David Price is about to hear the six most unnerving words for any pitcher: "Dr. Andrews will see you now."
Let's pause for Boston Red Sox fans to cross all of their fingers. Toes, too.
Price was supposed to make his first spring training start Sunday against the Atlanta Braves. Instead, he will see Dr. James Andrews and Dr. Neal ElAttrache on Friday in Indianapolis for additional opinions regarding left forearm discomfort that cropped up after he threw 38 pitches in two simulated innings Tuesday.
The Red Sox weren't especially forthcoming Thursday with details about the nature of the injury or why further consultation with two prominent orthopedic surgeons was deemed necessary. Team president Dave Dombrowski referred to the injury as a "strain" but didn't elaborate. Manager John Farrell said an MRI taken Wednesday by the team's medical staff showed swelling and fluid but was largely "inconclusive."
But pitchers don't see Andrews and ElAttrache for the sake of checking out the new magazines in their waiting rooms. Andrews, in particular, is the expert who usually verifies a pitcher's fear of a damaged ulnar collateral ligament and the need for Tommy John surgery. Just ask St. Louis Cardinals pitching prospect Alex Reyes, who went through the Andrews confirmation process last month.
Andrews isn't always the grim reaper. In 2015, he gave then-Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz (we'll get back to him later) the good news that his sore shoulder wouldn't require surgery.
There is some risk, then, in jumping to the conclusion that Price is heading for the operating table. Before leaving JetBlue Park on Thursday, Price reported that his arm felt better and was "in much better spirits," according to Farrell.
It's almost inevitable, though, that Price will eventually break down. The 31-year-old has been remarkably durable for eight full seasons in the big leagues, averaging 31 starts and 207 innings per season since 2009.
But there's also excessive mileage on that left arm. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Price leads all pitchers in innings (733.1), batters faced (2,992) and pitches thrown (11,225) over the past three seasons, including the playoffs. Perhaps it's no coincidence, then, that he posted career lows in average fastball velocity (92.8 mph) and maximum fastball velocity (96.3) last season.
The Red Sox conducted a risk assessment two winters ago before signing Price to a seven-year, $217 million contract, the richest ever for a pitcher. And after years of austerity when it came to signing pitchers to long-term deals, principal owner John Henry decided Price was the right gamble to take, especially because Price has the right to opt out of the contract after three years.
But if he's already broken after only one year, well, let's just say the Red Sox don't want to think about the ramifications.
That's a matter for another day. On Thursday, the Red Sox were focused on thinking positive thoughts for Price, part of their star-studded rotation with fellow ace lefty Chris Sale and reigning Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello.
Farrell and Dombrowski noted that Price has dealt with forearm discomfort in previous spring trainings, though never as intense as this. Price felt a twinge after throwing a slider Tuesday, Dombrowski said, but it "was nothing really different than he feels often when he throws." It wasn't until Wednesday that Price felt the increased soreness.
Dombrowski tried to downplay the involvement of Andrews and ElAttrache. If anything, the exec said the Red Sox want to capitalize on the fact that both doctors will be attending the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis this week, giving Price a chance to go to one place and see them both.
"They just happen to be set up in the same place in a very short time period, which would be convenient if we could get him in to see them," Dombrowski told reporters. "Anytime you have someone like [Price], you're going to be cautious. He said it's not significantly different to him, but we just don't want to take any chances."
Dombrowski insisted the Sox are comfortable with their depth beyond the Big Three. Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright were All-Stars last year, and young lefty Eduardo Rodriguez has top-of-the-rotation potential. But each has dealt with his own health concerns the past few months. Triple-A options Henry Owens, Brian Johnson and Roenis Elias struggled last season and haven't inspired much confidence in spring training.
Maybe trading Buchholz to the Philadelphia Phillies for little more than payroll flexibility wasn't such a great idea, after all.
"No, I don't [regret that trade]," Dombrowski told reporters. "That's just the timing. You're not going to just hold on to somebody in case things take place later on."
And besides, maybe Price will be fine. Maybe he will be reassured that it was just a scare, that his elbow is healthy and he can continue with his spring training as if nothing ever happened.
Dr. Andrews is about ready to see David Price.
Cross those fingers, Boston.