What??!? Can’t possibly imagine anything going wrong with that elbow.
Well here’s something. According to an official release from the Jays, young lefty Dan Norris had arthroscopic surgery this morning to remove bone spurs from his pitching elbow.
“Recovery time from the surgery is normally six weeks and the Daniel is expected to be ready for Spring Training in 2015,” it adds.
Just yesterday, in the Daily Duce, I passed along a link to a scouting report from Doug Thorburn of Baseball Prospectus, who had watched Norris’s less-than-impressive debut start on the final Thursday of the season. In a portion I didn’t quote, he wrote this:
The lefty struggled to maintain his velocity in the September 25th game, going from 92-94 mph in the first inning to 88-90 mph in the third. There are several caveats here, from the typical first-inning burst of a fired-up pitcher making his starting debut to end-season fatigue and his 30-day layoff from the rotation, so the downward velo trend is not a concern so much as it is something to keep an eye on with his future starts. The BP prospect crew put him at 92-95 mph and touching 97 prior to the season, with his fastball receiving a 6 grade overall, and the early returns suggest that the heat will be a weapon for the southpaw.
The big question, as it is with virtually any young pitcher, is fastball command. In the September 25th game, Norris had a prevailing tendency to miss up (especially to the arm-side) against opposing batters. He did this with all of the pitch-types at his disposal, indicating that a late trigger was preventing him from achieving full extension at release point. He actually had a series of 12 consecutive pitches in the third inning that were all elevated, most of which finished above the zone. Elevated pitches will eventually meet their doom in the majors, and the Blue Jays will surely address the issue if it’s pervasive rather than a single-game blip.
This passage certainly makes a lot more sense given what we now know, and perhaps the surgery is precisely how the Jays have addressed the issues that were on display that day. That doesn’t exactly make this good news, though, does it?
I don’t know that we need to start ringing any alarm bells about Norris’s future ability to stay healthy, but no elbow surgery for a pitcher is ever good — even when it’s one of the less concerning ones, as this is.
No two pitchers’ arms are the same, either, so I don’t think we can try to glean anything about Norris from the list of guys to have had bone spur surgeries in recent years. Sure, it’s a little frightening to recall that guys like C.C. Sabathia, Josh Johnson, and Sergio Santos had the procedure, given what we know about what has happened to their arms since, but clearly there were existing arm problems for all three of those guys that went deeper than this one issue.
That doesn’t mean that couldn’t be the case for Norris, but there are more heartwarming examples of guys who’ve had the same kind of procedure: C.J. Wilson underwent it following the 2012 season, and came back in 2013 to pitch 212.2 innings, posting a 3.39 ERA and 3.31 FIP the next year. And Mat Latos had it after last season and was as effective as ever this year when healthy… at least statistically. His velocity was down a couple of ticks, and he missed three weeks with elbow inflammation, but mostly his season was derailed by a knee injury. Matt Cain pitched extremely well through bone spurs for years, reportedly, before having surgery that ended his season for the Giants in the middle of this year.
When discussing it in 2012, Wilson, who had pitched to a 2.43 ERA in the first half of that season, and a 5.54 ERA in the second half, after the problems arose, explained, “I tried to make a million adjustments to get around it, to the point where now I’m standing on the first-base side, trying to get an angle because I can’t throw sinkers anymore because my arm doesn’t work right.” Ultimately, though, he said he understood that “bone’s not muscle, so there’s really one way to get it taken care of.”
Hopefully for the Jays and Norris that’s all this is, and that the surgery takes care of it and there are no lingering issues with the appendage. But until we see that he’s healthy and well beyond the procedure, we can at least take comfort in the fact that he truly wasn’t himself when he made his debut as a big league starter. It’s not like in that game he was terrible or doing anything that couldn’t be corrected or undid all the positive of the outstanding season he had, but that’s not a small amount of comfort.