Unfortunately, the pattern is becoming all too familiar. A pitcher experiences elbow ____ (insert pain, stiffness or tightness here) and is shut down for a period of _____ (insert two, four or six) weeks. During that time he is not allowed to throw but focuses instead on arm-strengthening exercises. In the course of ongoing evaluation, if an injury to the ulnar collateral ligament is _____ (insert strongly suspected or confirmed), the player is given the opportunity to see how he responds to the episode of conservative care. If there is no improvement, the ultimate fate is reconstruction of the ligament, otherwise known as Tommy John surgery.
Just as it has been for numerous other pitchers, this is St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Motte's narrative. After experiencing stiffness in his right elbow in March, Motte was shut down with what was originally described as a flexor tendon strain. He began an exercise program and was placed on the DL to start the season. After a follow-up evaluation Tuesday, reports emerged that Motte had not been cleared to throw. According to Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com, Motte has a confirmed ligament tear, and if he does not improve, he'll undergo Tommy John surgery. Cardinals GM John Mozeliak explained the rationale of setting a deadline to see if Motte is able to return to throwing by early May. "Rather than drag this thing out all summer, we put a soft deadline on it to find out," Mozeliak said.
The time frame for return is well-established now at approximately 9-12 months following this procedure, although there is always the potential of extending beyond that range. The Cardinals have seen other pitchers on their staff undergo the procedure in the spring and return by the following spring -- most recently Adam Wainwright -- so there is an encouraging example for Motte in-house. While there is still an outside chance he could show enough improvement functionally to allow him the opportunity to return, it remains just that: an outside chance.