Hochevar will have Tommy John surgery
Royals right-hander finds that rehab alone not best option for elbow
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Luke Hochevar is in agony.
There's some pain in his sprained right elbow but the real hurt is in his heart. Just as the Royals seem poised to become the team he dreamed about for seven years, Hochevar decided on Friday to undergo Tommy John surgery. The right-handed pitcher will miss this season.
"I feel terrible," Hochevar said.
No date or surgeon has been established for the surgery to reconstruct the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, but the Royals expect the procedure will happen within about two weeks. An effort to have Hochevar rest and then attempt rehabilitation without surgery was ruled out.
"The toughest part about it is we're primed to win and you want to be part of that dogpile in September," Hochevar said. "That's the toughest part. The way the team's shaping up, we're going to win, that's not a doubt. From every standpoint, I want to be a part of it and it's just not going to happen."
Hochevar's elbow was injured as he pitched last Monday against the White Sox. He went to Los Angeles on Thursday for a second medical opinion.
This is his second go-round with an elbow problem. He missed about 2 1/2 months in 2010, but came back from that without surgery and pitched through last season.
"In 2010 he suffered a tear of his ligament, somewhere between 25 and 40 percent. He rehabbed it and pitched effectively for four years after that," manager Ned Yost said. "This last time he tore it another 25 percent so it's going to be between 50 and 65 percent tear in there. Is that something that you could rehab? Maybe. The problem we have run into is the flexor mass is also strained."
Yost, after talking to the medical staff, explained that to get through rehab without surgery the flexor mass has to be completely healed to protect the torn ligament. That would take about two months and, of course, there's no guarantee the rehab would work after that.
"It's inevitable that [the elbow] is going to go, so it's in everybody's best interest to go ahead and do it now," Yost said.
Hochevar, 30, felt a pain in his elbow in his second-to-last pitch of his first Cactus League outing on Monday.
"In 2010 it was a completely different injury. We were getting ready for Interleague and I did it swinging a bat," Hochevar said. "I continued to pitch with it and on my third start, I couldn't do it anymore. This time is was just one pitch that grabbed me. I made another pitch and the pain was still there."
Even so, Hochevar was optimistic he'd be OK.
"You think, 'Oh, it's a twinge, I'm fine,'" he said. "Even that day, I was still in good spirits. It's going to be fine. Nothing I ain't battled before. Then you get news you don't want to hear. Then reality sets in."
Hochevar said doctors presented three options: short-term rehab, long-term rehab or surgery. The first two ultimately were ruled out.
"If I try to rehab it, in a nutshell, I'm probably going to fail," he said.
Even before the surgery decision was made, Hochevar was dropped from the competition for the Royals' fifth rotation job. That's down to Yordano Ventura, Wade Davis and Danny Duffy, himself a Tommy John graduate.
"I just told him, 'Worry about the here and now,'" Duffy said. "Because if you worry about tomorrow, you're going to miss out on the here and now and the things you need to do. It's a long, tedious process and if anybody can beat it, it's Hoch. And he will."
Last year Hochevar switched from starting to relieving and had a successful year, posting a 1.92 ERA, a 5-2 record and two saves in 58 appearances. He also notched 82 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings.
"What he did out of the 'pen last year was nothing less than phenomenal and for him to pitch to the degree that he did is a testament to his toughness as an individual and competitor," Yost said.
Hochevar, under contract for $5.2 million this year, could become a free agent next winter, although the surgery casts a cloud of uncertainty on his future.
"We wouldn't rule Luke out for the future," general manager Dayton Moore said. "We have a strong relationship, we've persevered through a lot together and we'll hopefully be able to keep him in the organization going forward."
Hochevar on that topic: "It's not in my mind. That's all irrelevant right now."
What is on Hochevar's mind and heart is that he, along with Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, have been with the Royals the longest of anyone in their clubhouse. Now, with a promising 2014 beckoning, he won't be with them on the field.
"He's a phenomenal young man, a tremendous teammate and you really want to see him be a part of this," Yost said. "Him, Billy and Alex have been here the longest, they've been through the hardest times. And now when we get to the point where we're a pretty darn good baseball team and a point where we're really going to be able to compete, you really want them to be a part of it on the field."
That's why Hochevar is in agony.
"The reason I play this game is to be part of something bigger than myself -- to win a World Series," Hochevar said. "That's why you play. That's what is tough."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.