BOSTON—The Red Sox placed closer Joel Hanrahan on the 60-day disabled list on Thursday with an injured right elbow, manager John Farrell acknowledging that surgery has been discussed as a possible course of action.
Hanrahan was en route Thursday to Birmingham, Ala., for an appointment Friday morning to see noted orthopedist Dr. James Andrews.
From a procedural standpoint, moving Hanrahan from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day disabled list created a spot on the 40-man roster for Pawtucket pitcher Jose De La Torre, whose contract was purchased from the Pawsox.
But it also was a clear indication that even if Hanrahan elects a conservative approach, eschewing surgery for rest, rehabilitation and recovery, the Sox expect that process to be an extended one.
“Once we got the initial MRI, it seemed that was a possibility,’’ Farrell said Thursday. “Not knowing the extent or total number of days, we felt it was still going to require some recovery time. Then, when you factor in the buildup back from that, we felt like this was going to be a couple months total at a minimum.’’
Hanrahan, who left Monday night’s game here after giving up a game-tying home run to Brian Dozier in the ninth inning, was initially diagnosed with a flexor-pronator strain of his forearm. Frequently, there is also damage to the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), which in a worst-case scenario could mean Tommy John reconstructive surgery.
In May, 2011, Daisuke Matsuzaka was placed on the DL with a flexor strain and sprained UCL. Two weeks later, after being examined by Dr. Lewis Yocum, who confirmed the team’s discovery of a tear in the UCL, he opted for Tommy John surgery.
The initial magnetic resonance imaging exam (MRI) taken of Hanrahan’s elbow appeared to indicate that the ligament had not sustained structural damage, according to both Farrell and Hanrahan. “I think in the long run we dodged a bullet," Hanrahan said at the time.
Wednesday night, Hanrahan expressed concerned that more is involved. When he had a similar injury with the Pirates in spring training, 2010, he did not have the kind of bruising and discoloring in the elbow he has now.
“Doesn’t look good,’’ he said. “Leave it up to the experts, see what they say, let them put their heads together and go from there.
“If it is bad, I’m still 31, my personal setup will be all right,’’ he said. “On the [bad] side, I’ve been here and I haven’t been able to do anything I want to, to show anybody who I really am. So that part will stink if something bad happens.’’
Farrell said ligament damage can’t be ruled out, but Hanrahan’s visit to Andrews should offer some answers.
“I don’t know that there’s information in hand to date that says it’s definite ligament issues,’’ Farrell said. “That’s where tomorrow’s exam will be valuable in that area.’’
The manager also said Hanrahan had been told that surgery was a possibility.
“That’s been part of the discussion,’’ he said. “That’s where he has to get his arms around the situation with as much information as possible and make the decision at that point.’’
The ulnar collateral ligament is one of the connective tissues that connects the humerus bone in the upper arm to the two bones of the forearm. It acts as a stabilizer in the elbow, allowing it to withstand the stresses created by throwing a baseball. When the UCL weakens and stretches, that is technically called a sprain, and prevents a pitcher from throwing with full velocity and typical control. A more complete tear requires the building of a new ligament, which Tommy John surgery accomplishes by transferring a tendon, often from the forearm.
Hanrahan is one of two All-Star closers currently on the DL for the Red Sox. The other is Andrew Bailey, who was placed on the DL on Monday with a strained right biceps after not pitching in the previous seven days. He last appeared in a game on April 28.
On Thursday, Bailey played catch for the first time since going on the DL. “Nice, easy catch from 60 feet, 90 feet,’’ he said. “Felt pretty good. Go in there, see what they say, and figure out what I do next.’’
Bailey is eligible to come off the DL next Tuesday, but indicated that was unlikely.
“I have no idea,’’ he said.
Too soon? “I would think so. I haven’t pitched in 10 days, so that’s not up to me.’’
Bailey said that he has not had a discussion to date whether he would need a rehab assignment.
In the interim, Farrell has designated Junichi Tazawa to be his closer. De La Torre, who was acquired by the Red Sox last July from Cleveland for utilityman Brent Lillibridge, has held opponents scoreless in his last seven appearances (11 2/3 innings). This will be his major-league debut.
Farrell said De La Torre will be used primarily in low leverage situations.
How big a blow to the bullpen is losing Hanrahan?
“A healthy Joel Hanrahan getting injured is a blow for anyone,’’ Farrell said, “and a guy who’s been a very successful pitcher, I don’t know that you can necessarily just replace a guy of his ability and talents.
“But regardless of the injuries we’re dealing with right now, our expectation and our level of play shouldn’t be compromised by that. That’s the expectation here, to go out every night to prepare and put a game together to win.’’
The Red Sox come into Thursday night’s game with the Minnesota Twins losers of five of their last six games.