In the category of not entirely surprising but nonetheless distressing news, the Texas Rangers announced Tuesday that Neftali Feliz will undergo Tommy John surgery, ending any hope for a return this season. Given that the standard timetable for return from this surgery averages about a year, Feliz should not be expected back until the latter half of the 2013 season.
Any time a player is faced with reconstruction of the ulnar collateral ligament and its associated lengthy recovery process, it's a difficult pill to swallow. In the case of Feliz, however, this can't have been entirely surprising given how the year has gone.
His troubles began in the spring when he was forced to leave a spring start after three innings with stiffness in his right shoulder. A week of rest seemed to do the trick, and Feliz was able to start the season on time. In fact, his first outing was a strong showing, as he threw seven scoreless innings with four strikeouts. Still, Feliz was a work in progress, given that the Rangers were transitioning him back into the rotation from the closer role he had adopted two years prior.
A month into the season, Feliz developed soreness in his throwing elbow, and he was placed on the DL in May with right elbow inflammation. He was cleared to resume a throwing program in mid-June and began a rehab assignment in late July. Before he could take the mound for his fourth rehab start, however, Feliz was scratched due to renewed discomfort in his elbow. Feliz met with team doctors Monday, and the grim news was announced Tuesday.
Tommy John surgery has become so commonplace among pitchers that it is impossible to isolate a single source, other than the act of pitching itself. That won't put a stop to the questions surrounding whether the demands of moving to the rotation from a closer role were too much for Feliz to overcome or whether his mechanics were a contributing factor. Or, did the shoulder ailment early in the season set him up for problems further down the chain? Whether any or all of these issues factored into Feliz's failed elbow cannot be proved, but it certainly offers plenty to discuss while awaiting his return next year.