along with some proprietary research, and unique development and training regimens. Plus, having young and dedicated pitchers.

"We've been more fortunate than the industry because of a) how hard our pitchers work, and b) the tremendous training staff we have and how much they care and how diligent they are," Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman said.

Moore will be the first Rays major-leaguer to have Tommy John surgery since RHP Jason Isringhausen — a 36-year-old veteran in his 15th pro season — in June 2009, with only the Brewers going longer (by about two weeks) without one.

And of the five pitchers who have had the surgery as Rays major-leaguers, per data accumulated by Jon Roegele for, only Moore and Seth McClung (2003) were drafted and developed in the Tampa Bay system. (The others: Dave Eiland and Tyler Walker.)

There have been a number of Rays minor-leaguers, including highly rated prospects such as RHP Taylor Guerrieri and LHP Grayson Garvin, who needed the procedure.

Related numbers

3 Starting pitchers from AL East teams on the DL, and all are Rays: RHP Alex Cobb (oblique strain), RHP Jeremy Hellickson (arthroscopic elbow surgery), LHP Matt Moore (pending Tommy John surgery).

7 Starting pitchers used by the Rays already this season; they used seven total in 2009 and 2010, eight in 2011 and 2012, 10 last season.

21 Starting pitchers used by the Rays since 2008, fewest of any team (next, Giants, 24; most, Orioles, 45). Of those 21, only three were signed as free agents — Erik Bedard, Roberto Hernandez, Jamey Wright.

Short stops

• Given the injuries to Matt Moore and Alex Cobb and the slow overall start, it was surprising — though probably shouldn't have been in this era of instant analysis and amplified opinion — how much chatter surfaced last week about how soon the Rays now would be looking to trade David Price.

• Best wishes in retirement — again — to SS Jason Bartlett, MVP of the Rays '08 World Series team, who made the Twins' opening day roster after a surprising comeback attempt at age 34, then decided last week while rehabbing an ankle sprain that his heart wasn't in it and stepped away.

• Didn't it seem a tad odd Friday that home plate umpire Joe West had had enough of Yankees LHP Cesar Cabral hitting three Rays batters before his manager did?

Rays rumblings

Reminiscing over the old Mets' postgame shows featuring the late Ralph Kiner, manager Joe Maddon suggests the Rays do Kalas' Korner and show it in black and white. … Principal owner Stuart Sternberg, in comments to the Associated Press in New York last week, said in seeking a stadium solution that the team "would like to explore other part(s) of the region, specifically Tampa and parts of St. Petersburg." … In an poll that got 1,197 votes, the Rays TV crew got a decent grade — B (29.7 percent), C (29.3). … Our LunchtimeLive video chat with Evan Longoria is rescheduled for Tuesday at 12:30; see for details. … Among special events at the Trop this week: Earth Day on Tuesday, Bollywood Night on Wednesday and Senior Prom 1 on Thursday.

Got a minute?

Matt Joyce

Reality show you'd be best on?

I like The Amazing Race, stuff like that.

Food you hate?

Not a huge fan of brussels sprouts, those and beets.

Go-to karaoke song?

Don't Stop Believin', by Journey.

Must-see TV?

I was a big fan of Breaking Bad, but it's over and done with.

Celebrity crush?

It's always been Jessica Biel, so I've got to stick with her.


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