By Zach Buchanan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cincinnati Reds right-hander Homer Bailey hasn’t pitched a full season since 2013. That streak will continue for another year.
On Wednesday, the Reds announced that Bailey had surgery to remove bone spurs from his surgically repaired elbow. He is expected to be shut down for 4-6 weeks, and will likely start the season on the disabled list. It’s the latest in a long line of elbow troubles for the 30-year-old, all of which have prevented the Reds from getting much return on their nine-digit investment.
Bailey signed a six-year, $106 million extension before the 2014 season. He’s pitched just 180 innings since then, including just 34 1/3 the last two seasons. He’s still owed $68 million, of which $19 million will be paid this season.
“It’s been a long road,” said Dick Williams, the team’s president of baseball operations. “He’s worked hard to get back on the field. I know he’s feeling frustrated, and I know he’s still committed to getting back out there as quick as he can.”
Late in the 2014 season, Bailey required flexor mass surgery. He pitched only 11 innings in the 2015 season before tearing his ulnar collateral ligament, requiring Tommy John surgery. He was expected back from that procedure in May of last season, but suffered a setback related to the nerve in his elbow and didn’t debut until July 31.
But in the last month, Bailey complained of discomfort while increasing his throwing workload as he prepared for spring training. He saw Dr. David Altchek in New York, with whom he’d sought a second opinion on his elbow after his setback earlier in the 2016 season. Exams revealed that his flexor mass and UCL both are healthy, but also revealed the bone spurs. Altchek performed the surgery to remove them Wednesday.
“I think it’s fair to say we expect to get the majority of the season,” Williams said. “I really can’t get more specific. I really don’t know yet.”
Losing Bailey thins a rotation that was already lacking reliability. Only left-hander Brandon Finnegan and right-handers Anthony DeSclafani and Scott Feldman have rotation spots at the moment. The Reds have a host of young pitchers vying for major-league shots — Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed, Amir Garrett, Nick Travieso, Sal Romano, Rookie Davis and Tyler Mahe, to name several — but none have proven themselves capable of handling a 200-inning load in the big leagues.
The rotation was one spot deeper last month, before the Reds traded righty Dan Straily to the Miami Marlins. Straily was the team’s most reliable starter in 2016, but the Reds wanted to capitalize on his value for the return of three players, pitchers Luis Castillo and Austin Brice and outfield prospect Isaiah White. The Reds signed Feldman soon after moving Straily.
Williams doesn’t want a redo on that trade in the wake of Bailey’s latest injury setback.
“That decision in a vacuum would not have been affected by Homer,” Williams said. “In other words, if Homer’s down, we wouldn’t have kept Dan to replace Homer. Now, we need to make a decision on if we need to do anything to address the fact that Homer will be out for a while now.”
The Reds aren’t rushing out to the clearance aisle for one of the remaining free agent pitchers. Flush with young pitching, Williams would rather see how his prospects perform in spring before bringing in anyone from the outside.
The Reds are expected to sign veteran and familiar face Bronson Arroyo to a minor-league deal this week, but he comes with injury issues of his own. Arroyo hasn’t pitched consistently since 2014, when he had an elbow injury of his own, and may be able to handle only relief work.
Williams also said there are no plans to move former starters like Michael Lorenzen or Raisel Iglesias back into the rotation.
“There will be an opportunity for the guys who are coming to assert themselves,” Williams said. “I think it’s fair to say we’ll at least look around to see if there are some options.”